The future of the Memphis Grizzlies is clearer than it has ever been.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is the cornerstone of that next era of Grizzlies basketball, a time when Grizzlies legends Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are no longer in Memphis. This could be as early as next season, of course - Marc Gasol’s player option looms large over the franchise’s immediate future. Gasol potentially departing could lead to a complete overhaul of the roster - a buy out of Chandler Parsons (which may come anyway), a trade of Mike Conley...nothing would be off the table if Marc is gone.
Assuming he stays, however, Memphis will need to figure out ways to build around Jaren while also trying to remain as competitive as possible within the last season or two of the Conley/Gasol tandem being the main focus of the Grizzlies cap sheet.
The good news is that the Grizzlies have already tried to do this, and in one case have been very successful. The signing of Kyle Anderson to a 4-year contract for essentially the mid-level exception has been a home run so far, and Kyle is still not consistently being used in his ideal position as a point forward. The attempted trade for Kelly Oubre Jr. is another example of Memphis showing they have a type as they try to build for the future.
In two parts, we will look at just what Memphis should be looking to do to make this roster about Jaren. Part one is dedicated to role players. Here are the ground rules-
- They must be young...but don’t have to be too young. Kyle is 25, and while Oubre would’ve been a nice younger fit the Grizzlies seem to be interested in players at least near their primes, or at the start of them.
- They must be restricted...and potentially cheap. “Cheap” is a relative term, of course, but Memphis is bargain shopping if Gasol and Conley both stay. A potential Parsons buy out could bring some relief, but aside from the mid-level exception they will continue to battle the tax. Restricted free agency limits the choices of opposing teams and the free agent (hence restricted) and gives the Grizzlies a leg up in negotiations.
- They must be flawed. Maybe flawed is the wrong word, but the Grizzlies aren’t signing star young players given their current cap situation unless multiple big contracts are gone or they’re willing to give up a lot in a trade (more on that in part II). Malcolm Brogdon holds too much value to the Bucks to let go for cheap, be it by trade or this summer. Same can probably be said for D’Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets. But some young players have issues in their games that will drive down their value, allowing for Memphis to come in and get them and try to develop them further.
With these items in mind, here are some possible targets the Grizzlies could acquire to build around Jaren Jackson Jr. and still keep the Grizzlies competitive in the here and now. Remember - this exercise is about three-ish years from now more than it is about this season.
Trey Lyles, Denver Nuggets
Talked about flawed. Trey Lyles is having arguably the worst shooting season of his NBA career. He’s been worse from the field overall before, but his 23.9% performance from beyond the arc is especially putrid. He has lost playing time to other players in recent games, and probably doesn’t figure in to the long-term plans of the Nuggets given the others at his position.
This makes him a player that probably won’t be too expensive for Memphis to both acquire and retain, meaning that the Grizzlies would very much be in play for him. He has had two seasons shooting over 38% from three, and just last year Lyles posted a .134 win shares per 48 minutes mark, meaning he is capable. Perhaps a change of scenery would do wonders.
A floor spacing four alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. would be very helpful for him in the post, giving him tons of room to work with both beyond the paint and at the rim. Lyles is durable (has played in over 70 games three straight seasons), and at 24 years old next season fits the mold of a player the Grizzlies can further develop with a larger role.
The best part? A four-year $20-24 million contract could very well secure Lyles for a sustained period of time, and in a trade the pick would be of greater value to the cash-strapped Nuggets than the player. Lyles for Wayne Selden Jr., MarShon Brooks, and an unprotected 2019 2nd round pick would make sense for both sides. Despite taking on two players, and likely waiving someone, Denver actually saves money in this deal. Meanwhile Memphis gets a talented young big, and they would have an open roster spot to work with to acquire another player and would still be roughly $1.5 million under the luxury tax this season.
Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors
Wright falls under the Kyle Anderson category of “kind of young, but it’s more about versatility and prime”. At age 27 next season, whatever the best of Wright would look like as an NBA player would be in the window of his next contract, which again would figure to be around $5-6 million per year. At 6’5” his size is nice to have in a combo guard who can defend multiple positions, and can also facilitate offense for other guards to score and play off the ball. He is an average long-range shooter (35.8% for his career), but on the bright side Wright currently plays alongside Kyle Lowry, who Grizzlies fans know well...well, those that know their Grizztory.
Wright could do the same things for Mike Conley that he does for Lowry, and on a broader plain Jaren Jackson Jr., in Memphis. He is another player, like Lyles, who had his best season in 2017-2018 and has shown the capacity to produce when called upon. His .152 win shares per 48 minutes during that campaign was impressive, especially considering all he was asked to do for the Raptors as a key reserve on that good Toronto squad.
What would Toronto want in return? They need shooting, and rebounding...so things that Memphis doesn’t have a ton of. But remember, this is about the future, not necessarily the here and now for the Grizzlies. As a bigger deal, Wright is not a player that you would be willing to go in to the tax for, and C.J. Miles (whose salary fits alongside the expiring of Garrett Temple or JaMychal Green) is not what he once was as a player to make a bigger deal work.
The idea of Wright in Memphis long-term is solid, though...Casspi and a 2nd rounder or two for him would be great, if you could make it work cap wise via trade. The Grizzlies would still be about $500,000 under the luxury tax this year even after the theoretical Lyles trade in this case.
This isn’t the Nuggets, though - Wright fits a need now for Toronto, and it may take more to acquire his services.
Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons
This may be the least good of the bunch.
Stanley Johnson is essentially Tony Allen lite, if Tony Allen was not as good of a defender. his career shooting percentages (37.3% from the field, 29.2% from three) are awful, and unlike the previous two entries on this list he has never had a consistently good season. He has never posted an offensive rating better than 97, or a win shares per 48 minutes better than .046. That’s...bad.
What he has going for him? The fact he’s been in a not-so-good situation in Detroit his whole career, and that he will be 23 next season.
It’s very possible that Stanley Johnson is just not a very good basketball player. He has good size on the wing, however, and boasts the pedigree of a former Lottery pick. Yes, Memphis has been burned on these types before (Ben McLemore...) but beggars can’t be choosers when acquiring talent with limited resources. His frame figures to project nicely alongside Kyle Anderson on the perimeter, and a defensive lineup of Jevon Carter/Delon Wright/Stanley Johnson/Kyle Anderson/Jaren Jackson Jr. could switch a lot and create lots of havoc on the ball and in passing lanes.
Detroit could use another ball handler and wing scorer. A Shelvin Mack/MarShon Brooks and 2nd round pick or two for Johnson could possibly get the deal done. Contract wise, he wouldn’t command more than Wright or Lyles, especially considering that while he is the youngest of the bunch, he’s statistically been the worst.
You would not be able to get all three of Wright/Lyles/Johnson using the resources at the disposal of Memphis. A combination of the two would be possible, though - Wright and Lyles would be the best for the here and now, while finding a way to get Johnson and Lyles together would be a nicer fit in terms of youth. Other options exist in hypothetical trades as well - Denver would almost certainly want JaMychal Green and would be willing to acquire him for Lyles and cap filler to lighten their salary tax load. Acquiring two of them would mean at most $13-$14 million a year in two younger players that can amplify and accentuate Jaren Jackson’s immediate future.
Those are all rotation players, though. Spot starters. Pieces of a core...but not the main parts. You want a starter? Maybe even a potential star?
That’s part II, coming later today.
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com