Perhaps the biggest impact piece in the immediate return for Marc Gasol was Jonas Valanciunas. The former top 10 pick, stepped in as the de facto replacement for Gasol at the 5 in Memphis and he provided exactly what young team needed. While he probably preferred Mike Conley to stay and they build something in Memphis, Valanciunas happily re-signed with his new point guard Ja Morant. He was the reliable safety blanket for a growing Grizzlies team when they need him to be and a monster on the glass the rest of the time. While Jonas was a valued veteran presence, his defensive impact, or lack thereof, shined brightest during the 2020-21 NBA Playoffs.
There is little doubt that all decisions now and going forward are centered around Jaren Jackson Jr. Can he play the 5 full time? Can he stay on the floor without fouling? Can he stay healthy? Removing the safety blanket of Jonas Valanciunas will allow this coaching staff and front office a better opportunity to answer those questions.
It was possibly understood by most that Jonas Valanciunas was not the answer at center for a contending version of the Memphis Grizzlies, but it is safe to say most if not all were shocked to see him be the piece moved this offseason. The deal was agreed upon prior to the NBA Draft but on August 7, 2021 the Memphis Grizzlies sent Jonas Valanciunas, the draft rights to Brandon Boston Jr. and Trey Murphy, and Tyler Harvey’s player rights to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, the draft rights to Jared Butler and Ziaire Williams, and the Lakers 2022 first round pick.
Jared Butler was immediately attached to a 2022 and 2026 second rounder and sent to Utah in exchange for Santi Aldama, the thirtieth pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. It will be interesting to watch the careers of the five rookies involved in this deal as, of the 5, the Grizzlies got the two biggest risks of the deal.
On August 16, Kleiman sent Eric Bledsoe to the Los Angeles Clippers for Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu. This another example of Kleiman pruning his garden by breaking up a contract into other pieces that are either easier to move or buyout. It was widely agreed upon that Rondo was never coming to Memphis, and Oturu is an obvious waive-able deal, but Beverley seemed like an interesting veteran to bring on the squad. It was so interesting that here at the blog we began working on a feature fitting him into the squad, just for the next move to be made.
Daniel Oturu is an interesting case because of the motivation behind his inclusion in the deal. Did the Clippers insist for the tax break, or was he the price of doing business for Kleiman? He is the same height as Xavier Tillman Sr. and rebounds well. Perhaps Memphis carries him into camp for a chance to prove himself, or his small contract is another buyout casualty.
Beverley was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves on August 25 for Jarrett Culver and Juancho Hernangomez. This move not only broke Beverly’s contract down to two cheaper deals, but Memphis also got another wing prospect to take a look at, much like the chance at De’Anthony Melton. Juancho is a serviceable player but due to the current roster, he was a victim of roster redundancy. Rajon Rondo was later bought out before signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Yesterday, Juancho Hernangomez was officially sent to the Boston Celtics for Kris Dunn and Carsen Edwards. Dunn is another prospect that, if healthy, Memphis could attempt a reclamation project on and be a nice piece going forward. Edwards never really found his footing in the NBA and, due to the smaller contract, becomes an easy buyout candidate.
The Grizzlies also obtained a third 2022 first round pick (their own and Utah’s via Mike Conley) via the Los Angeles Lakers and their acquisition of Anthony Davis. Through the two faces of the franchise, the Grizzlies front office have acquired key rotation players in Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman as well as a future piece in Ziaire Williams. Add in the other two 2022 first round picks and the Golden State 2024 first round pick obtained by absorbing Andre Iguodala into Mike Conley’s traded player exception, and the two cornerstones for over a decade have set this franchise up for even more success for longer.