We have finally arrived at the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline. For some, it is an opportunity to set a course for your franchise in both the short and long term. For the Memphis Grizzlies, whose direction has been in place for some time now, the energy surrounding the day is...less than enthralling. That is meant as a compliment - GM Zach Kleiman and the rest of the Memphis front office has done a vast majority of their heavy roster lifting over the last almost three years. Now, the roster - after a fairly dramatic overhaul - is almost set. The team has its young superstar in Ja Morant. They appear to have high-level complimentary players at his side in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane. There are varying levels of starter to rotation to fringe rotation talents, from Dillon Brooks to Brandon Clarke to John Konchar.
Between the impressive depth from 1-17 across this roster and the remarkable development thanks in large part to Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and his staff, the Memphis Grizzlies are not in need of ANYTHING at this stage. They’re one of the youngest teams in the NBA and boast the league’s 3rd best record (and undisputedly best vibes).
But they have weaknesses. They are in the bottom third of the NBA in free throw percentage (73.8%, 26th), three point percentage (33.9%, 23rd), and half court points per 100 possessions (92.1, 22nd percentile per Cleaning the Glass). They lack a true veteran presence (Steven Adams and Kyle Anderson are the eldest Grizzlies at 28 years old) or a reserve scoring option. The roster is flawed - that was expected entering the season. It’s just everyone overachieving on this flawed roster overcompensating when it comes to that reality...for now.
This front office will not be rushed or pressured. They will move on to the next stage of contention when they’re ready. And they’re surely happy to ride with this unbelievably fun wave with this team in to whatever they do in the postseason, knowing the road to improvement - both external and internal - is wide open for this team.
With that in mind, let’s preview the NBA Trade Deadline for the Memphis Grizzlies with three predictions about how the day will play out.
There will be buzz around being “the third man”
As the day unfolds, it is a lock that Woj or Shams will talk about the possibility of a 3rd team getting in on some late negotiation - perhaps even for the pot of gold at the end of this deadline’s rainbow that is James Harden for Ben Simmons. Maybe hypothetically the Nets require one more pick since Philly isn’t interested in shipping out Tyrese Maxey to Brooklyn, and the 76ers are more amenable to allowing Matisse Thybulle walk for a 2022 1st or other filler as long as it isn’t theirs on the move.
Enter the Grizzlies.
This is just an example - Thybulle would strengthen what Memphis does well, but not really help with the aforementioned weaknesses. The point is, as two teams negotiate and reach impasses, the Grizzlies are uniquely positioned to potentially take advantage. Jarrett Culver’s expiring contract will hold value in these sorts of situations, and if Kleiman and the crew can squeeze even more assets out of that swing for potential from the Timberwolves trade it will make the process even more worth it.
Memphis will do nothing to impact future business
Kyle Anderson has been a popular “tag-along” to trade ideas with Jarrett Culver. He is the one member of the team that was not signed or drafted by this front office and also has not yet received an extension. His fit is not as clear anymore as he transitions to being more of a point “big” entering his next contract, whether it comes in Memphis or elsewhere. Anderson provides versatility and veteran experience/potential production on both ends of the floor...just not in the ways that traditionally would be expected. This still holds value for a team trying to “contend” - even if it’s just for a play-in spot - and looking to deal.
If the “right” kind of offer came along? The Grizzlies probably wouldn’t declare Kyle Anderson untouchable in the name of the “vibes”. But the hard and fast rule of Memphis will remain the idea of not inhibiting future business. All signs point to a summer of activity for the Grizzlies in the roster movement arena. While a deal may well exist that assists Memphis in terms of growing its overall talent base while parting with Kyle (think Anderson and the Jazz 1st or two 2nd round picks for Marvin Bagley, not probable but possible given how the Grizzlies reportedly were interested in Bagley before making the Pelicans trade around the draft last year) it’s unlikely that the Grizzlies force their hand in the name of immediate improvement for the sake of the long view.
Memphis still has the benefit of time...but that time is running out. With Ja Morant due to get paid a likely Supermax contract this summer for an extension that will kick in during the summer of 2023, the Grizzlies will have tough calls money-wise to make before we know it. They can’t weaken that position of strength for a 10% increase in odds to get to the Western Conference Finals this season.
The Grizzlies will indeed make a trade
It’s too easy for them to improve the current state of things, with too natural of a trade partner, to not at least get close to a finish line with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But this prediction is with an eye to that “future business”, as well as strengthening the chances of this iteration of the Grizzlies. Whether it is for Kenrich Williams or Ty Jerome, the opportunity exists for Memphis to get a Tyus Jones (Jerome) or Kyle Anderson (Williams) replacement, for cheaper than it will cost to keep Jones or Anderson, while sending minimal draft capital to the Thunder. Two future 2nd rounders should do it. A protected 1st absolutely would do it.
Not a fan of Jerome or Williams? There are other examples - Frank Jackson of Detroit, perhaps. But the Thunder have a ton of cap space, and the rumored/hypothesized Tobias Harris to OKC from Philly to help with signing James Harden this summer likely has too large of a price tag. Here, OKC GM Sam Presti adds to the draft war chest even more and gets a look at Culver as a possible extension option. Culver’s ceiling is higher than that of Jerome or even Williams, but those two’s floors are far more in line with what Memphis currently needs.
It’s a solid plan B for the Thunder. And it is Memphis gaining another player that can be on next year’s roster for relatively cheap, or can be included in that theoretical larger deal this summer.
Who is the officially predicted newest Grizzly player? Former TCU Horned Frog, and Desmond Bane teammate, Kenrich Williams. Culver and two future 2nd round picks gets the versatile 6’7” forward that fits how Memphis plays now (82nd percentile assist percentage, 94th percentile in offensive rebounding, 79th percentile steal percentage per Cleaning the Glass) and may also be able to help in other ways (75th percentile from three). Oh, and can be on the team for $2 million next season.
The Grizzlies are in one of the most enviable positions in all of the NBA. They can literally do nothing but wait for Dillon Brooks to get healthy and be one of the best in the Association. But opportunity to improve the roster will present itself. And when it does, the Grizzlies will likely strike.
As they’ve done, time and again, during this meteoric rise to the top. It continues today and through the deadline in to the rest of the season for Memphis.