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Looking for clarity through the Grizzlies window

And it’s not next year

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2021 Play-In Tournament - Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s nothing like driving down the road with the windshield fogged up when you are late for work and can’t wait for the defrost temperature to be just right before heading down the road. Through the impeded glass you can see bits of the road, but its simply not clear.

To the fans and maybe a lesser extent the media, the timing of the Grizzlies window has been foggy. The front office has done an excellent job of playing things close to the chest. It is probably safe to assume that GM Zach Kleiman has had a clear plan from day one, and this front office knows exactly the window they plan to push the chips in to be contenders.

After the trade of Jonas Valanciunas, arguably the most consistent and statistically productive Grizzly during his tenure, the defrost has finally kicked in on the foggy window.

Zach Kleiman said in the post-draft presser that the direction forward for this franchise is not linear, meaning it is not as simple as straight line from point A to point B with only forward movement. To most, linear equations are the easiest and preferred problem to be faced with. In professional athletics, title contending is rarely a linear process when you are not a large market that everyone wants to play for.

Sometimes, progress could look more like a cubic function where the graph is rising - but there is a temporary dip or horizontal run before the rise continues.

The Grizzlies have had an exponential rise, from rebuilding to making the playoffs in a short amount of time. The Grizzlies are at a bit of an impasse with the state of the association and their own roster, however. Memphis is young but deep, almost too deep for their own good. This is where the team growth goes from linear to the horizontal run of the cubic function.

The swap of Jonas Valanciunas for Aquaman Jason Mamoa stand-in Steven Adams (and the subsequent draft swings of Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama) wipes away the fog from the window more. The Memphis Grizzlies are a minimum of three seasons away from truly contending.

Not making the playoffs. Not being competitive. But being a real threat to win the whole thing.

Los Angeles Lakers play the Phoenix Suns in game two of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoff series. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Part of knowing the window is knowing the landscape of the league. Guys like LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kawhi Leonard are going to be 2-3 years older. It is a tall order to expect those guys to continue playing at the highest of levels the closer to 40 they get. With San Antonio in full blown rebuild mode, Gregg Popovich may have his sights set on retirement.

It is also about knowing what you have in your own organization as well. Eric Bledsoe is the only player over thirty and he may not be longed for the roster anyways. Steven Adams and Kyle Anderson are your “vets” at 28 years old. Every other player on the roster is 25 years or younger.

After some digging around, the vast majority of studies show that a player in the NBA enters their prime at age 26 and begin to decline around age 31. So Steven Adams and Kyle Anderson are smack in the middle of the primes, and Kyle Anderson showed that last season. Bledsoe is on the decline and that seemed to be true for him last season. But this means that the Grizzlies are a good three or four seasons away from being true title contenders.

Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman Sr. will be 22 years of age this season, four years from ENTERING their prime. Freshly minted Grizz Ziaire is 2 years behind them. As they enter into their primes, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton and Brandon Clarke will all be in the middle of theirs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was not an All-Star until season 4 and it was not until season 5 that he became what he is today. This past season, he won a title in the first year of his “prime.” Marc Gasol was an All-Star at age 27, his fourth season in the NBA. Zach Randolph was not an All-Star until he was 28 years of age. Mike Conley did not crack 15 points per game for a season until he was 26 years of age and only dipped below that during the pandemic season.

There is still a lot of basketball ahead of this young Grizzlies team, and based off most NBA player trajectories the best is yet to come for each and every player 25 and under.

Beyond age, the current cap situation for Memphis and roster build suggests a minimum of 2 years before Memphis makes their “push.” Steven Adams will not be the starting center for the championship version of the Grizzlies, that role likely has Jaren Jackson Jr. penciled in currently. Trip J, however, is not ready to take the helm at the 5 full-time just yet. So you enter Adams as the next stop gap for development.

Fast forward to the summer of 2023. Regardless of what happens with Bledsoe this summer, both he and Steven Adams come off the books. Ja Morant is due for his Restricted Free Agency stint, but I would imagine he will receive a max extension not that different from that of Trae Young. Jaren Jackson Jr. will also most likely be back on an extension or a matched offer sheet in his Restricted Free Agency. Outside of that the roster contains Melton ($8 mil), Williams ($4.8. mil), Bane ($3.8 mil), Tillman ($1.9 mil), Aldama ($2.1 mil TO) and Konchar’s non guaranteed $2.4 million.

Heading into the summer of 2023-24 the Grizzlies could have anywhere from $40-$50 million dollars in cap space and $60-$70 million in tax room (which is important when retaining the full Bird Rights on Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke). Here are some of the free agents that will be available that summer, the summer at the potential beginning of the Memphis window:

Bradley Beal - 30 years old

Malcolm Brogdon - 30 years old

Jerami Grant - 29 years old

Caris LeVert- 28 years old

D’Angelo Russell - 27 years old

Andrew Wiggins - 28 years old

Seth Curry - 32 years old

Tyler Herro (restricted) - 23 years old

While these guys are not going to be MVP candidates, the Grizzlies are not going to need to sign that caliber of a guy because they will have him in Ja Morant. Any of those players next to Ja and Jaren for a 3-4 year stretch would make them serious contenders in the West.

The Grizzlies move to ship out a highly productive player in Jonas Valanciunas and then take a less polished player in both Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama tells us that Memphis is still developing and will strike when they feel the time is right. And that is just fine, enjoy the process and watch the young team blossom into a downright force in a few years time.

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