Josh Jackson’s Grizzlies judgment day is upon us. At least, it feels that way.
Jackson was called up from the Memphis Hustle in the wake of the injury to Grayson Allen, and the decision to act this close to the trade deadline is not lost on many. While the timing may indeed be coincidental, the fact remains that the Memphis Grizzlies front office must make a decision regarding their perception of what Jackson’s short (and perhaps long) term future with the franchise is, exactly. Until the last 48 hours, Jackson had spent the entirety of his time with the Grizzlies in Southaven with their G-League affiliate, most nights dominating the inferior competition as a former #4 overall draft choice should.
But the baggage connected to Jackson is a burden, and that reputation has surely impacted his time in Memphis. Peter Edmiston of The Athletic wrote that in his conversations with sources in the organization the plan was always to eventually give Josh a legitimate look, but it was delayed by the way De’Anthony Melton was playing when his name was called as injuries descended upon the Grizzlies earlier in the season. That makes sense...to an extent. But considering size differences, positional shifts, and the fact that Melton was always widely considered the “prize” of that trade with the Suns, it makes sense that De’Anthony would’ve gotten that first crack at minutes anyway.
In the here and now, perhaps as soon as tonight in New York against the Knicks in the second game of a back to back, Jackson “should” get some opportunity to play. But what will happen when he does? And could it be with a larger purpose in mind?
Josh’s Grizzly delay
Jackson did not play a minute in the Grizzlies’ impressive victory over the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night. Players who did? Marko Guduric, who is most certainly at the very least not the athlete that Josh is, and John Konchar, the Grizzlies two-way player who has logged plenty of minutes alongside Jackson with the Hustle this season. There’s logic to this - both Konchar and Guduric have practice with the Grizzlies at points through the season, with Marko being with the team almost exclusively. Jackson just came to the main roster two days ago. Maybe Head Coach Taylor Jenkins wanted to give Jackson a chance to get his feet wet and readjust to the much brighter lights of the NBA.
Or maybe he just wasn’t planning on playing Josh in that particular contest, and won’t until he knows Jackson will be comfortable in the schemes implemented by the Grizzlies.
It’s hard to imagine if that is indeed the reason that Jackson sees the floor much against the Knicks. Memphis got in to New York early Wednesday morning, so a shootaround on the second night of a back to back most likely isn’t in the cards. He will have the same work with coaches and players pregame in New York as he did at tip-off against the Nuggets. Considering the Hustle are directly connected to the Grizzlies, one would assume there are some schematic similarities. Because of this, maybe his “newness” to the Grizzlies roster is overblown.
Still, when Konchar gets his first NBA points and Guduric - who in fairness to him was visibly distraught over the passing of Kobe Bryant on Sunday evening against the Suns but was still highly ineffective in that contest - get the call ahead of Jackson, who some were expecting to get run in the rotation right away? Jackson is a superior athlete to both Konchar and Guduric, and you can argue a better basketball player than both as well. He’s bigger, can rebound more effectively, and can be more versatile positionally than either man. So why not give him a shot?
If he doesn’t play against New York, it’s fair to question not just when, but if, Josh will actually gets reps? And if/when he does, is it with Jackson’s future in Memphis in mind...or elsewhere?
Jackson the sweetener?
Josh Jackson is making $7.5 million this season, the last of his rookie contract (his final team option was not picked up). That money could, in theory, be tagged to another “more valuable” player in a trade leading up to the deadline Thursday, February 6th. The name most associate with the Grizzlies and trade rumors is Andre Iguodala, and rightfully so - he will be moved. But to make money work, either in a straight up swap or a multi-team deal, Jackson’s contract could be a positioning tool.
For example, hypothetically speaking, Memphis wants to use Iggy for acquiring a possible core piece alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., but Iguodala’s $17.1 million alone doesn’t get the job done. The Toronto Raptors want Iggy for their playoff push and see him as a potential Tobias Harris/Jaylen Brown stopper and limiter of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Raptors offer the following trade...
TORONTO RECEIVES: Andre Iguodala, Josh Jackson, 2020 2nd round pick (via Phoenix)
MEMPHIS RECEIVES: Marc Gasol, Patrick McCaw, 2020 1st round pick (via TOR, currently slated 28th overall)
Would Toronto even do such a deal? Probably not. But remember, this is an example of making large chunks of money work, and this would theoretically be beneficial to both teams. The Raptors get more positional versatility in Iguodala and move off of Gasol, who hasn’t been as impactful as they’d like him to be and recently has dealt with injury issues. Chris Boucher, who has played well for the Raptors so far this season, slides in to the back-up role behind Serge Ibaka and Paschal Siakam. If Jackson works out? Icing on the cake. Worst case, they waive him and use the roster spot elsewhere.
Memphis gets Gasol back, and with the current makeup of the roster Marc likely would get 12-ish minutes a night as a 4th big. It appears that may be the best use of him at this stage, and that would suit the Grizzlies just fine. Brandon Clarke has struggled when playing center, and Memphis could use someone to eat minutes when Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. can’t play that role. McCaw is under contract next year for around $4 million and has played an end-of-the-rotation role for Toronto. Perhaps he fits long-term, perhaps he doesn’t. Worst case, he’s gone in the summer of 2021. If Toronto says no to McCaw, the lesser-used Stanley Johnson also makes sense, and both deals would keep Memphis under the tax this season.
The moving up in this draft to 4 years of guaranteed rookie production is the value here as well. Continuing to nail draft picks will be vital for this Grizzlies team as they maximize the time they have with Jaren and Ja on their rookie deals, and this pick could enable Memphis to move up if someone they love slides down the board (a la Brandon Clarke) using future 2nd round picks to get the move completed.
Again, Gasol’s return is very unlikely. Memphis can get a 4th big in easier/less awkward ways. But it’s one example of a contender using a big, not-so-good deal to bring in Iguodala and making money work with Jackson’s contract. This could also be done with smaller deals, like those of Solomon Hill or Jae Crowder. For example...
MEMPHIS RECEIVES: Maurice Harkless, Jerome Robinson, 2020 1st round pick
L.A. CLIPPERS RECEIVE: Jae Crowder, Josh Jackson, 2020 2nd round pick (via Phoenix)
Iggy may be too rich for the blood of the Clippers, but Crowder could be had. Contenders could then choose to keep Josh and see what he can do, or waive him and sign someone for a playoff run to get more roster flexibility.
The swing for the fences
On the opposite end of the spectrum, between his play with the Hustle and any run he perhaps gets with the Grizzlies, a likely lottery-bound team that wants to take a shot at a former top-5 pick for “cheap” could get involved for Jackson’s services. There are plenty of teams with players on either expiring deals or contracts that end well before max contracts are needed for Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant
Who, you may ask? For starters...
CHICAGO BULLS- Cristiano Felicio
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS- Matthew Dellavedova
NEW YORK KNICKS- Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock
Those are just three examples of squads that could tag a 2nd round pick or two on to the contracts above to try to get a closer look at Josh Jackson in a consistent NBA rotation role. If you hit? While unlikely, you just acquired a starting-caliber player. If you miss? All you lost was a veteran, or dead money, and a 2nd rounder.
For Memphis? A player that, quite clearly, you didn’t have distinct long-term plans for nets you additional assets. Who cares if these guys never play a minute for you? Buy them out, if you see fit. The additional draft capital is what would matter. Future mobility in drafts, more bites at the proverbial apple as you build the next great Grizzlies roster.
The hour is close at hand. Josh Jackson’s immediate basketball future will soon be decided. He’s with the Grizzlies - for now - and may get some run with the big squad as soon as tonight in New York, perhaps showcasing his potential for the Knicks. He also could, quite possibly, be sent out as part of a larger deal to a title hopeful, or perhaps to a lottery team reaching for a possible star. He could even be waived by Memphis himself as part of a two-for-one trade for an Iguodala or Solomon Hill.
That seems unlikely, given his talent and role with the Hustle as both a player and a leader who hasn’t shown signs of discontent with his placement there, at least not publicly. Literally everything is on the table when it comes to the “newest” member of the Grizzlies.
Josh Jackson’s day is coming. Will it be in Memphis? Only time will tell.