The Memphis Grizzlies have found a centerpiece for the future in Jaren Jackson Jr. If you’re a Memphis fan and you’re not excited about him, you’re not a real fan. How many near 7-footers can knock down eight 3-pointers one game and block 7 shots in another? How many big men have his versatile skill set on both ends of the floor? It’s absolutely captivating to witness.
For the next several years, the Grizzlies will be tasked with building a team around their talented big man, as both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are entering the twilight of their careers. There are multiple routes the Grizzlies could go down. They could always try to “tank” to find stars around Jackson. However, the protected pick to Boston hinders the team from doing this. In addition, you risk either becoming Sacramento or Phoenix, instead of Philadelphia.
An interesting way the Grizzlies could build around their future All-Star is through free agency. Marc Gasol and Chandler Parsons will be off the books in two summers. Gasol could even opt out to become a free agent next summer, which would open up a decent amount of cap room.
Hitting on any free agency move over the next few summers could change the trajectory for Memphis and help them return to prominence in the Western Conference. With the right moves, the Grizzlies could rise to top the West once the Warriors’ reign over terror is over — because let’s be honest, there’s not really a heir to the throne in the West.
Could the Grizzlies find a star through free agency to usher them into a new era? If so, when’s the perfect opportunity to strike?
2019 Free Agency
All of these options could potentially be irrelevant, if Marc Gasol opts into his contract. In that event, Memphis would have Conley, Gasol and Parsons all on the books, which ultimately destroys the possibility of adding any cornerstone-worthy free agent. Even the space provided by JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple’s expiring contracts ($8M each) won’t open up too much wiggle room.
That’s not to say it could still happen though. Who says Marc Gasol stays if the Grizzlies miss another postseason? I’ve already broken down the different routes Marc and the Grizzlies could go down next summer, and opting out of his deal to either bolt or to take a pay-cut are some options in play. If either of those happen, the Grizzlies could have a decent amount of cap room.
According to realGM’s Keith Smith, the Grizzlies could have, at most, over $27M in cap space — given all options are declined and rights are renounced. This amount of space opens up room to grab an impact player.
The three most intriguing options could result from their current teams going star-hunting.
If Brooklyn ends up stumbling themselves into a star free agent or two, D’Angelo Russell will be more than likely be on the market, and he’d be an awesome fit for the Grizzlies. Granted, he doesn't fit that “grit and grind” mold, but who cares? He’s a talented playmaker that can play both guard positions — serving as either a co-pilot next to Conley for a few years before he takes the keys himself. He’s also a 20-5-5 threat that knows how to find open teammates, as he could be a nice pick-and-roll partner with Jaren Jackson.
The Grizzlies could also find a frontcourt replacement for Gasol, but it would shift Jackson to the 5. Adding Tobias Harris next to Jackson and Anderson would be an awesome move for the Grizzlies. For the first time in years, they could have a lethal perimeter scorer in the frontcourt, as Harris is one of the most underrated stars in this league. They could also find close to the same thing in Harrison Barnes, if he opts out of his final year with Dallas. Adding either of those players would give the Grizzlies a consistent 20-point scorer in the frontcourt that could enhance the team’s versatility.
Marc Gasol will probably opt into his deal next summer, because who would really opt out of $25M when he’s not worth that on the open market? Never say never though.
2020 Free Agency
The 2020 free agency will be the perfect time for the Grizzlies to strike on a future cornerstone. Both Marc Gasol and Chandler Parsons will be off the books, and Conley will only have one more season as well. The Grizzlies will have plenty of cap space to work with, as Conley, Anderson and Jackson are the only contracts over $5M in that summer, as of now. In addition, the landscape after next summer could affect the outcome of the 2020 offseason as well.
If the Lakers do get another star wing next to LeBron, whether it’s Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard, Brandon Ingram could be on the market as a restricted free agent — if he’s not traded for a star. He’d be a fascinating option for Memphis, as he’s a great scorer with the potential to be an excellent defender.
No one even really knows what Boston and Danny Ainge would do. With Sacramento’s 2019 pick likely on the way, they could end up with a talented wing like RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, or Nassir Little. Such a move, along with the possible paydays of Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving, could make Jaylen Brown expendable. Acquiring Brown would give the Grizzlies a gritty two-way wing that could perfectly complement Jackson and Anderson.
Finally, and maybe more realistically, the Grizzlies could target Dario Saric. The cap situation will eventually get tricky for the Sixers, as Simmons and Fultz will get paid. Saric would be a sweet pickup for the Grizzlies. He’s an excellent playmaker from the 4, and he could also space the floor.
A lot can happen in these next two years, but if the Grizzlies want to avoid rebuilding through the draft, any of these 3 players would be intriguing options.
Over the next few summers, it’ll be vital for the Grizzlies to hit into free agency, even if it means moving on from the remaining pieces from the “Core 4.” Any mishap in this area could derail this trajectory of this franchise.