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How could the Memphis Grizzlies upgrade this offseason?

The Grizzlies have avenues to upgrade, but is it possible?

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Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Now is the time to start operating at contenders, for the first offseason in the Zach Kleiman regime. Which directions do they need to go in the trade market to act as such?

I already highlighted the Dillon Brooks market on Monday. Which other players on the rotation can be open on the trade market?

It’s easy to assume that the back end of the roster can be phased out, if the front office finds viable replacements on good value. John Konchar or Xavier Tillman can be used to match salary, but their team-friendly contracts are great for their role as emergency rotation players. Same goes for Santi Aldama, who’s more of a developmental piece. Killian Tillie is more likely to be waived than traded, given the surplus of tweener big men at the end of the roster.

Brandon Clarke could become a surprise trade candidate, given the extension on the horizon. However, it’s more likely he’s extended rather than traded – given that he’s a punch off the bench and he’s a fixture in the Grizzlies’ successful lineups with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane.

Dillon Brooks has been noted, but there are two other names to watch for: Steven Adams and De’Anthony Melton. With the value on their contracts (in terms of money) these 3 players are most likely to be dealt this summer. In addition, they are also slotted in the spots where the Grizzlies could theoretically upgrade.

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

Steven Adams will be an interesting name to monitor this offseason. In the regular season, he proved he was not washed, contrary to what Pelicans Twitter had to say. He’s an enabler for the Grizzlies’ regular season – generating extra possessions with offensive rebounds, freeing up perimeter players with his screening, and setting up scoring opportunities with his high-post playmaking. His impact in other facets of the game, and his minimal desire to score, empowers the core to be the best versions of themselves offensively. In the postseason though, we saw what happens in the wrong matchup – see: Towns, Karl-Anthony. That caveat opens up fair questions for an upgrade at center.

But who though?

Rudy Gobert would be the best-case scenario, but his contract might become a problem soon. And it’s debatable if the Grizzlies can meet Utah’s demands. Deandre Ayton is another option, but wouldn’t he want to go somewhere with more offensive responsibilities, since that’s one of the problems in Phoenix? Myles Turner is the most realistic one, but both long-time NBA reporter Marc Stein and Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that the Pacers are evaluating their future with their shot-blocking big man.

The Grizzlies could start with an offer of Adams, Melton, and the 22nd pick for Turner? If they have to add another pick, as other suitors could offer higher picks or better prospects, they’d have to gauge the worth adding the 29th pick or the Warriors’ 2024 pick in the package. Would that move the needle? Turner is a terrorizing shot-blocker that can also space the floor. However, could he and Jaren Jackson make up for the loss of rebounding and screening from Adams? Debatable.

Another question to assess with an Adams upgrade is, if it’s worth upgrading the center spot when they’d likely need to sacrifice touches for Morant, Bane, and Jackson. I don’t think so.

It’s fair to suggest the real center upgrade is Jaren Jackson Jr. becoming ready to become the full-time 5. After all, most successful closing lineups feature Jackson at the 5.

If Adams gets traded, I’d re-visit Gordon Hayward possibility from my previous trade column – the offer of Adams, 22, and 29 for Hayward and 15 sounds good to me. Then, if Jackson is still meant to be the starting 4, they could target a young center like Mitchell Robinson or Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency as a cheaper option. Maybe, they throw the full mid-level exception at Kevon Looney — that’d be a fascinating scenario. Or the Grizzlies could trade one of Tillman or Tillie to take on Nerlens Noel, attached to a second-round pick.

However, I lean in the direction that Steven Adams doesn’t – or shouldn’t – get traded. His areas of expertise help them with regular season success, which is important for playoff positioning after all.

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Five Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

De’Anthony Melton seems to be the most likely player to move. Melton is a great bench piece to have in the regular season, with his ability to generate defensive events and to hit 3’s in bunches. However, his limited postseason success for the 3rd straight season may force the Grizzlies to move on.

Melton’s spot as a reserve combo guard is probably the easiest to improve upon of the possibilities mentioned here — mainly because he’s the most likely player to dealt between him, Brooks, and Adams. With Tyus Jones’ impending free agency, it might be in the team’s best interest to find a combo guard off the bench that can also initiate the Grizzlies offense, an area not in Melton’s expertise.

The Grizzlies could upgrade this spot with a veteran, which would be ideal for an operating contender. The Action Network’s Matt Moore reported that Denver is shopping Will Barton and Monte Morris. Barton (a former Memphis Tiger) is fascinating. Prior to Monday’s trade between Denver and Oklahoma City, I thought a deal centered around Melton, Tillie, and the 29th pick for Will Barton would be great. Now, it’s unlikely.

Could they do a similar package to the Orlando Magic for Terrence Ross, someone who’s been in trade rumors for 2 years now? If the Grizzlies don’t want to give up Melton and the 29th pick for Ross, could the two teams swap the 29th and 32nd picks with Orlando throwing a young player in there? That route would allow the Grizzlies to be creative with the contract of a second pick, rather than a traditional 4-year rookie scale.

It’s more likely that the Grizzlies use Melton and a combination of picks (22nd, 29th, or the Warriors 2024) to move up in the draft. Melton’s 2-year, $18M left may be enticing for teams looking for cap relief, and the Grizzlies have the space to take on some contracts.

The Atlanta Hawks will be looking to shake things up once again this summer. The Grizzlies could use Melton and the 22nd pick to move up to the 16th pick, while taking on the contracts of Bogdan Bogdanovic or Kevin Huerter. Taking on a player going into the offseason with knee surgery is a tough sell, and it might trigger some Parsons emotions from Grizz faithful. However, my preference is Bogdanovic. He’s a bigger, more versatile creator who’s a cleaner closing fit next to Morant and Bane, and he can run the second unit if necessary. Huerter is good too, but with his extension (4 years, $64M) kicking in this season, I’d want a future 1st from Atlanta to take on his money on those years — and I doubt Atlanta succumbs to it.

Grind City Media’s Keith Parish (aka Fastbreak Breakfast) mentioned on a recent Grits and Grinds that the Knicks and Wizards like De’Anthony Melton. Jake Fischer also reported that the Knicks are looking to unload the salaries of Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel. Here are two hypothetical deals circulating around those reports:

  • Melton, the 22nd pick, and the Lakers 2024 second-round pick to the Knicks for Burks and the 11th pick.
  • Melton, the 22nd pick, and the Warriors 2024 first-round pick to the Wizards for the 10th pick and 1 of Rui Hachimura or Deni Advija.

Melton is a name to watch in the trade rumors. He’s the most upgradable position for the Memphis Grizzlies, and his contract and age should be enticing on the trade market. He’s also a regular-season floor-raiser – something teams in the play-in bubble will be prioritizing.

The two camps of “run it back” and “the Grizzlies need to make upgrades” aren’t necessarily wrong; both sides have justified reasons behind those stances. The Grizzlies are coming off a 56-26 season, as the NBA’s second-youngest team. Running it back and relying on internal development is a fair option.

However, there also is a sense of urgency to make the necessary moves to sustain this momentum, as the Western Conference reloads next season. The Warriors, Mavericks and Suns aren’t going anywhere, the Nuggets and Clippers will be healthier, and the Timberwolves and Pelicans are poised to be young teams on the rise as well. This doesn’t even include the fact that the Lakers still have LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. It’s going to get packed, and the Grizzlies need to ensure they can stay in that playoff (not play-in) mix next season.

Upgrading may be necessary to stay the course in the rigorous Western Conference.

If there’s anything we can take from this regime, they aren’t complacent. The Grizzlies turned the 40th pick into the 30th and 35th picks – and one of those players, Desmond Bane, is emerging into a core piece. Last offseason, after a playoff berth and 38-34 record in the second year of the rebuild, the Grizzlies traded away two starters, opening up more of a runway for its foundation players.

Zach Kleiman could operate with the same urgency once again.

The Memphis Grizzlies could improve at certain spots, and there are some drawbacks behind these moves. Nonetheless, upgrading the roster illustrates the team’s urgency to operate as a contender, while staying with these pieces for another season highlights the belief in this team as a title challenger.

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