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2021 free agent targets for the Memphis Grizzlies

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It isn’t as crazy as you think.

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NBA: New York Knicks at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the day folks have been waiting for since last week, when the Memphis Grizzlies - New Orleans Pelicans trade was announced. Today, it will be finalized. Jonas Valanciunas will officially be heading south for NOLA. Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams (allegedly) will be moving on up the Mississippi to Memphis. And a few draft picks will be exchanged, meaning that Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama will be Grizzlies officially. Things can certainly get weird beyond the original confines of the deal, and of course the roster situation for Memphis could change because of those potential additions or subtractions. But assuming that the deal goes down “according to plan”, Memphis will have the $4.9 million room exception to work with in free agency and -1 roster spots (depending on what the team does with Killian Tillie, who they extended a qualifying offer to before free agency officially began).

Low-key offseason complete! All finished! See how Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams fit in (if they do) and move to the upcoming campaign after watching Williams (and maybe Aldami) join the Summer Grizzlies in Vegas.

Well...it doesn’t have to be that simple.

Memphis could rather easily open up a roster spot if they wanted to. A simple pull of the Tillie qualifying offer gets the Grizzlies to the league-mandated 15 maximum number. From there? Santi Aldama staying in Spain for a season could get the job done. Buying out Eric Bledsoe, who only has $4 million of his 2022-2023 contract guaranteed, could get you there as well (although Memphis probably would rather trade him, but his arrival led to their acquisition of Ziaire Williams and was the “cost of doing business” so it was more a means to an end potentially). Tillie, Aldama, Bledsoe, even finding another home for Adams without bringing back another player (the least likely of the 4 due to his deal and a lack of cap space around the NBA)...just two of those four not coming back to Memphis in a variaty of ways could get you an opening.

And that $4.9 million becomes more interesting.

That may not be enough to bring Kawhi Leonard or Dennis Schroder to Memphis. But it isn’t chump change - and for one season, it could bring in a talented wing player to add depth and competitive energy to an already deep roster.

Here are some potential names in the unlikely (but not impossible) event the Grizzlies decide to dip a late toe in to free agency in the wake of the Jonas trade.

Josh Hart

New Orleans Pelicans v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The lesser known of the Anthony Davis trade pieces from the Lakers is still out there floating around the free agent market, and if the Grizzlies were able to somehow structure an offer/convince Hart to sign a multi-year contract it would be in their best interest among the current “realistic” free agency options. Why? Because despite poor three point shooting this past season (32.6% from beyond the arc) his strengths would help make Memphis better in areas of weakness.

Hart is quite literally one of the best rebounding wings in the NBA, having grabbed 11.2 and 13.4 rebounds per 100 possessions the last two seasons. That 13.4 rebound mark would have put him at 2nd on the Memphis Grizzlies this past season - better than Gorgui Dieng, better than Jaren Jackson Jr., better than Xavier Tillman Sr. or Kyle Anderson. If you’re trying to get the team to embrace a more collective rebounding mentality, Hart on the perimeter would be a solid place to start. Over 56% of his shot attempts were from beyond the arc, and another 30% of his takes were within 3 feet of the rim per basketball-reference.com. He takes the right kind of shots more often than not, and he is a smart basketball player who is capable of continuing offensive movement of the ball while using his 6’5” frame to defend multiple positions on the perimeter.

He plays most of his minutes at the “3” position, so there isn’t much of an overlap with the Grayson Allen/Desmond Bane/De’Anthony Melton battle. Hart would be Ziaire Williams insurance, granting him even more room to grow and not be needed to contribute right away.

The qualifying offer on Hart ($5.2 million) is more than the room exception Memphis can offer, so some sort of sign and trade would likely be needed on top of the business already completed with the Pelicans to get the deal done. Because of these obstacles, Hart seems to be an unlikely future member of the Grizzlies. But Hart’s rebounding prowess and capacity to space the floor (a 34.8% career three point shooter so his number from last season should come up some) and keep the ball moving while being defensively malleable would be worth bringing in to the fold, if the opportunity presented itself.

Hart may be wishful thinking due to the money/roster number issues of Memphis. This next name, however, could perhaps indeed be had for $4.9 million more realistically.

Hamidou Diallo

Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Another 6’5” wing, another very good rebounder on the wing (11.3 boards per 100 possessions in 2021-2022), and another player who despite his height plays a majority of his time at the “3” position. He was much improved from three in terms of shooting this past season for the Pistons (39%, easily a career high) but his 20 games played and 465 minutes logged in Detroit likely do not instill complete and total confidence that those numbers are the new normal. His career before that (26.2% from three) may be seen as the rule, and the exception being his Pistons run. Like Hart, Diallo can move between all three back court positions defensively and hold his own for various stretches of time. Also like Hart - albeit for a shorter amount of time - Diallo has shown a willingness to be coachable and prioritize shots around the rim and beyond the arc.

But Diallo is different from Hart in that he is much more mid-range focused. Over 54% of Hamidou’s shots last season between the Pistons and Thunder came at the rim or from three. However, over 27% of them also came from 3-10 feet away from the basket. He shot an underwhelming 39.5% on these attempts, meaning Diallo could do a better job finding his shot and getting the ball in to more efficient scoring windows. He also shot a low 29% on corner threes, and his selection on scoring opportunities - especially with the Pistons - were primarily focused on his look, even if it wasn’t the right shot.

Before Detroit happened, in OKC he showed solid flashes as a passer. His 16.4% assist rate was a career best, and he is still young (just turned 23) so his development could coincide with that of the Grizzlies roster. A 3-year $16 million contract could very well make Diallo a Grizzlies player - Detroit offered Hamidou a roughly $2.1 million qualifying offer, but after their busy draft night and the underwhelming way Diallo competed for the Pistons it’s likely they’d let him leave at that price.

Building a title contender takes risks. Diallo is certainly not without his. But he could be an upside swing as a bigger wing (compared to Bane/Allen/Melton) at a cap number that is more amenable to the long-term viability of the Grizzlies. Growth would be the name of the game since his offensive skills are a work in progress...but considering the Grizzlies current set of circumstances, that would not be the worst thing if the price is right.

Quick Options

  • Stanley Johnson. An offensively limited wing that would buck the “near-elite rebounder on the perimeter” trend, Johnson has not been able to find his NBA footing. But he is 6’6” and has a big enough frame that he could be more of a combo forward defensively especially than Hart or Diallo. He is shooting below 30% from three for his career and is simply not an efficient weapon on the scoring end of the floor. Still, he could be a solid fill-in small or power forward in defensive rotations. Is that worth waiting a year on Aldama and/or waiving Tillie? Probably not in this particular case.
  • Justise Winslow. Don’t laugh. It would have to come at a good cost - perhaps the league minimum, if there wasn’t enough interest generated. But Winslow has defensive viability across both back and front court positions and can create as a passer and dribbler off the bounce. He has had terrible injury luck and could be in like for a bounce back - he’s probably not going to shoot 18.5% from three ever again. Part of what made Winslow so hard for many to stomach, aside from the contract, was how much such a deal would limit the Grizzlies in future transactions. That won’t be the case this time around, even if he signed for the full room exception (which he should not). They valued him before, and they know his medical situation/circumstances. For the league minimum, or perhaps a bit more? It s a much more palatable calculated risk.

It’s unlikely Justise Winslow comes back to Memphis...but it could very well make sense if he’s seen as a end of roster league minimum player and not a guy making $13 million. Stanley Johnson struggles as a fit scheme wise but is very much available, and Josh Hart is almost certainly outside of the price range - which is unfortunate considering his multiple abilities that check off the Grizzlies “standard”. Hamidou Diallo, while perhaps the most interesting probable name that could fit, still has the Detroit qualifying offer attached to him. Are the Pistons really going to let Diallo, a young talent with holes in his game but room to mature, walk over a few million? It’s possible...but Memphis would need the full exception to compete in that market. $4.9 million for an end of rotation contributor? Hart would at least win minutes...Diallo is much more of a question of possibilities and potential.

In reality, the Grizzlies will potentially make Killian Tillie a two-way contract, sign him outright, or remove the qualifying offer and allow Tillie to hit unrestricted free agency. They could also easily have Aldama stay back in Spain for a year. If Aldama is stashed in Spain, “problem” solved. If Tillie takes Sean McDermott’s two-way spot, the same can be said. It’s possible Eric Bledsoe or Steven Adams aren’t longed for this Grizzlies world and additional moves are made. If any two of the four names listed above were to be gone without returning a player, Memphis could go make relatively small waves. And until the Valanciunas trade is closed, we have no clue what exactly how close, or far, the reportings of the deal are to the real world.

There are still avenues to free agency improvement - but are they worth metaphorically cruising down? The Grizzlies have a lot of young talent to give a look to already. Maybe this summer isn’t meant to be an active one in free agency for Memphis.

The time since the announcement of the deal has been slow. But today, things will start to pick up. Just how much?

Stay tuned.

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