During the final few minutes of the trade deadline in 2018, Memphis fans anxiously waited to see what the return would be for the Memphis Grizzlies in their apparently inevitable Tyreke Evans trade, as they had sat him out several games prior. It was thought to be inevitable because everyone assumed that not even the Grizzlies front office, which accurate or not had become infamous for inexplicable and infuriating decisions, could be so incompetent to drop the ball in this situation.
Of course, they did in fact drop the ball, marking another chapter in Chris Wallace’s uneven and frustrating tenure as the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies. Even without the benefit of hindsight, it was still an embarrassing situation for the Grizzlies, albeit certainly not a surprising one. After all, this is just what the Grizzlies did.
How times have changed.
Ever since Zachary Kleiman became the President of Basketball Operations this past summer for the Memphis Grizzlies, he has acted with shrewd acuity and tenacious forward-thinking, spearheading the Grizzlies on their way to becoming arguably the NBA’s most dynamic young roster. His persistent philosophy to maximize every single asset was once again exemplified at the NBA trade deadline.
Although most of the national media basically attempted to bully the Grizzlies into buying out Andre Iguodala since they acquired him in 2019, the Kleiman-led front office stuck to their guns and eventually finalized a trade to Miami—with some further alterations and frugal shenanigans as well. The Grizzlies initially traded Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami for Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and James Johnson. They then traded James Johnson to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Gorgui Dieng. And preceding that in a totally unrelated deal, they sent out Bruno Caboclo to the Houston Rockets for Jordan Bell while also receiving a favorable swap of second round picks.
So to summarize, the Grizzlies dealt:
- Andre Iguodala
- Jae Crowder
- Solomon Hill
- Bruno Caboclo
And they exited the deadline with new acquisitions of:
- Justise Winslow
- Dion Waiters
- Gorgui Dieng
- Jordan Bell
While not quite the home run that some may have expected when news of the Iguodala trade broke last night, all of these trades including the Miami deal in particular represent a resounding success for the Grizzlies at the trade deadline.
To properly appreciate that fact, context is needed. The hypothetical Iguodala trade itself was never supposed to be anything more than a cherry-on-top to the deal in which the Warriors attached a first round pick to him just to clear cap space; that pick will likely convey in 2024 or 2025 and potentially be immensely valuable to the Grizzlies. Also, the goal after Iguodala refused to report to training camp was to get anything of value back in a trade.
And even with this in mind, the Grizzlies still managed to get a superbly gifted young player in Justise Winslow. Winslow’s biggest issue is undoubtedly health, as he has only played 11 games this year due to back issues and hasn’t played more than 68 games in a season since his rookie year. But when he is healthy, he’s a 23-year-old explosively athletic wing that provides tenacious defense as well as above-average playmaking for his position. He has also flashed enticing ability as a shooter (38% from three on 3.9 attempts last year), although he did struggle in his relatively limited time this year (22% on 2.5 attempts).
If Winslow manages to stay reasonably healthy, which would seem to be more likely than not since the Grizzlies medical staff has already had success with another player that has dealt with back issues in De’Anthony Melton, then he could round out what has quickly become the league’s deepest young core. And even if he doesn’t, it’s far from the end of the world. Again, the point was to get anything of value back in an Iguodala trade.
As for the other components of this deal, there have been several different criticisms of the Grizzlies or overall skepticism at the very least. I strongly disagree with each of them, and I’ll address them individually.
Many people both locally and nationally have wondered why the Grizzlies would take on so much bad money in both Waiters (owed $12.6 million in 2020-21) and Johnson, or rather now Dieng (owed $17.3 million in 2020-21), when it means that they will be operating nearly at the cap for the 2020 offseason and going into next year.
The Grizzlies obviously intended to punt on 2020 free agency because both it is a bad free agent class with no reasonably available options that are truly any better than the players they already have under contract, and the Grizzlies previously had more cap room than they could possibly spend. Essentially, the Grizzlies weren’t going to do anything better with that money, so they might as well give it to Waiters and Johnson/Dieng—if it means also bringing a young player of Winslow’s caliber into the fold.
Secondly, Waiters and Dieng will both be expiring contracts next year (unless Waiters is waived or bought out, which is looking like a real possibility), meaning that they can be valuable trade chips at next year’s deadline when many teams will be looking to create cap space for a tantalizing free agency class in 2021. The Grizzlies could be primed to make a splashy trade with a combination of the valuable first rounds picks they’ve received since this past summer as well as those expiring contracts. Even if they don’t end up getting traded, the Grizzlies will still have newfound cap space to pursue free agents that they actually covet when Dieng and/or Waiters’ contracts come off the books in the summer of 2021.
It also can’t be understated that Gorgui Dieng in particular is a heck of a backup center that is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. Per 100 possessions, he is averaging 20.5 points, 15.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.2 steals and 2.5 blocks. He fills an actual need that the Grizzlies have since Brandon Clarke has occasionally struggled with bigger and more physical backup fives, and he will be a clear asset in continuing the team’s short-term success.
As far as other criticisms are concerned, some are worried that trading Crowder and Hill will disrupt the chemistry of the Grizzlies while also hurting them in their chase for the eight seed.
I will say, this whole sequence absolutely helps the teams chasing Memphis for the 8th-spot.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 6, 2020
To be sure, chemistry shouldn’t be a significant issue since the Grizzlies still have stable veterans in Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Anderson and even the impossibly young Tyus Jones (how is he just 23?!). As for the playoffs concern, the goals of the Grizzlies front office remain oriented to the big picture rather than just sneaking into the playoffs.
And even if they weren’t, if you really believe that Jae Crowder, who has shot 36% from the field and 29% from three this year, and Solomon Hill, who even in the midst of a very solid year is still Solomon Hill, are extremely vital to the Grizzlies’ success, then I have a bridge to sell you. The Grizzlies are undefeated without Crowder in the lineup in particular this year, and Kyle Anderson should have always been playing more minutes than him anyway. Moving Solomon Hill also creates a real opportunity for an obviously more talented player in Josh Jackson as well.
All in all, the Grizzlies found significant success in their trade with Miami, even as the Heat are now well-positioned with the additions of Iguodala, Crowder and Hill to their roster to truly become title contenders.
The other unrelated deal also allowed the Grizzlies to move Bruno Caboclo, who didn’t appear to have an NBA future if he stayed in Memphis, to Houston for Jordan Bell, a young prospect that has already flashed impressive ability as an athletic rim-runner and rim-protector. Whether he’ll ever become more than that is debatable, but it’s another example of the Grizzlies front office not leaving a single stone unturned when it comes to asset maximization. To be sure, it’s excellence on display.
And those same fans of the Memphis Grizzlies who were so well-acquainted with organizational instability and incompetence are now starting to expect that particular brand of excellence from Zachary Kleiman and the rest of the Grizzlies front office.