This offseason won’t be as wild as last year. Since last year was the first offseason under the new regime of Zach Kleiman and Jason Wexler, they had to clear out any players from the past management, and turn them into players and assets that fit their vision. In addition, they sacrificed cap space by trading for Justise Winslow, extending Dillon Brooks, and absorbing the last year of Gorgui Dieng’s expiring contract — which could be a commodity in the trade market. And all those moves probably outweigh the moves they could’ve made with its original cap space, given the free agency class and the cap uncertainty from COVID-19.
After its wheeling and dealing over the past year, the Memphis Grizzlies are left with a $9.26M mid-level exception this offseason. Seems easy and risk-free, but they still important decisions with big implications this fall. And it has to do with its incumbent free agents.
The team’s biggest free agents are De’Anthony Melton and Josh Jackson. Melton is an advanced stats darling who makes the team better by doing the little things, but he struggles as a shooter and creator. Jackson has become divisive within Grizz Twitter, as his pedigree and skill set warrant the extended look, but the actual product doesn’t really indicate the same.
The market will be uncertain, but the Memphis Grizzlies need to cautiously navigate through this offseason in regards to its mid-level exception and incumbent free agents, as there are bigger things lying ahead.
Where the Memphis Grizzlies need to be the most cautious is how they approach De’Anthony Melton’s restricted free agency.
The only thing that’s certain about Melton’s market is, the offer sheet could make them sweat. ESPN’s Bobby Marks indicated that he could be in line for a contract around 3-years, $18M. That’d be a win! However, there are some murmurs that he could be in line for a multi-year contract that pays more than $10M annually, as discussed on our most recent GBB Live. That could be concerning.
For starters, you’d have to judge if you value Melton to that extend. He’s a great reserve role player, and the on/off numbers exhibit his impact, as the Grizzlies are 10.2 points per 100 possessions better with Melton on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. However, his flaws were on display in the bubble, showing that he struggles as a primary playmaker and shooter. He’s a good player, but at some point, you’d have to decide how much you want to value a 6’3” combo guard that can’t space the floor and is probably best fit to be a reserve. Is it $10M+ a year? I’m not sure. And on top of that, do you want to spend $20M+ each season for the next 3 years for the shooting guard pair of Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton? As a potential playoff team, it doesn’t seem necessarily wise.
In addition, a lucrative deal for Melton should move the Grizzlies below the max contract threshold for the 2021 offseason. The Athletic’s Danny Leroux indicated that — assuming all options are picked up — the Grizzlies could have $30-40M to spend next offseason. I’m not saying that they’re going to use it to chase Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it could be a valuable resource next summer.
The market this year is uncertain, and I don’t know if the 8-figure rumors are legitimate — remember, in the 2017 offseason, we all thought JaMychal Green was going to get a fatter payday. The cap could dry out, and the Memphis Grizzlies could bring Melton back on a multi-year deal that pays $6-8M annually. That’d be great value, as it’s the projected market for his skillset and impact, it won’t damage the team’s cap space too much, and it becomes a solid trade asset.
If the Memphis Grizzlies do strike out on De’Anthony Melton, or even if he and Jackson start at $5M annually (as Marks highlighted), it might be easier to invest in veterans or “2nd draft” players with its mid-level exception.
Over the past several offseasons, we’ve seen the Grizzlies throw 3-4 year offer sheets at young role players Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones. Those are good investments that aren’t damaging for the cap sheet. However, should they really do it again? There aren’t really any restricted free agents that would make sense in this investment, as the market is full of more 4’s and 5’s rather than 2’s and 3’s.
They could look to give Josh Jackson another one-year flier around $3-5M, but it’s tough to gauge his value within the organization. He was with the Memphis Hustle until the end of January, and despite a nice stretch of play prior to the league’s shutdown, he didn’t make his mark in the rotation. None of his shots were falling, and he wasn’t making an impact anywhere else. He later became slotted behind John Konchar in the rotation in Orlando. The question with Jackson won’t be his price, but his priority within Memphis.
Adding another veteran and a young flier with the mid-level exception would be a wise investment. Some good veterans would be Wesley Matthews, Alec Burks, Mo Harkless, or Meyers Leonard. A flier on Denzel Valentine, Furkan Korkmaz, or Harry Giles could be nice, cheap investments. And if it doesn’t pan out, they come off the books in the 2021 offseason, where bigger decisions will be made.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the biggest reason they need to be cautious with its cap sheet this offseason. Not because they could sign him, but because the Grizzlies could be in prime position to benefit from the ripple effects.
The Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat have been notable frontrunners to acquire the back-to-back MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Next offseason, they also have OG Anunoby and Duncan Robinson entering free agency. With ample cap space, you can make a competitive offer sheet that forces them to make a tough decision in the middle of a Giannis race. Those are also two players that could start on the next great Grizzlies team. And you can even have the wiggle room to add in someone cheaper like Josh Hart or Luke Kennard.
On a lighter note, you could have room to toss out hefty one-year veteran rentals, similar to when Philadelphia gave JJ Redick a 1-year, $23M deal in 2017. Why not try that with someone like Gordon Hayward or Will Barton?
Let’s make it even more entertaining. If Giannis bolts out of Milwaukee, you wouldn’t have to worry about matching salaries in a potential Khris Middleton trade. Or, if there are other teams trying to shed salary in the offseason, they could acquire an extra asset in a trade involving a big salary like Tobias Harris, Al Horford, or Andrew Wiggins.
There are infinite possibilities with ample cap flexibility, especially with max level space. And the Memphis Grizzlies front office have shown that they are savvy enough to make a big splash at the right time.
De’Anthony Melton is a good player, and Josh Jackson can be a good player too. There are players in the free agency market that can help this team next season, and maybe even a year or two more.
The Memphis Grizzlies also need to cautiously navigate these decisions.
Both can be true!
This is the cost of a rebuilding team; you’re going to have to sacrifice young talent once their rookie deals come up. It sucks, but it’s the nature of the beast. And hopefully — to avoid a jinx — the Grizzlies can replenish their losses with its expanded draft capital 2021 and beyond.
Or, this could be meaningless, and the Grizzlies can retain De’Anthony Melton and/or Josh Jackson at a reasonable price. That’d be cool too. Regardless, staying cautious this offseason should be a primary focus, as there could be bigger things ahead in coming years.