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Clearing up the Grizzlies logjam

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Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

If you haven’t noticed lately, the Memphis Grizzlies have a very deep roster.

Perhaps, once healthy, the deepest in team history.

There are a lot of variables that play in to that idea. First, assuming that Justise Winslow will be able to remain healthy enough to add his versatility to the Grizzlies feels lofty at this stage of the season. It may not be possible for him to provide that skill set to that degree at this point. It also means that you likely expect Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman to avoid the rookie wall and continue to contribute to this Grizzlies team at a high level. They are both doing things beyond what was thought possible for them at this stage of their NBA careers - can that be maintained? Beyond those three, anticipating grand success in a larger role for the likes of John Konchar and even Killian Tillie (who was conspicuous by his absence from the G-League Bubble roster for the Memphis Hustle) seems like a parlay of potential that isn’t likely to hit.

But clearly the Memphis Grizzlies believe in what Justise Winslow could mean to this roster. Bane and Tillman to this point have proven themselves worthy of the stage that circumstance has provided them. The same can be said of John Konchar, who remains an analytics darling in his limited run to this point in the season. And outside of Winslow, whose eventual debut and role seem clearer every time Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman references him as a core piece in the same breath as Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the three others mentioned (Bane/Tillman/Konchar) all share a similar reality for Memphis.

They’re under team control contractually for three seasons beyond this one. And they’re all cost effective.

In fact, their three final years (assuming team options are kept) in salary combined is only a few hundred thousand dollars more than the last year of De’Anthony Melton’s contract in 2023-2024.

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Inexpensive help will be vital by that point for the Memphis Grizzlies. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. will be pricey at that point, especially Morant who almost certainly will be on a max contract. And while Melton at $8 million is certainly not breaking the bank, the fact that he recently found himself on the outside looking in of Coach Jenkins’ rotation (perhaps only for a game, but still jarring) opens up the possibility of him perhaps not being that core cog we all envisioned. Especially when one considers the fact that Bane and Konchar combined will make almost $2 million less than Melton alone in the 2023-2024 season per Spotrac.

It isn’t just Melton. Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks, and even Tyus Jones have contracts that are multi-year but also quite movable when combining structure (all descending or non-ascending in value) and quality of player returning. For the right type of trade, Memphis can both add to their extensive stash of assets while also enabling the likes of Konchar, Bane, and Tillman to maintain their current spots either in (Bane and Tillman) or on the fringe (Konchar) of the rotation. Or it could allow the likes of Kyle Anderson and Justise Winslow to thrive in point forward roles while Ja Morant rests for 12-14 minutes per contest.

For example, here’s a possible Melton deal that could be pulled off come February 20th or after if the Grizzlies felt it made sense for them.

Memphis receives: Darius Miller, 2023 1st round pick (via Denver Nuggets)

Oklahoma City receives: De’Anthony Melton

Philadelphia 76ers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

No, Melton for Miller doesn’t make Memphis better as an overall roster. It certainly depletes depth - Miller barely gets any run for the Thunder as it is. Remember the point of the trade, though - Miller’s expiring contract sits on the end of the bench for the Grizzlies as the likes of Konchar, Bane, Grayson Allen, and others get run. Memphis defeated a good Phoenix Suns team over a week ago without Melton on the floor, and while that was just one contest Melton’s missing out on the rotation may mean more than we realize. If Grayson Allen is able to maintain this level of play within Jenkins’ vision for scheme, and Bane can keep up the pace as a shooter from three, then is there long-term opportunity for Melton in Memphis any longer? It’s too soon to definitively say no...but Melton is one of the better prospects on this Grizzlies team, on a good contract, and could field a first round pick.

Meanwhile, the mass amount of resources at the disposal of the Oklahoma City Thunder allows for them to take a swing at a very good, cost-effective wing while sending out a first that figures to be in the 20’s in 2023. The Thunder are in the top-10 in the NBA in pace and want to eventually take the draft capital they’ve acquired and turn it in to building a young, versatile roster that can help Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

It doesn’t have to be De’Anthony moved out, though - he fits well in transition and has a game that can add multiple layers over the life of his deal. Maybe Melton isn’t the long-term wing that should be prioritized in a trade.

There’s another much more polarizing option out there. One that is older than De’Anthony, and while he has a better offensive game in the here and now while also providing defensive impact his streaky output could perhaps make the Grizzlies better via addition by subtraction.

Memphis receives: Dennis Smith Jr., 2023 1st round pick (Protected 1-20, lottery protected 2024, converts to two 2nds in 2025/2026 if not conveyed)

New York Knicks receive: Dillon Brooks

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Has there ever been a player that Tom Thibodeau is more likely to love than Dillon Brooks?

Hard nosed. Defensively driven. Intrinsically motivated. Capable of eating a lot of minutes and carrying offense for stretches, more often than not in an inefficient manner.

And can you imagine Dillon going to the bright lights of the big city? The shine! The outfits! The swagger would be off the charts! And New York could potentially be legitimately interested because acquiring Brooks would not inhibit them from chasing their ill-fated dreams involving max level talent in free agency.

However, of all the offers here this one is possibly the least probable to go down in reality. For one, Memphis probably views Dillon Brooks in a similar fashion to Tony Allen in term of what his value is to the Grizzlies compared to the rest of the NBA. Bobby Marks of ESPN joined Justin Lewis and Ben Hogan of the 3 and D Pod and remarkably said that at times Dillon is a 14th or 15th man on a roster. While that seems to be an extreme on the opposite end, Brooks’ hot and cold game can be frustratingly important to the Grizzlies as constructed. And no team is likely to give up too much for Dillon alone beyond a heavily protected first or a couple of second round picks and an expiring contract, as Dennis Smith Jr. would be here as an emergency third point guard option/possible reclamation project for Memphis. The team could get a 1st from the Knicks because of the Smith Jr. limitations. But again, Brooks’ deal and streaky stylings likely limit his trade value ceiling.

Make no mistake, Dillon’s mentality has helped define this roster’s character. That matters...but does it matter in terms of Brooks being a long-term core piece? Or in a similar way to how Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill helped this young core along for the time they were in Memphis?

A similar question can be asked of arguably one of the best backup point guard in the NBA, who could potentially help a team looking for a shot of life in their culture if Memphis decided they were OK with Winslow and Anderson running the reserve offense.

Memphis receives: Jabari Parker, 2023 1st round pick (protected 1-10 in 2023, lottery protected in 2024, becomes two 2nd round picks in 2025/2026 if not conveyed by 2024)

Sacramento receives: Tyus Jones

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Jabari Parker has yet to play a minute for the Sacramento Kings. He’s hurt, and he’s been away from the Kings for personal reasons. He may get waived by Memphis upon arrival, meaning the team opens up a roster spot.

Again, the player that comes back isn’t what matters. It is the pick.

This only works for Memphis if you believe, between Melton (assuming he isn’t traded above as well), Winslow, Anderson, and Grayson Allen can fill the void left behind by Tyus. If there are concerns there, you don’t pull the trigger on this type of trade. However, if you feel that Justise and others have the ability to help the team succeed on both ends? Acquiring yet another first would be a wonderful addition as part of future dealings.

And yes, Sacramento should consider doing such a deal. Jones brings an efficiency and defensive acumen to the point guard position that the Kings desperately need. Replacing Cory Joseph with Tyus instantly makes Sacramento better. The Kings need to improve their defense as well as their overall team chemistry, and injecting “Tyus Stones” in to the process would make the Kings more stable on both ends of the floor.

The final deal has been floated here, there, and everywhere. But just because it is obvious doesn’t make it any less desirable for Memphis.

Memphis receives: Cody Zeller, 2023 1st round pick (lottery protected, protected 1-10 in 2024, unprotected in 2025 if unconveyed)

Charlotte receives: Jonas Valanciunas

Philadelphia 76ers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Yes, Jonas Valanciunas is a double-double machine. And yes, he is capable of carrying the Grizzlies offense when things get stagnant while also defending the rim at a rate better than most give him credit for. But his old-school game is perhaps better suited for a reserve role given the current makeup of the Grizzlies, and considering the upcoming return of Jaren Jackson Jr. to the frontcourt rotation something has to give. If you want to sit Xavier Tillman Sr., there is precedent and logic connected to not falling for the small sample size of a rookie. Remember, though, than Tillman is on a very team-friendly deal long-term. Jonas, meanwhile, is on a contract that runs out after next season concludes.

The Grizzlies have Jackson Jr., Tillman, Brandon Clarke, the theoretical Jontay Porter, the still conspicuous-by-his-Bubble-absence Killian Tillie, and the veteran if needed expiring deal in Gorgui Dieng even without Jonas this season. That doesn’t even mention the likes of Kyle Anderson, who plays his best basketball at the “power forward” position. If Zeller never plays for the Grizzlies, that would be OK. If he did? As a solid screener and defender that’d be OK too. And yet again, Memphis adds another 1st from a Charlotte team desperate for the playoffs.

They’re also desperate for big man production. Bismack Biyombo is their main big in terms of the traditional “center” spot. That is less than ideal for a squad that has to contend with the likes of Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, Andre Drummond, Pascal Siakam, and Clint Capela in the Eastern Conference. Even teams in the play-in picture in the East - the Bulls, the Magic - have centers that can dominate the Hornets as presently constructed.

They didn’t make the Gordon Hayward signing to sit and watch the postseason from home again. They want the playoffs. And if a big like Valanciunas, who provides the type of numbers and skills they need more than anything at this point in the season, is available? A first round pick could be in play.

In all four proposed trades, Memphis is acquiring either one first round pick or two second round picks. In all four suggested deals, the Grizzlies are bringing back a lesser player. But that’s by design. For if you truly believe that this team could be among the deepest in Memphis history, you can take such a hit. The four players coming back in these hypotheticals trades are also all on expiring contracts, meaning the Grizzlies would add between $6 and $14 million in additional cap flexibility beyond what they’re already currently working with.

That, in addition to more draft capital, could lead to a bigger swing in the trade market during the 2021 offseason or even beyond - a more realistic shot at, say, Bradley Beal without bankrupting your own team’s draft prospects. They could be solid 1A type of trades leading in to something bigger. You could do either one of these trades, all of them (if the season goes haywire and you become a definitive seller), or somewhere in between. For example, if you do the Valanciunas and Melton trades you add two firsts and $22 million in expiring money. You could then send Dillon Brooks, Gorgui Dieng, Brandon Clarke, and three to four (!!!) firsts to the Wizards for Beal. And your draft picks, while excess ones would be gone, would still match standard amounts.

Another option? You pull a Cleveland, as our Parker Fleming has mentioned, and throw in a 1st in a trade to help get a deal done for Beal to go elsewhere while you bring back a player like, say, Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson from Miami as they acquire Beal in a three-team deal. Also, notice that all these picks are in 2023 or later - they could be Utah Jazz pick insurance, as that particular selection likely will convey next offseason and won’t be tradable any longer. It extends the trade window another year or so.

The Memphis Grizzlies should wait to see what the team is capable of once totally healthy before any trades are done. In such an uncertain season, the depth they seem to boast holds even more value. But while many look to Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine as possible trade targets for Memphis, it is important to remember that the two best Grizzlies players remain just 21 years old. Forcing a trade isn’t necessary. But remaining in a position of leverage and flexibility to take advantage of someone else trying to force their window open by securing another draft asset, while also enabling your currently succeeding young core to continue to develop through playing time, all while remaining a viable partner in a deal involving a superstar?

Possible improvement from within while also strengthening the long-term prospects of the franchise. That’d be yet another victory for a Grizzlies front office who has stated time and again long-term, sustained success is the goal.

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