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Selling the Process: How Memphis could build up by burning down

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It would...get...ugly

NBA: Washington Wizards at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

There are lots of ways this off-season can go for the Grizzlies...

But here’s one that you may not considered - scorched earth.

In the wake of the Atlanta Hawks/Brooklyn Nets trade from yesterday - as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN - folks are once again buzzing about the concept of “the process”.

It is one of those types of deals, between two smart front offices, that was truly mutually beneficial. For the Nets? They free up a TON of money - roughly $18 million - and put themselves in position to possibly land not one, but two, max contract free agents this summer. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to Brooklyn?

That’s a lot more possible today than it was yesterday.

But for Atlanta, a team with a ton of cap space it wasn’t planning on using this summer any way, it was a window in to asset acquisition - something Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers brought to the masses as “The Process”. Philly essentially “tanked” for years, parting with veterans worth anything in exchange for bad contracts that came with the cost of draft picks.

It worked in some ways. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris may have never all come together this past season if not for the actions that Hinkie’s GM career eventually died for. If not for one bounce of the basketball, it may be Philly on the precipice of a title and not the Raptors.

In others? Markelle Fultz, Jahlil Okafor, and others remind us that this path...the tear down to build up path...is not a guarantee by any stretch. More misses than swings put you in habitual losing, which most certainly is not a smart way to build a culture of winning.

For a new front office like the Memphis Grizzlies have, it would be a bold avenue to pursue. You have two franchise cornerstones in Jaren Jackson Jr. and (likely) Ja Morant, but beyond that the future is a bit murky. Kyle Anderson is under contract for the next three seasons, and Memphis seems to like Dillon Brooks (they, at the time led by Chris Wallace, passed on a trade to acquire Kelly Oubre Jr. because Phoenix wanted Dillon, not MarShon Brooks), but the rest of the roster has questions either because of contract length, potential lack of being good at NBA basketball, or even both.

There’s a lot of room for maneuvering. And between Jonas Valanciunas, Chandler Parsons, and C.J. Miles there is approximately $50 million in salary cap money coming off the books this time next year.

That, down the road, could be valuable to a contender. And as long as the Grizzlies do not take back money that would be detrimental to Memphis retaining either of their core young stars - Jackson and (again, likely) Morant - perhaps Zachary Kleiman and company can relate with Atlanta. The 2020 free agent money may not be used properly anyway - if you can get valuable draft picks in exchange for a player not in your plans, the cash filling out your cap sheet is less important due to the rookie contracts on your roster.

How could the Grizzlies do this? Let’s dive in.

The Chandler conundrum

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the thing about Chandler Parsons.

It makes no sense to waive him via the stretch provision - one year of the last bit of his current contract is better than what would essentially amount to three of losing roughly $8.3 million in your cap.

You’re also not exploring a possible extension with the former “biggest free agent signing in Grizzlies history”, which is...we already know how disappointing this has been. Injuries suck. Health ruined what probably would have worked.

We move on...but how soon?

If the Grizzlies were to be willing to take on a long-term bad contract, a 1st round pick in return for Chandler’s “services” could be negotiated. Take the Charlotte Hornets, for example. How much is their 2020 1st (lottery protected, top-4 protected in 2021) worth to them to get off the Nicolas Batum contract and the roughly $27 million player option he almost surely will accept going in to the 2020-2021 season, assuring they’re not bankrupting themselves with a Kemba Walker extension? What price would Miami pay to get off the James Johnson and Dion Waiters deals to make them more active in 2020 free agency?

Do the Minnesota Timberwolves hate the Andrew Wiggins contract enough to do a Chandler for Wiggins move straight up? Are they Grizzlies that desperate for young talent (they shouldn’t be...but Wiggins is indeed still young. Minnesota likely says no anyway).

The Hornets and the Heat especially could be in the market for long-term cap relief, and Chandler would provide it. If the Grizzlies were to do this - and sacrifice their own viability long-term - there would have to be draft pick considerations made.

There’s one team in particular...and one player in particular...that Memphis could dance with that could especially pay off in terms of long-term assets.

The Washington Warhead

NBA: Washington Wizards at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s do a little doomsday prepper work for a moment.

The Grizzlies shop Mike Conley through the draft and in to free agency, but to no avail. Big market teams hold on to their own free agents or hit home runs and every max slot is filled, meaning Memphis cannot simply trade Conley in to space.

A team emerges that is interested in his services, and those of Jonas Valanciunas, who opted in to his contract for the coming season but will still be a free agent in 2020 unless a new agreement comes about.

The Washington Wizards offer this trade package-

John Wall, Ian Mahinmi, Troy Brown, 2020 1st (Unprotected), 2022 1st (unprotected) for Mike Conley, Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles.

What do you say?

At first glance, probably “hell no”. John Wall is about begin a gigantic 4-year, $169.3 million contract and is coming off an Achilles injury that almost surely will make it so he is nowhere near worth that massive amount of money. He almost surely won’t play at all this season and will get paid $38.1 million. Even if he comes back and is a serviceable or a bit better player - think Gordon Hayward-esque - he is due to make $47.3 million in the final season of that deal, 2022-2023.

$47.3 million. At 32 years old. As a player whose game is almost completely connected to explosiveness.

But consider the following-

  • That contract will be done by the time Ja Morant is due to be re-signed, and for only one season would you have both Wall and Jaren Jackson Jr. on theoretical max contracts (acknowledging that the Jackson contract, being his first crack at one, would be less than Wall’s).
  • At 6’4” 193 pounds Wall could, in theory, be a starting guard in a back court with Morant. Wall could allow for Morant to play off the ball some, and vice versa, and both player’s skill sets are similar enough that opposing teams would have issues defending them both. Wall won’t lose all of that athleticism - and the injury will almost surely force him to adapt his game some. His development could coincide with Morant’s in a way - they’d both need to develop more as shooters, and could do it together.
  • The Mahinmi contract is expiring, so between him and Chandler Parsons the Grizzlies would still get about $41 million in cap relief in the summer of 2020. But let’s say, for a moment, you do the Parsons-for-Batum and a future 1st deal in addition to this one and fully blow it all to hell. Only $16 million is freed up in 2020 (the expiring Mahinmi deal), but you get ANOTHER first round pick. Now, with the Grizzlies struggling (as they likely would), the Hornets exchanging long-term finances for here and now winning (Batum is better than Parsons), and the Wizards depending on a Bradley Beal/Conley/Valanciunas core to get them deep in the playoffs, there would be three likely 1st round picks within the top-20 selections in the 2020 NBA Draft potentially available to the Grizzlies.
  • In that scenario, Memphis would be without a 2021 1st - damn Jeff Green trade. But the 2022 1st from the Wizards would soften that blow, and between the 2018 and 2022 drafts the Grizzlies would have seven first round picks - 2018’s #4 overall (Jaren), 2019’s #2 overall (likely Morant), the three 2020’s (MEM/CHA/WSH), maybe a 2021 with the CHA protection if it doesn’t convey in 2020, and then the Grizzlies and Wizards 1sts in 2022. At least three (if the Grizzlies kept their own 1st in 2020) and probably four (the Hornets would be fringe playoff contenders, and remember, the Wizards would be improved in this situation) would be lottery selections. Whether you actually use the future picks, trade them to move up, or kick the can down the road another year or so, it gives you asset flexibility.
NBA: NBA Draft Lottery Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

You want to talk about a process? Check out this projected 2019-2020 opening night depth chart-

Point Guard- Ja Morant, Delon Wright, Jevon Carter, John Wall (out)

Shooting Guard - Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey

Small Forward - Troy Brown, Nicolas Batum, Bruno Caboclo

Power Forward - Kyle Anderson, Ivan Rabb

Center - Jaren Jackson Jr., Joakim Noah, (fingers crossed), Ian Mahinmi

Sign some guys to play the 2 and forward positions via the mid-level exception (overpays almost certainly would be needed), or maybe you bring back an Avery Bradley or Justin Holiday, and there you have it. The 2019-2020 Memphis Grizzlies.

It’d be...an adventure. And of course there’s no guarantee the Wizards or Hornets would ever even do these types of deals. Perhaps they wouldn’t.

But if they would?

It’d be a calculated risk for Memphis.

You’d be banking on your scouting department. And your coaching staff emphasizing development, and building a culture not about “tanking”, but about competing as best you can, night in and night out. The roster listed above would likely result in at least another year of not conveying, meaning another bad-to-worse season. After the lottery win in May, however, the convey debate is less relevant. The focus now should building a roster around Jaren and (probably) Ja. These moves, while handicapping you in the short-term, allow for you to do just that within the span of rookie contracts.

A team like the Grizzlies must build through the draft. These transactions would make for long nights, and potentially multiple frustrating campaigns. But if the fan base could buy in and believe in the long-term vision that would have to be sold?

Perhaps, once again, a process could be trusted.

Contract information provided by spotrac.com, future pick information provided by futuresportstransactions.com

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