De’Anthony Melton was one of the pleasant surprises of the NBA season for the Memphis Grizzlies. The analytics darling was widely seen as the best part of the trade Memphis completed with the Phoenix Suns last season, and Melton didn’t disappoint. He was near elite in transition and as a defender a majority of the minutes he logged for the Grizzlies, and considering he is only 22-years-old he fits neatly within the core that Zachary Kleiman has established alongside superstar Ja Morant and his excellent sidekick Jaren Jackson Jr.
Because if the market for the man known as “Mr. Do Something” as Grizzlies announcers Brevin Knight and Pete Prancia call him gets too inflated, his return to Memphis perhaps does not make sense for the Grizzlies.
As Parker outlined yesterday, the Memphis front office has positioned themselves quite nicely with regard to the 2021 offseason. Want a max-level player? The Grizzlies can do that if they so desire. Value a couple of $12-$15 million-ish players instead? They can do that too. Having three of your best players (Morant, Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke) on rookie deals has its advantages. Kleiman and his crew have prioritized descending contracts as well in all their business they’ve done with free agents to this point, meaning that as the Jonas Valanciunas and Tyus Jones contracts go on, their yearly cap hits decrease.
That all means more flexibility. And with Gorgui Dieng’s $17.2 million and Justise Winslow’s $13 million (possible to be opted in to as a team option, assuming Winslow plays well) coming off the books, in addition to the waived Dion Waiters’ $12 million cap hit leaving the ledger? Opportunity abounds for this Memphis front office that has been quite successful so far. But a Melton contract totaling over the Mid-level exception (roughly $9.25 million, if the cap doesn’t get too drastically altered due to the pandemic) would impact that. And De’Anthony’s Bubble performance didn’t inspire confidence in his offensive game, especially from beyond the arc.
You don’t let talented 22-year-olds walk for nothing, though. At least you shouldn’t, if you can help it. That previously mentioned flexibility means that if you’d u think Melton is worth $50 million over four years (as Atlanta bloggers do), you can match if you’d like and not hurt your long-term prospects of keeping Morant and Jackson. It also means that, while trades are still possible, the opportunity cost of losing some access to that loaded 2021 free agency class could be too high in addition to the Melton money to get a contract done that makes sense for Memphis while also allowing the team breathing room to operate. $23 million on average invested in Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony may be too steep a cost.
The good news? These Grizzlies have shown a willingness to set up sign and trades. Just look to Delon Wright last season, who was sent to Dallas for two second round picks. The Mavericks got their man at a better contract through the Grizzlies, and Memphis added draft capital to their rebuilding process. Both teams were happy...at least at the time.
There are several teams that could want Melton in their mix in a similar fashion - squads that play a fast pace, are interested in Melton’s strengths (defense, transition) more than his shooting woes, and are limited in the free agency market to roughly their Mid-level exception because of being over the salary cap, and would rather invest such money in a young, talented wing than an older retread in unrestricted free agency.
There will be a market for Melton beyond the Atlanta Hawks, who will have plenty of cap space and don’t need to do business with Memphis to get the kind of deal they want. The Hawks could make Melton a 3 year $42 million offer, for example, that the young Melton would perhaps be crazy to not sign an offer sheet for...and Memphis would perhaps be crazy to match. But the Grizzlies could send De’Anthony to a better team who is over the cap while still getting Melton a hefty pay raise. That may be of interest to Melton as he (maybe) moves on in free agency while also expecting to hit the market again, this time as an unrestricted free agent, as he enters the prime of his career.
Who could be possible sign and trade destinations?
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a back-to-back NBA MVP, and is about to approach one of the most talked-about free agencies in some time in 2021. What will Giannis do? Assuming Memphis isn’t in the mix, anything else could be on the table. Miami and Toronto have been rumored to be interested here and there, but the Bucks have been reported as saying they’re committed to building a title contender for Giannis this season.
They only problem? They’re cap strapped...even with only eight players under contract. Add another roughly $8 million with assumed Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez player options, and assuming the Bucks keep their 24th overall pick, will be up around $124 million across 11 players. Ersan Ilyasova’s $7 million is non-guaranteed, and it seems likely Milwaukee will be option out of that deal. The luxury tax is projected to be $139 million, so the Bucks could have access to their full Mid-level exception.
Enter De’Anthony Melton.
Melton could do wonders in the schemes of the Bucks, who prioritize playing with pace as well as launching threes. While three point shooting is not a strength of Melton, his ability to run and gun while also providing great defensive play (especially in Coach Budenholzer’s schemes) could be maximized, especially off the bench alongside Matthews and George Hill (assuming Donte DiVincenzo becomes a starter). Perhaps Melton could start alongside Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis, and Brook Lopez, forming one of the more formidable defensive starting fives in the NBA.
If the Bucks want to both prove to Giannis they’re for real in terms of wanting to compete while also preparing themselves for a reality where Giannis may leave, spending the MLE on Melton to the tune of a four-year contract could make a lot of sense. The Grizzlies in return could ask for a 2023 first round pick (lottery protected, becoming 2024 and 2025 2nd round picks if not conveyed). Additional draft capital for a team that, as Morant, Jackson Jr., and Clarke get paid, will need all the cheap talent they can get to build sustained success.
The Wizards are stuck under one of the worst contracts in the NBA, John Wall’s Supermax. In addition, they have Bradley Beal on the roster and are also hoping to retain Davis Bertans, who had a career year. Washington is in an unenviable spot - they are both rebuilding (2nd straight season with the 9th pick in the NBA Drat) while trying to be more competitive as soon as possible with the hopefully healthy Wall/Beal duo. They have scoring (in theory) in the threesome of Wall, Beal, and Bertans. They should be able to add more help on the perimeter at #9 overall with Devin Vassel, Tyrese Halliburton, Issac Okoro, or some other wing or combo guard. But signing a young and talented wing to run with reserves like Troy Brown Jr. and Ish Smith could be attractive.
Again, enter De’Anthony Melton.
Scott Brooks has been trying to improve the defensive prospects of the Wizards for some time. Melton could do that while providing secondary facilitation skill to the second unit of Washington, making Smith more dangerous as a scorer. Depending on match-ups, a Beal/Melton/Brown/Rui Hachimura/Bertans lineup could cause all sorts of possible issues for opposing defenses while perhaps not being the defensive liability it would be if Melton wasn’t present. Melton again makes sense in terms of being a long-term investment (a four-year MLE) while also helping the Wizards be more competitive in the here and now.
Washington could do the same type of trade (2023 1st lottery protected, becomes 2024 and 2025 2nds if not conveyed) as Milwaukee, which would again net Memphis a valuable potential first round pick. If Melton could (in theory) net more than the MLE, he should (again, in theory) be worth a protected first in the sign and trade market.
Some quick other options.
- The Los Angeles Clippers. Despite their playoff failures, the Clippers return most of their roster and figure to have the capacity to add another wing defender/player in transition if they do not retain the likes of Montrezl Harrell, who is almost certainly going to receive a big pay day.
- The Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, the rich could get richer. Even if all their player options opt in except Anthony Davis, who surely will pursue a max deal with L.A. (and get it), they could have full MLE room to make a run at the likes of a Melton, who could add yet another strong defender to a team that is already elite in that area.
- The Indiana Pacers. Indiana is very limited in free agency due to all the business they did last offseason. Still, after their unceremonious exit from the Bubble, and with Victor Oladipo’s future in Indiana in doubt, a three or four year MLE with Melton could make sense if Indiana is comfortable with Malcolm Brogdon and TJ Warren leading the way offensively (alongside Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.
All three of these teams have varying degrees of picks available. Two seconds seems far more likely to be exchanged in any deal with the franchises directly above. But role, ability to win, and proximity to home in the case of the Lakers and Clippers, may make it worth while to De’Anthony to perhaps turn down more cash from the likes of Chicago or Atlanta.
Is a roughly four-year $42 million contract too much for De’Anthony Melton?
It may be to Memphis...while it may not be to any of the five teams listed above. The long term plans of the Grizzlies are about to come in to clearer view. If Memphis signs Melton to a team friendly 3 year $20 million deal, then Zach Kleiman may be better than we even realized. If the Grizzlies match a three-year $31 million MLE? Perhaps they see the core of the team as in place, and they plan on only making one major signing in 2021. Letting Melton walk for nothing feels unlikely given the culture established by this front office - Delon Wright was nowhere near as young as Melton, and the Grizzlies didn’t let him depart the organization without pursuing avenues to improve the team.
If he isn’t destined for Memphis, which he very well may be, De’Anthony likely will get the same treatment.
Perhaps he heads to a team that isn’t listed above. The fact remains that, if Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, Kyle Anderson, and Justise Winslow make Melton more expendable than we thought before the Bubble. The team would be wise to make sure they see even more of a return on that trade they did so well in with the Suns.
And recent history tells us that Zach Kleiman and company are interested in getting as much draft juice from every roster squeeze as possible.
Salary cap information for teams from Hoops Rumors.