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4 things I’m intrigued with for the offseason

The Memphis Grizzlies have a lot of decisions and storylines to monitor in an intriguing 2022 offseason

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Memphis Grizzlies Introduce Draft Picks - Presser Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies enter the 2022 offseason with an ample amount of opportunities and possibilities.

They have 2 first-round draft picks in the 20’s (22 and 29), and there are numerous paths they could go down here. Those are chances for the team to bolster its talent and keep its development pipeline going strong. They could trade both of them for a veteran to serve as a bonafide upgrade somewhere. They might use them and a player to trade up for a player they covet.

From a financial standpoint, they have $20M in cap space — though given cap holds of draft picks, and bird rights not renounced for free agents Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson. That might not be the final number, but there’s additional flexibility to work with. Between Steven Adams and Dillon Brooks, they have roughly $29M in expiring contracts. In addition, De’Anthony Melton has a team-friendly $19M over 2 years left in his contract too. Those 3 players open up potential trade possibilities as well.

From an internal perspective, they have a plethora of young players that have room to grow. With the roster in flux with free agency, playing time could be for the taking, and some big developments this offseason could give a young player an edge for a rotation spot next season.

With all that in mind, there are several things I’m intrigued with for this offseason. To make things more condensed, I’ll break it down by looking at it from the draft, free agency, additional moves, and player development.

Draft: Do The Grizzlies Trade Up?

Since Zach Kleiman took over as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Grizzlies have traded up in every draft. Brandon Clarke (2019), Xavier Tillman (2020), and Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama (2021) were all brought here from trading up.

Note: Desmond Bane wasn’t technically a trade-up. They sent out 2 second-round picks and offered to take Mario Hezonja’s contract from Portland in exchange for the 30th pick to select Bane.

As Kleiman is entering his 4th draft at the helm, are the Grizzlies poised to do so yet again?

There are multiple sides to this argument. Surely, losing the Lakers pick stings a bit. Adding a pick that could’ve been as high as 11th would’ve been an awesome asset for this young team — opening up a variety of opportunities of prospects to target, and of deals to execute. Trading up could potentially offset the loss of the Lakers pick.

I’ll likely go into specific hypothetical deals at a later time, but they have the contracts and players to trade up. The Grizzlies’ current 1st-round picks — as well as the contracts of Adams, Brooks, and Melton mentioned above — work as optimal trade assets to move up.

At the same time though, the state of this team is different than it’s been even since last year. They’re no longer a rebuilding team, nor a team fighting for playoff positioning. Should they really be in the business of moving up in the draft, especially at the potential expense of veteran players? Better yet, assuming the 47th pick is slotted into the open two-way contract from Yves Pons, are they currently constructed to have 2 rookies occupy spots for the main roster?

Regardless, it’s more likely than not that the Grizzlies are going to make a trade that impacts the draft. The question is if they stick to the status quo and trade up for their guy.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Internal Development: Ziaire Williams

Probably the biggest “well duh” of this exercise. As Ziaire Williams even said in exit interviews, the sky is the limit for him.

Williams showed off a lot more in his skillset than expected in year 1. The fact that he was a big factor off the bench in the postseason is a massive win for his rookie season and for his long-term outlook.

He proved to be a reliable transition scorer (1.28 PPP, 79th percentile), emerging as a clear lob threat — an added bonus for a Memphis Grizzlies team that loves to fly up and down the floor. That same vertical threat has been utilized in the halfcourt, where he’ll roam the baseline out of the weak-side corner to catch defenses sleeping.

Williams’ potential calling card will be as a 3-and-D guy. Defensively, he filled Dillon Brooks’ role as the team’s defensive stopper. Though he wasn’t as good as Brooks, he had some promising defensive outings, and his size is already beneficial as a perimeter stopper. Adding more strength this offseason should bode well for his development as a defender.

His percentages from 3 reflect that he still has a ways to go from a consistency standpoint, but his smooth mechanics reflect promise and potential growth as a 3-point shooter. He also had 11 games where he hit 3 or more 3’s, including a 4-8 outing in Game 1 against the Warriors.

The enticing part with Williams is his potential as a creator. This season, he shot 20-33 on long mid-range jumpers (from 15 feet to the 3-point line), which ranks in the 95th percentile among wings — per Cleaning the Glass. His size, shooting mechanics, and his jumper elevation give him a foundation to evolve into a live-dribble creator.

Summer League will be the platform for his development.

After Desmond Bane parlayed the on-ball reps from the summer exhibition into a massive leap as an offensive player, Grizzlies fans are giddy about the possibility of that happening with Ziaire Williams. It’s tough to get into the dynamic of Summer League without knowing who the Grizzlies select in the draft. However, Ziaire Williams being a primary option should be a focal point in Las Vegas and Utah, allowing him and the coaching staff to expand the horizons of his game.

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors - Game Six Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Free Agency: Do the Grizzlies make an external signing?

The Grizzlies haven’t acquired anybody via free agency since Tyus Jones in 2019. The only free agency signings they’ve made since then were the re-signings of De’Anthony Melton (2020), John Konchar (2020), and Killian Tillie (2021).

With Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson both hitting the open market, that trend might change. Jones didn’t close the door on a return to Memphis, but a starting point guard job seems to be a priority. Anderson’s decision seems more of a forgone conclusion; he mentioned talking to his family and prioritizing winning, while not bringing up Memphis. I’m not going to rule out a return for him, but it’s easier to speculate that either player probably won’t be back next season.

So do the Grizzlies turn to free agency to fill in gaps?

The Grizzlies have a few routes for Anderson’s replacement:

  • Let Santi Aldama, Xavier Tillman, and Killian Tillie battle it out
  • The Grizzlies use a draft pick for a big wing that can play the 4
  • Sign or trade for someone

If the Grizzlies wanted to sign an Anderson replacement, there are two options to look into. They could go after Otto Porter, who’s an unrestricted free agent. As we saw in the second round this season, he can scorch the nets from 3 and can rebound well for a big wing. Using the mid-level exception on him for a 2-year deal would be a good move for the bench. For a cheaper route, they could look to sign TJ Warren. He hasn’t played in 2 years due to a foot injury, but they could give him a deal similar to the one Miami gave Victor Oladipo (1 year, $2.4M, veteran’s minimum). If he can stay healthy, he’d provide a good scoring pop off the bench. If he can’t, then they have other resources that can fill that role as the 4th big.

If Jones decides to walk, I’d prefer a veteran point guard to fill in over a rookie. The market is kind of dry in that regard. Ricky Rubio would be cool, but he’s coming off a torn ACL, and he was a staple for Cleveland’s culture. Aaron Holiday might be a good fit there as well. However, bringing someone back via a sign-and-trade involving Jones would be a good route to replace him.

Jones and Anderson’s decisions will likely impact how the Grizzlies operate in free agency, and it could open up an opportunity for an acquisition.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Other Moves: Who else besides Ja Morant gets an extension?

The Grizzlies have a slew of players that could net an extension this offseason. ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported the following extension-eligible players and that contract they’re eligible for his offseason guide:

  • Dillon Brooks: 4 years, $61M
  • Brandon Clarke: rookie extension, no maximum
  • De’Anthony Melton and John Konchar: 3 years, $42M each
  • Xavier Tillman: 4 years, $58.3M
  • Steven Adams: 4 years, $96.4M

The two players to watch are Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke. Both of these players are staples into the system — Brooks as a shot-creating, defensive-stopping wing, and Clarke as a switching, small big man that is incredibly efficient scoring the ball. Both players are also common elements in the team’s closing lineups.

Brooks has a wide variety of outcomes this offseason, ranging from trade bait to an extension. Netting him at his maximum extension could be a steal, but he could also bet on himself for free agency to secure a deal closer to $20M annually. That extension allows the front office to evaluate his fit more as a 4th option alongside Morant, Jackson, and Bane, if he’s okay with that role. If anything, that contract gives the Grizzlies a bigger number for salary-matching in potential trades.

Clarke may not need an extension. It’s fair to suspect how much more he can grow, given his limited outside shooting and ball-handling. In addition, people might not see it in the team’s best interests to extend a 6th man to a long-term contract. The Grizzlies could let it roll into restricted free agency, but they may not want to risk a team putting out an offer sheet they can’t match. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them agree to a deal at the 11th hour of the extension deadline in October.

The extensions for Brooks and Clarke are going to be ones to monitor this offseason, as it could impact the team construction in 2023 and beyond.

The Memphis Grizzlies have a lot of tough decisions on their hands this offseason. There are so many different routes they could go down. They could look like a totally different team through trades and free agency departures, make minor tweaks around the margins again, or they could run it back.

It’ll be intriguing to see, especially in conjunction with the internal development from the young players on this team.

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