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The Memphis Grizzlies Are Playing Salary Cap Chess (Part 2)

Zach Kleiman, a.k.a Bobby Fischer

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Memphis Grizzlies v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

With rumors swirling about who the Grizzlies may or may not be shopping as the summer rolls on, it’s quite evident that Kleiman and company are positioning themselves for something down the road. In part 1, I explored the immediate impact the recent flurry of moves has financially, but now it is time to look at the potential angles for the future.

Any conversation about the future and money for the Memphis Grizzlies revolves around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jaren Jackson Jr. is currently eligible for a max rookie scale contract extension. Luka Doncic is estimated to make $207 million on his 5 year extension while Trae Young is estimated to make the same. These two names and numbers are important because Jaren was sandwiched between the two players in the draft. The word estimated is intentional due to the nature of how max rookie scale extensions operate.

A 5 year max rookie extension must be valued at 25% of the current year’s salary cap. The contract then must include 8% raises in each season. Jaren Jackson Jr. is eligible for the 5 year $173 million dollar contract, but if Memphis declines to pay him at least 25% of the salary cap for the first year of the extension (2022-23) they can only extend him for 4 seasons.

The 2022-23 projected NBA Salary Cap is $119 million, therefore, the minimum dollar amount required for a 5 year extension for Jaren Jackson Jr. would be $29,750,000. Thus, the question arises for the Grizzlies, have they seen enough to give Jaren a max extension for five seasons beyond 2021-22, or would something like a 4 year $100 million dollar extension make more sense for both parties? The Grizzlies could also allow Jaren to play it out this season, allowing him to enter Restricted Free Agency with a Qualifying Offer of $12.1 million. The Grizz brass has until the day before the regular season begins to make this decision.

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz - Game Five Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

In regards to Ja Morant, his 2022-23 team option will be $12.1 million and he will be extension eligible July 1, 2022. In order for Ja Morant to get the Luka & Trae 30% of the team’s cap space extension sitting around or north of 5 years $210 million, he would have to either make an All-NBA team this season or have a Trae Young type clause in his contract if he makes All-NBA next season.If not, Morant will get the 25% max worth 5 years $181 million. The Grizzlies could enter the summer of 2023 with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. De’Anthony Melton, Ziaire Williams, Xavier Tillman, Desmond Bane and Santi Aldama under contract for 59% of the team’s cap that year. That would leave $49,845,000 in projected cap space to work with Dillon Brooks and/or Brandon Clarke on contract extensions themselves.

Rewind a little to the summer of 2022 where Kyle Anderson comes off the books, Steven Adams and Dillon Brooks are also set to expire, all while Clarke is rookie extension eligible, Culver has a team option and Juan Hernangomez in non-guaranteed. If the Culver option is not picked up by the end of this offseason, he will enter next offseason as a Free Agent. Hernangomez becomes fully guaranteed on June 30, 2022. Brooks and Clarke might very well be back on new deals/extensions while Anderson is a wild card. Culver will be tried out before his option is decided upon and could most likely enter restricted free agency.

Steven Adams seems to be very much the Jonas Valanciunas contract send out next summer. It is presumed that he is merely a stopgap as Jaren continues to develop and grow stronger, and his large-ish expiring contract may very well be sent out for two smaller deals, as the pattern has been for this front office.

As much as we as fans want to believe that playing along side Ja Morant should be appealing enough and we love the city of Memphis, this fact remains that drawing the attention of an elite free agent is borderline impossible for the Grizz. The cap space game for trades has to be Memphis’ version of “free agency.”

The Grizzlies have the ability to create max cap space as well as thrown in the necessary compensation for a star player if they choose. They currently own 3 first round picks in the 2022 draft (MEM, UTA, LAL) and 2 first round picks in the 2024 draft (MEM,GSW). In theory if the beginning of a contending window with Ja and Jaren is around 2024, multiple first round picks in that year are more a tradeable asset for win now players than more developmental projects, making one if not both of those picks expendable. Roster space has become crucial in Memphis so picking three players in 2022 does not seem likely either, meaning Memphis has at least 3 first round picks available right now. Pair some picks with Steven Adams as a salary filler and someone like Brandon Clarke, you may have that coveted third piece as soon as next season.

Can the Nuggets afford to keep Jamal Murray and pay Michael Porter Jr.? Could the Grizzlies pry Ben Simmons or Tobias Harris away from Philly? Bradley Beal tells Washington he is declining his player option and Beal on Beale becomes real?

Obviously, the moves by Kleiman and company have all come out of left field and it is nearly impossible to put a finger on the pulse of that front office, but it is clear they are gaining this flexibility to strike at the right time. It comes down to which star becomes available at the right time for the right price? The Grizz are gaining ground on potential best packages to offer across the league, all thanks to the financial chess of the King.

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