We have entered the point in the NBA playoffs where most of the teams in the Association have entered their offseason. Only eight teams remain on the NBA’s Orlando Bubble campus, and 22 are looking ahead to the most uncertain NBA Draft and free agency period in history. Cap ramifications due to the pandemic, access to prospects before having to add them to your team as potential franchise cornerstones...there are a lot of things up in the air that make navigating this time a real challenge. While running an NBA franchise would be fun, there isn’t a ton of envy for general managers and Vice Presidents of Basketball operations trying to figure out how to make their teams better while the world at large continues to battle a pandemic.
But that won’t stop NBA Twitter - or this blog - from doing all sorts of Draft/offseason activities for the sake of fun (and #content).
The GBB Community Mock NBA Draft will indeed return this fall...but this is not that. I was asked to participate in an NBA Twitter Mock Draft by CJ Marchesani, who assembled quite the crew of talented and passionate bloggers/writers/fans to draft and make trades for their respective teams. I, of course, took the controls of the Memphis Grizzlies...and in this particular draft, I decided to shake things up a bit.
Before the draft ever happened I made several trades to remake the team in “my” image - a picture of maximizing the strengths of the squad (making them better in the here and now) without losing any long-term draft capital. I believe I succeeded.
Here’s the how - and why. These trades had to meet CBA requirements (to the best of our ability given the nature of the trades that occurred and without knowledge of cap impacts this coming season). I don’t think any of this will actually happen - these are things I would do if I were running the Memphis Grizzlies.
Trade #1: The prototypical third option
PHILADELPHIA SENDS: Tobias Harris, #36 overall in 2020 NBA Draft
MEMPHIS SENDS: Grayson Allen, Gorgui Dieng, Kyle Anderson
This was the very first transaction completed in the overall mock festivities. The GM of the Philadelphia 76ers (Adam Aaronson, AKA SixersAdam) made it quite clear he was interested in getting off of one of the worst contracts in the NBA. Harris is due over $147 million the next four years, and considering the dire straits of the Philly cap sheet and roster it made total sense. It’s largely accepted that Ben Simmons is best utilized as a combo forward at this stage, and Joel Embiid is a gifted - but restricted to one position - center. Those two players should be paid handsomely as cornerstones of the Sixers.
But Tobias Harris (ideally a “power forward”/4 man) and Al Horford (a combo 4/5 due $81 million over the next three seasons) are mistakes - Harris in hindsight since he’s more limited as a wing defender than originally thought, and Horford was widely questioned from the start because of the structure of the Philly roster. So SixersAdams prioritized getting off of both deals.
I was happy to take on Harris. Yes, the Grizzlies lack of cap flexibility is now locked in for the remainder of Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke’s rookie deals. Memphis is (theoretically, stay tuned) unable to take on more draft capital the way they did with the Warriors and Andre Iguodala. The Grizzlies won’t be players in free agency in 2020...or 2021...or 2022...or 2023.
But here is why I was OK with all those factors.
- Tobias Harris is a perfect third fiddle. Harris is good enough to be an offensive threat all over the floor as a stretch four while also not being good enough to warrant taking opportunities away from Ja Morant or Jaren Jackson Jr. Harris can take advantage of the spacing of Jaren and the athleticism of Ja, and both young stars for Memphis could benefit from the offensive acumen of Tobias. In the NBA Bubble people were screaming for a 3rd option to emerge offensively. I just got him.
- He was CHEAP. Grayson Allen was the best piece that left Memphis in this trade. Gorgui Dieng only played in the Bubble when he had to due to injury. Kyle Anderson was a key piece of the restart, but he does not fit the offensive vision of the Grizzlies under Taylor Jenkins and was a signing of the previous front office. Grayson shined in the Bubble, and it stings to part with a versatile perimeter player who can score from range. But Harris - a potential 18-20 point per game scorer - is worth parting with that type of player if the rest of the deal is mostly cap filler...as this one was. #36 overall was icing on the cake.
- Money is “meaningless”. The main argument against this trade will be the opportunity cost of achieving it. Now (for the moment) the Grizzlies are almost a luxury tax team and will be for the foreseeable future. But Memphis is not a free agency destination (see Parsons, Chandler) and the argument that they could be with Morant leading the charge is hypothetically optimistic at best. People love Ja, and he is most likely a generational talent. Does that mean a top free agent will shun the bigger markets/chances to play with others to play with him? It’s far more likely that Morant’s career arc becomes like that of Damian Lillard - the star guard that stays in the small market. Trades and the Draft are how talent must be acquired. And the luxury tax doesn’t become a real concern thanks to the rookie deals of Ja and Brandon Clarke until the final year of the Harris contract. By then, you have had time to move other deals and money around to prepare for that, or even avoid it.
- This team can “compete” now. What does “compete” mean? Great question - to me, this group is now a true playoff contender after this trade. They weren’t that before the deal - the Western Conference becomes even more dangerous with the return of the Golden State Warriors to relevance next season, and when you look at the other teams in the playoff picture it’s hard to see too many of them fading out of the postseason chase. Maybe Oklahoma City or Utah steps back...but you can’t bet on that, and New Orleans and Phoenix are on the rise just like Memphis. Instead of a direct fall back, these hypothetical Grizzlies have made themselves more realistic competition, especially offensively.
Rebounding is a concern, as is the presence of Jonas Valanciunas as this trade means Jaren is going to be the “5” moving forward. That will be addressed, but Harris rebounded well when he played the “4” and there are ways to replicate that loss in the aggregate. The spacing, the shot creation, the reality that Grayson Allen was the cornerstone of a deal that netted a top-40 or so NBA player and none of the draft capital acquired in previous deals was needed to get him...it was worth it in the eyes of this Mock GM.
Harris’ game should amplify the strengths of the young (still in tact) core of this team. That’s valuable while the rookie deals make taking on a bad contract like this possible.
Trade(s) #2/3: Getting a 1st rounder
PHILADELPHIA SENDS: #49 overall
MEMPHIS SENDS: 2022 2nd (worst of DET/CHI), 2024 2nd (TOR)
LOS ANGELES LAKERS SEND: #28 overall
MEMPHIS SENDS: #36, #49 overall
The main purpose of these trades was to acquire a 1st round pick, and the four years of cap-friendly rookie deals that accompany it. 2nd rounders hold value in terms of negotiation (see Dillon Brooks) but the first rounder has set team-friendly options to allow for flexibility in the face of the Harris deal’s money realities. Replacing Allen, Anderson, and Dieng’s potential contributions is a priority moving on from here, and that can be done through future moves. But the late first brings in a 4-year talent at a very comfortable price point.
Trade #4: Rebuilding “The Other Guys”
WASHINGTON SENDS: Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., JJ Redick (acquired from New Orleans in a Bradley Beal trade), #42 overall, 2023 1st (Lottery protected, 2024 Top-10 Protected, becomes 2025 and 2026 2nd round picks if not conveyed by 2024)
MEMPHIS SENDS: Justise Winslow and Jonas Valanciunas
Jaren Jackson Jr. is the new starting center for the Memphis Grizzlies. Tobias Harris slots in at the PF spot, where he is both an offensive weapon and less of a defensive liability.
Rebounding becomes much weaker with Jonas’ departure, as does the stability scoring that Jonas provides. But Harris replaces that scoring and then some, and he can rebound well as a 4 as well. In addition, the hopeful return of De’Anthony Melton in free agency and the arrival of Brown (5.6 rebounds per game for the Wizards) and Bryant (7.2 rebounds per game) helps replicate Jonas in the aggregate. Bryant (23-years old) becomes one of the best 4th bigs in the NBA, Brown (21-years old) fits as either a starter or reserve depending on what Taylor Jenkins decides to do with Dillon Brooks (he excels on corner threes and showed real growth for the Wizards in year two), and JJ Redick provides elite floor spacing (over 45% from three this season!) and veteran leadership the team desperately could have used in the Bubble especially.
Justise obviously if healthy is a real valuable player (he was who the Wizards GM wanted - I tagged Jonas after the Harris deal made moving on from Valanciunas a necessity), but this trade was too good to pass up. Bryant and Brown are on team-friendly contracts the next two seasons, and Redick’s contract expires in 2021 providing some cap relief/flexibility with regard to the luxury tax. Bryant and Brown fit the Morant/Jackson Jr./Clarke timeline well, along with Brooks, Melton (assuming he returns), and Tyus Jones.
Another 2nd in this draft allows for more issues to be addressed and/or more flexibility to move up or back is possible, and that 2023 1st is attractive as another piece to add to the draft war chest. The Grizzlies now in this hypothetical would have seven first round picks (with various levels of protections) in the next four years, and four seconds. 11 picks in four years - that’s a good way to build around the soon-to-be maxed out roster as Ja, Jaren, and maybe even Brandon get big-time money in the coming years.
So before the draft, here’s the roster.
GUARDS: Ja Morant, Tyus Jones
WINGS: Dillon Brooks, De’Anthony Melton (restricted free agent), JJ Redick, Troy Brown Jr.
BIGS: Jaren Jackson Jr., Tobias Harris, Brandon Clarke, Thomas Bryant, Jontay Porter
The 10-man rotation is essentially set. That means the draft can focus on best talent available, fit, and thinking about ways to address the issues the Bubble exposed. The team needs depth at the guard spot since Melton is better served off-ball, rebounding help, solid team defensive fits, and scoring options. Can those be found at picks #28, #40, and #42 in this NBA Twitter Mock Draft?
In Part II, we will find out.