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The Cautious Buyer: Grizzlies trading season

It’s the absolute worst time of the year.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies and this time of year have a love-hate relationship. In the past, during the peak of the Grit and Grind Era, more often than not the squad was in the role of a “buyer” in the traditional sense. This usually meant that Memphis was in the market for the “savior” at the wing position, someone who could help them fill the void left behind by Rudy Gay in 2013 following another winter dealing (which brought Tayshaun Prince to Memphis). That’s how Jeff Green eventually arrived in 2015, after all - and we all know how that went. Memphis continues to pay for that sin with an owed 1st round pick to the Boston Celtics, who took on the Prince deal in that particular transaction.

Another mistake they made, in 2013 a week before the Rudy Gay one mentioned above, was the move of Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, Josh Selby AND a 1st round pick for Jon Leuer. This move helped set the stage for the Rudy Gay trade. Cap relief! Save us, cash considerations! Make it easier for us to part with picks!

It wasn’t all bad - #8 Grizzly of the past decade Courtney Lee was acquired during this time of the NBA in 2014, and the Marc Gasol trade of 2019 led Memphis to Jonas Valanciunas and the ability to turn Delon Wright in to further draft pick capital. That Gasol trade being made by the current front office head Zachary Kleiman by most accounts also allows for hope that these mistakes won’t repeat themselves. The Green/Ellington clusters were done by the previous administration, and nothing that Kleiman and the crew over at FedExForum have done so far would lead you to believe such short sighted moves are in their line of sight.

Yet, tweets like these still cause post-traumatic stress from times where the future was mortgaged for the present.

“Sneaky buyer”. Enough to make you heave.

Unless, as was explained via Twitter exchange after a minor social media meltdown, the definition of “buyer” could shift.

Yes, this makes more sense. It’s not being a “sneaky” buyer, passing on assets to try to improve a team that would need a six game winning streak just to get to .500 on the season. It can still be about the future. You can be cautious about the ways you purchase, which definitely would line up with the perceived philosophy of this rebuild. With the team ahead of schedule, why not see if you can get a young talent you may be interested in early and gain some advantages in future negotiations as you build around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

This is an idea to get behind. But what would be some examples of how it could work?

The Armchair GM is back. The only rule? In this exercise only expiring unrestricted free agent pieces (with one exception near the end) are being moved. Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones, all could hold value as “add-ons” in possible dealings, but the most likely scenario is they’re back next season. Restricted free agents Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton will almost certainly be given qualifying offers so Memphis can match or make moves with their contracts, like they did with Wright and Dallas.

All the following trades have cleared TradeNBA. We begin with two guys that, if dealt, literally couldn’t hurt the current Memphis Grizzlies any more than their current “presence” has.

Josh Jackson - Hello, Knicks!

New York Knicks receive: Josh Jackson, 2022 2nd round pick (least favorable between Detroit and Chicago), 2023 2nd rounder via Dallas or Miami

Memphis Grizzlies receive: Wayne Ellington, 2023 1st round pick (via Dallas)

The Memphis Grizzlies have a plethora of 2nd round selections - eight in the next five drafts. They’ve been smart with how they’ve acquired them, and they’re in a place where they can pair a couple with a player to try to secure the rights to a future 1st. Enter Josh Jackson, who more and more appears like he will never suit up for the Memphis Grizzlies. He is damaged goods in a lot of ways, but obviously has athletic ability and a team on the outs could perhaps want to acquire him to see what he can do and maybe try to re-sign him this summer.

Enter the New York Knicks.

The Knicks are bad, and also could be the type of team to take a swing at a possible star that they’d be getting for relatively cheap. The 1st rounder they’re giving up here - the 2023 1st from Dallas - figures to not be a lottery selection, and they’re being compensated with two 2nds and the young Jackson. Wayne Ellington returns to Memphis and maybe never plays a minute. That’s OK - his contract will eventually come off the books, like Jackson’s was going to, and the Grizzlies are a 1st round pick richer for the transaction.

Andre Iguodala - Bienvenido, a Miami

Miami Heat receives: Andre Iguodala, 2021 2nd round pick (via Portland)

Memphis Grizzlies receive: Duncan Robinson, James Johnson

Variations of this deal have been floated here, there, and everywhere. Word has been circulating that Iggy plans on returning to the west coast once his contract expires this summer, and that - plus the fact he hasn’t played meaningful basketball in a long while - probably negates his value some. But again, this is a guy that is not doing anything for you currently. While Miami is not California, Andre could be spending the rest of this season in worse locales (the Milwaukee Bucks, while title contenders, are not a vacation destination) and at least he’d be in the hunt in the wide open east.

Memphis is able to sweeten the pot a bit here with another 2nd round pick (Miami has ONE in the next several drafts), and in its place they bring back two players that can help now and in the future. James Johnson has a player option he almost certainly will pick up for 2020-2021, but he’s familiar with Memphis from his time here before and has a frame and skill set that would fit what Taylor Jenkins wants to do, especially defensively.

The prize piece of the deal, though, is Robinson. He’s a Kleiman-esque trade target if there ever has been one.

First, hello Jaren Jackson Jr.!

Second, Duncan Robinson makes a lot of sense, doesn’t he?

With all the creators off the dribble currently on the Memphis roster, Robinson as a spot up shooter would have all the space necessary to shoot and score from range. Robinson is limited, and lacks the pedigree of Iguodala. That, combined with the possibility of cap relief and a sorely needed draft pick, is what leads the Heat to deeming this a deal worthy of moving off of Robinson for. Justise Winslow is healthy for Miami now, and if Iggy does what he is capable of doing he makes the Heat better for this playoff push.

Meanwhile, Robinson makes Memphis better in the present, as well as down the road. And all it cost was an expensive year of James Johnson...but when your two best players are on rookie deals, one bad year of a contract won’t hurt. To make this deal work, you’d need to waive Bruno Caboclo for roster space - or if you’re operating in the world where all these moves happen within one another, buying out Wayne Ellington probably would be possible.

Now, for the guys that have a bit more value because they’ve been around and active as the Grizzlies have improved.

Solomon Hill - Chi-Town Touchdown

Chicago Bulls receive: Solomon Hill

Memphis Grizzlies receive: Cristiano Felicio, 2022 1st round pick from Chicago (Lottery protected in 2022, protected 1-6 in 2023, converts to two 2nd round picks (2024 and 2026) if not conveyed by 2023 draft)

Solo has been a terrific addition to the Grizzlies. Essentially a smaller deal to potentially buy out if necessary, the trade that brought him and Miles Plumlee (the one that got bought out) for Chandler Parsons worked out really well for both Memphis and Solomon. Hill was on the end of the bench in Atlanta, but with the Grizzlies he has reinvigorated his career. He has shown the ability to play multiple front court positions and shoot the three while defending and playing with consistently great effort. Losing him hurts some in the short term, especially considering Felicio isn’t exactly a Taylor Jenkins-friendly big man. He has attempted 10 threes in his three and a half seasons in the NBA, and has made 0.

So why do the deal? The shot at another 1st round pick. It’s heavily protected in this example, so it may well become those two seconds. But it’s asset season, and this is the price you pay to take on what may well be dead money.

Also, the Grizzlies have learned that Brandon Clarke, for all his awesome gifts, is not a back-up center. He struggles there pretty consistently, and Felicio - despite not being a pace and space monster - was actually functional in that role in the past. He was an effective rim-runner and was capable of rebounding in spurts, which Memphis could obviously use in controlled doses. Perhaps the Grizzlies could be a fresh start and another successful reclamation project for Memphis as he comes off an injury earlier this season.

Or maybe he rides the pine. But remember - the Grizzlies have cap to spare, and in this scenario have taken on roughly $27 million in next year money to this point. They have an estimated $57 million on the books as of now, so $84 million between 11 players when the cap is estimated to be $116 million isn’t too shabby.

Finally, the guy that would most impact the roster now...

Jae Crowder - High living in Denver

Denver Nuggets receive: Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, 2023 2nd round pick via Memphis, 2024 2nd round pick via Toronto

Memphis Grizzlies receive: Jerami Grant, Malik Beasley

Feels like a lot to give up, considering the cost of Grant heading in to next season and and fact that Beasley has fallen out of favor in Denver’s rotation. But Jae brings veteran experience that the Nuggets will value off their bench, and Grayson Allen replaces Beasley as the young player that (for far cheaper, with Beasley entering restricted free agency) can develop in Mike Malone’s schemes. The two 2nd rounders being lost are offset by the firsts acquired in the previous trades.

Beasley can be had for relatively cheap (probably not as expensive as he would’ve been contract wise), and has shown real potential in the past two seasons from beyond the arc, converting at a near 40% clip. Grant is only 25 himself, and has shot the ball well from three this season (38.9%) while possessing switchability in the front court. Crowder’s departure via free agency - or re-signing with Denver - would be cheaper cap wise for the Nuggets than the $9.34 million owed to Grant next summer via a player option he likely opts in to.

Both players fit the mold of what Memphis is looking for - cost-effective young players than can provide space for Ja Morant’s pace.

So what would the Memphis Grizzlies look like after all this, if it were completed?

Guards- Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Malik Beasley, Marko Guduric, Wayne Ellington

Wings- Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Duncan Robinson, Jerami Grant, James Johnson

Bigs- Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Cristiano Felicio

There’s a real possibility all but one of those guys could be on next year’s roster. And assuming players like Dillon Brooks (roughly $11 million), Malik Beasley (roughly $9 million), and De’Anthony Melton (roughly $7 million) get paid, that would eat up an estimated $112 million across 14 players. Under the cap with room to spare for a draft pick, and the ability to dump salary (Marko’s deal could be traded, with a 2nd round sweetener).

This is all hypothetical, of course. But the deals outlined above would accomplish the following.

  • Get Memphis players that can help both now and in the future. Who is the 13th man on that roster (not counting Wayne Ellington and Marko Guduric, the obvious inactives)? Felicio is probably the correct answer. From there, perhaps you are content to pay James Johnson to watch the games from the side. Your 11th man might be Tyus Jones or Duncan Robinson, which is a very good problem to have. Plenty of shooting, and ever more usable versatility in terms of creativity off the dribble and size on the wing/in the front court.
  • Acquire more 1st round draft picks. You lose five 2nd rounders in this process. But you gain at least one, and perhaps two, 1sts. Whether it be in trades down the road to move up or actual future selections, further potential top-30 pick assets in the toolbox of picks is rarely a bad thing.
  • You accomplish the goal of keeping long-term flexibility. Aside from the Beasley extension, you’re adding no money that goes beyond 2021. The ability to stay cap sound while beginning the process of maxing out Jaren Jackson Jr. and eventually Ja Morant is still there...the money off the books just bumps down a year to 2021 (roughly $36 million from Felicio/Grant/Johnson/Guduric being off the books). You’ve improved the ability for this young team to win now while not sacrificing the seasons to come. Rookie contracts are very helpful in that way - Ja and Jaren may be stars by 2021, but they’ll still be making rookie money. Re-signing Robinson and being a player in 2021 free agency could happen.

There’s a line to walk in this brave new world in which we find ourselves. Memphis could push for the playoffs. Memphis could also tumble to the top-6 of the lottery. Yet if one of these moves, or even all of them, were to come to fruition, the consistent goal of finding talent to fit next to Jaren and Ja for years to come would remain the main focus while enabling the here and now to be better as well.

Be buyers, Memphis. But do so cautiously.

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