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The Art of the Sign-And-Trade

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The Memphis Grizzlies’ front office has done a brilliant job getting the maximum value for every piece on their roster, specifically with the sign-and-trade.

The Memphis Grizzlies Introduce Taylor Jenkins Photo by Justin Ford/NBAE via Getty Images

The dust has finally settled on this free agency period, and everyone in the NBA world can take a collective breath as the action dies down. By the time next season begins, the entire league will have a new look without the clear front runner. There are many teams who have tried taking large steps forward in hopes of grabbing this open seat at the head of the table.

During all this, the Memphis Grizzlies are a team who have been able to take advantage of the craziness. They have positioned themselves as a team willing to do deals with anyone taking on bad contracts that will not fit with either of the two teams in a deal. The most important part of it all is that they also gain an additional asset or assets in order to complete the transaction. It is perfectly taking advantage of two teams desperate to finalize the deal.

This way of thinking about trades and asset collection has been a refreshing start to the Zachary Kleiman era in Memphis. He took over as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations back in the April front office shake up and has pulled all the correct levers to this point. Kleiman and his team have been focused on building with young players and assets to set the franchise in a positive direction.

The one aspect of their off-season that stands out the most has been the attention to detail by getting the maximum value out of every trade chip possible. Specifically, it has been the way the Memphis front office has been using the sign-and-trade. This summer we have seen the sign-and trade used much more frequently than in the past. Over the history of the NBA, sign-and-trades were rare because of how tricky they were to stay within the salary cap guidelines of the CBA. Plus, teams did not want to give up the assets to sign a player that they could just pick up in the open market, and the incoming player did not want their new team to give up anything in return. This logic makes a lot of sense. Teams saw this and never really looked to sign-and-trades as a device to complete a deal.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

So what changed to make this off-season different? It has been the number of teams that do not have cap space trying to make room for a new player. Most teams at the top of the league are close to fully capped out, which is why they are in that position. Then, the problem becomes these teams do not have the room to sign another big time free agent. Take the Golden State Warriors for example. They are a team that is flirting with the hard cap, but with the departure of Kevin Durant, they wanted another star. So, the Warriors moved around some pieces to bring in D’angelo Russell at the 4-year, $117 million contract. This transaction was technically a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors, but the Warriors needed one more team to take on another contract. The Memphis Grizzlies stepped in and did just that. They took on Andre Iguodala and his $17 million expiring deal. Plus, for taking on that contract, Memphis gained a 2024 first round pick from the Warriors. Kleiman took advantage of the two teams trying to duke it out and collected an asset in the process.

Another example of Kleiman and his team perfecting the sign-and-trade is how they handled Delon Wright. The Dallas Mavericks showed interest in Wright, but Memphis had already extended his qualifying offer prior to free agency. Knowing that they did not want to lose out and gain nothing from Wright signing with Dallas, they instead agreed to a deal by signing and then trading him to Dallas getting assets back in a 2021 and 2023 second-round picks. It is still interesting that Dallas did this deal, but it solidified that Memphis would not just match Dallas’s offer to keep Wright. Kleiman is getting absolutely everything he can for the players on their way out. The Grizzlies’ front office has been making the masterful moves to show off their expertise.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

A key aspect of the sign-and-trade which other front offices do not seem to consider is the trade player exception which these trades create. The TPE is how teams are able to take back contracts which may exceed the flat amount given up. It amount exceeded varies if the team is a taxpayer or not. Kleiman and this front office have shown how important it is to them by bringing in nine trade acquisitions over about a months span. The Grizzlies trade exception has been used in almost all of these deals which has been useful taking on other players along the way. They take the extra expiring contracts in and then try and ship them out for even more assets with another team, i.e. Kyle Korver. This is a salary cap mechanism that does not get talked about enough when building a team by collecting assets.

Having a competent front office is something Memphis could not say they have had for the last 15 years. The new guard came in and quickly showed that they knew what they were doing from the start. They jumped through the salary cap hoops exploiting teams (not even really mentioning the value of expired contracts) by using the sign-and-trade to perfection. First with Golden State and then with Dallas, the Grizzlies gained four draft picks for close to nothing.

Kleiman and his team are putting on a show this summer. They have made the deals to get excited for the years to come under this regime. Hope is something that has been needed for this franchise. With this offseason and the young rookies looking great in the Summer League, the feeling heading into the season is very positive. These are exciting times for the Memphis Grizzlies.