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Working the margins: 2020 Grizzlies Free Agency Primer

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De’Anthony Melton looms large.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

After the insanity that was the NBA Draft for the Memphis Grizzlies and the success that was bringing talented players like Desmond Bane, ,Xavier TillmanKillian Tillie, Xavier Tillman, and Sean McDermott to the 901, it was nice for everyone to get a roughly 36 hour window to breathe. In this condensed offseason, there is no rest for the weary. Front offices across the NBA are loading up for a frantic free agency the likes of which haven’t ever been experienced before. Sure, lockout years have similar timelines, but doing all the business of the NBA during a pandemic adds lots of layers of difficulty and intrigue to the process.

For Memphis, in theory things are not less interesting...they’re just less substantial. The additions of McDermott and Tillie on two-way contracts make it unlikely Yuta Watanabe comes back. Beyond that, the roster is just about complete - Bane and Tillman’s arrivals put the Grizzlies at 13 guaranteed roster spots filled with three remaining free agency decisions from within to deal with. If the Grizzlies retain all three - John Konchar, Jontay Porter (who the team declined a team option on but did put forward a qualifying offer to), and the biggest fish De’Anthony Melton - then the 15 roster spots are filled. No fuss, no muss.

But there is intrigue because qualifying offers can be rescinded. Opposing teams can offer deals to players that the Grizzlies may well turn down. And while there are 13 current Grizzlies locked in for 2020-2021, things likely will not stay that way for long.

It could be a quiet rest of the offseason. In fact, that’s the probable play. But Memphis could still make some minor waves.

Here’s how.

The current state of play/cleaning out the roster

Boston Celtics v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Grizzlies roster is currently looking like this-

GUARDS - Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Marko Guduric, Desmond Bane

FORWARDS - Justise Winslow, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman

CENTERS - Jonas Valanciunas, Gorgui Dieng

TWO-WAY CONTRACTS - Sean McDermott, Killian Tillie

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS - De’Anthony Melton, John Konchar, Jontay Porter (all have received qualifying offers)

ASSUMED TO BE GONE - Josh Jackson, Anthony Tolliver

DEAD MONEY - Dakari Johnson, Dion (NBA Champion) Waiters

With the selection of Desmond Bane at 30th overall (we may well look back at this pick as the best value of the 2020 NBA Draft) he will be paid roughly $1.6 this coming season. That puts Memphis right around $15 million below the luxury tax before paying Xavier Tillman - lets for arguments sake give him the same contract Dillon Brooks got as a 2nd round pick and tag Tillman with about $815,000 this coming season. Now Memphis is at around $14,185,000 give of take a few dollars below the tax with 13 players on the roster. The full Mid-Level Exception is available to them ($9.25 million) as well as multiple trade exceptions from previous trades, but part of that would have to be used to sign Tillman to a Brooks-esque deal, so say that number drops to about $8.4 million

Options are bountiful...but money is not.

Looking at this, one name stands out immediately as a player that almost certainly will not be returning to the Memphis Grizzlies. Marko Guduric, while a worthwhile shot as a respected European player, simply isn’t an NBA player at this stage. John Konchar, currently on the outside looking in of the roster, got more meaningful playing time and has a much more complete game at this point. So while Guduric is on the hook for $2.7 million guaranteed this season, if the Grizzlies like Konchar and of course Melton more on the perimeter (spoiler alert - they do) waiving Guduric (if trade options do not work out/do not exist) is a path to take to clear the roster out some. Pursuing a trade would be nice for someone to just take on that money, but Memphis just spent a chunk of their 2nd round capital to bring Bane and Tillman in. Would parting with another 2nd round pick be worth it to lose the cash on the cap? Konchar (who will also need to be paid using the MLE) isn’t likely to make more than Guduric’s money on the open market - if he even makes that much. So a negotiated deal to stay with the Grizzlies makes the most sense.

The Jontay Porter situation is a bit more tricky. Memphis turned away his $1.5 million team option but still extended him a qualifying offer for the same amount, meaning they have the right to match anything opposing squads offer him (and like Konchar can of course do their own negotiations). That offer can be pulled if needed - perhaps Porter is insurance at this stage, and they want to maintain some semblance of control by paying him less with a part of their MLE, like Tillman. But with Xavier Tillman added in the draft and Killian Tillie on a two-way, does retaining Porter - a talented player with serious injury concerns - make sense considering the depth at the “big” position?

It probably doesn’t. Considering the fact that Porter leaving would mean both Melton and Konchar could return, PLUS another wing/point guard could still be added, some things would have to go not according to plan for Memphis to keep him. He could really benefit from a full year with the G-League Memphis Hustle - that may be where this is heading. And that’s where it should be going.

So while it is feasible that Konchar could leave, it will be Porter hopefully with the Hustle (without that qualifying offer) and Guduric...gone. If he’s traded with no money coming back? That’d help the numbers. But lets assume Memphis eats that salary, and also plan on a Konchar return. That’s 13 roster spots filled (and another $1.5 million of money gone as well). Roughly $12.6 million below the cap to go.

The Melton in the room

Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images

The biggest cost on the Grizzlies “to-do” list is Melton’s deal. His value has been discussed here, there, and everywhere at GBB. I stand by my prediction of roughly that MLE of $9.25 million for Melton, but as a descending deal similar to the ones this front office signed Jonas Valanciunas and Tyus Jones to. There are possibilities out there for Melton, though, and that mix of opportunity (Atlanta has a ton of space) plus De’Anthony as an asset (22 years old and already a very useful player) could be attractive to a team in future trade dealings. Having Melton’s Early Bird Rights allows for you to retain him without dipping in to the MLE - which is a bonus here.

There’s no denying Melton fits defensively and in transition offense as a secondary creator with Memphis. But his issues in the bubble and shooting troubles certainly are enough to make people pause when he is believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $15 million according to projections from The Athletic’s John Hollinger. For Memphis to match that and not hit the tax, they’d have to do some extra business - a trade for less money coming back in - and would have to be OK with the idea that between Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton they’d be paying two good players almost $27 million next season. That’s too much to pay that combination, considering what they bring to the table.

The sign and trade option remains viable as well - and could potentially explain the Konchar and Porter retentions via qualifying offer. Say a team wants to pay Melton an average salary the Grizzlies aren’t comfortable with - something north of $12 million, which would impede further business both now and in the future potentially. They could help a team make their offer to Melton more team friendly (like the Grizzlies did with the Mavericks involving Delon Wright last year) and get paid for their troubles in the form of draft picks (for Melton, two seconds or a protected first would make sense). Then you retain both Porter and Konchar and have the MLE.

The most unlikely outcome is that Melton walks for nothing. The Grizzlies will either have Melton on this roster next year, or they will send him somewhere in a sign and trade and get a further return on a trade they did quite well with. Bane’s presence doesn’t impact Melton - or at least it shouldn’t. Zach Kleiman and company value assets and young talent like Melton far too much to let De’Anthony out the door totally free of helping Memphis, either on the floor as a roster member or in a transaction adding draft capital.

So now we’re faced with two different paths. One way, Melton returns for around that $9.25 million. 14 roster spots filled (with a Konchar return as well), about $3.5 million outside of the luxury tax. If Melton leaves, that of course provides the Grizzlies with more expensive - and impactful - options.

Targets for the Grizzlies in either scenario

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets - Game Four Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Instead of diving too deep in to the weeds with either way the Melton situation plays out, here we will talk targets that the Grizzlies could prioritize regardless in free agency. These are names that could possibly be had in the minimum contract to $3 million-ish range the Grizzlies would be inhabiting in the (likely) event Melton returns to Memphis.

Chris Chiozza - This point guard with Memphis ties (White Station stand up!) played very well at times for Brooklyn last year...so well in fact he may have A. priced himself out of the Grizzlies’ reach and B. may have made it clear the Nets should retain his services (Brooklyn did extend him a qualifying offer). He struggled from three in the G-League last year (30%) but shot over 37% in the NBA and displayed a level of tenacity and high-level play as a facilitator (9.8 assists per 100 possessions compared to 3.8 turnovers across playing for Washington and Brooklyn, per basketball-reference.com). He fits the Grizzlies “type” of a hard-nosed, heady player.

Due to injury he was asked to do far too much in the Bubble for Brooklyn, but he showed he should get another NBA chance and the Nets have a lot of guards on their roster now. Why not get that shot at home?

Jordan McLaughlin - This 24 year-old showed serious flashes of offensive prowess last season. He was an efficient scorer inside the arc (56.9% on two point shots) and also was a solid creator for himself and others. Minnesota has restricted free agency rights on him and could easily price the Grizzlies out if they wanted to. But the question will be, will they want to? Ricky Rubio’s return and their own free agency pursuits may push McLaughlin to the back burner. That’d be good news for Memphis - you can do a lot worse at the third PG spot.

Jaylen Adams - Another young (24 like McLaughlin) guard who shined in limited opportunity (he played in the Bubble for Portland), Adams could really do well in the Grizzlies system. He was one of the best players in the G-League last season, should be able to be had for a minimum-esque salary, and Portland doesn’t have any restricted rights since he was a replacement signing for Trevor Ariza. There’s value here (21.5 points per game, 40.7% shooting from three for the Wisconsin Herd last season).

Glenn Robinson III - Robinson has been discussed here at GBB before. He’s still relatively young (26), can shoot the three well (37.3% career performer beyond the arc), and again should be available for around the $3 or so million the Grizzlies could potentially have available. No, he’s not a point guard - and he’s lower on this list for that reason. But in terms of meaningful contributions offensively from a proven NBA player (who just completed arguably his best NBA season), you can do worse than GR3. He can hold his own as a reserve on both ends of the floor. He makes sense - if the price is right.

These names are in order of preference for me. Chiozza and McLaughlin showed the ability to play on the NBA level for longer stretches than Adams, so they gets the nod over him. But Adams almost assuredly will be cheaper than McLaughlin and Chiozza. It’s also possible the Grizzlies go for true veteran presence in the third point guard spot and sign a Brad Wanamaker type. Regardless, while there are wing options that logically make sense that final roster spot (assuming it is indeed filled) should go to a third point guard, and Chiozza/McLaughlin/Adams should be names we hear the Grizzlies connected to as free agency begins, again assuming a Melton return.


De’Anthony Melton’s contract looms large (as does the yet to be officially completed Celtics trade for Bane’s draft rights, which could bring even more money back to the Grizzlies depending on player contract structure and fill another roster spot for now). If the Grizzlies can sign him for less - $7 million or so - than I have projected, that enables them to better pay and compete for the likes of McLaughlin or Chiozza. If he gets $9.5 million or more? Things get tight...and Memphis flirts with a luxury tax line that they may be willing to cross one day, but not right now. If Melton leaves? Hello bigger names and more money to use to try to make this team even deeper

How things proceed with Melton will directly dictate how the rest of the roster shakes out. But there could be unforeseen dealings that make things easier, or more complex. A Kyle Anderson trade here, and/or a Gorgui Dieng deal there, and Memphis could have more (or less) space under the tax to operate this season. That’s what happens when you have draft capital and cap fluidity beyond this coming season - options are there that weren’t there before this front office took the helm of the franchise.

Keep this in mind - we’re breaking down third point guards and end of rotation wings. Retaining Jontay Porter and John Konchar for qualifying offers was analyzed. This Grizzlies roster is already set, for the most part, and the most likely path forward is moves working the margins. Filling in the final voids around the edges will be the priority of Zach Kleiman and company in the days to come.

The Draft was just the beginning. The sprint to the season continues now.

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