There has been plenty of discussion about the Grizzlies offseason, and overall lack of moves, over the last few weeks. For a young team that considers themselves a contender, they got even younger when they selected 4 rookies in the 2022 NBA Draft. A brief rundown of the Grizzlies offseason so far.
In: Danny Green, Jake LaRavia, David Roddy, Kennedy Chandler, Vince Williams Jr. (2W), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (2W)
Out: De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson, Jarrett Culver, Yves Pons (2W), Tyrell Terry (2W)
Outside of the movement on draft night, the Grizzlies have taken care of their own since free agency opened on June 30th. They quickly came to terms with Tyus Jones on a two-year, $30M contract. Later that night they agreed to a max extension with star Ja Morant. Lastly, last week, they agreed to a contract extension with John Konchar that locks him in through the 2026-2027 season.
Re-signing Jones was a win for him and Memphis, as the steady veteran gets the richest contract for a backup point guard, with the opportunity to hit the open market again in two years. Memphis, meanwhile, keeps Jones in the fold for the next two seasons as they presumably try and groom Kennedy Chandler — or until they can find a different long-term solution to back up Ja.
Ja’s extension is pretty cut and dry. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of talent so keeping him for an additional 5 years, with no player option, is really good! The Konchar extension got a fair bit of backlash on Twitter, but it seemed mostly stemmed from the lack of action in free agency than the actual contract. Getting into a legitimate fuss over paying a end of rotation guy $6M, especially considering the future cap spike, is silly.
Much has been made about Executive of the Year and General Manager Zach Kleiman’s comments after the season, basically recognizing their contending status and even pointing out that with owner Robert Pera, money wouldn’t be an issue. I think one key note in Kleiman’s postseason presser, which seems to get glossed over when discussing the other things, is him pointing out they don’t want to lose sight of the stuff that got the Grizzlies in the position they are in.
Zach Kleiman doesn’t want to lose sight of where they are in the realm of contention, but won’t lose sight of the stuff that got them there— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) May 15, 2022
So despite the fact that the Tyus Jones in 2019 (and technically Marko Guduric) is the only free agent signing by Kleiman and his front office, fans haven’t been incredibly pleased with the lack of “competitive” moves this offseason. Kleiman reiterated this stance in a recent media availability for Ja Morant’s extension.
Zach Kleiman on improving the current roster via trade or free agency:— Damichael Cole (@DamichaelC) July 9, 2022
“We’re making calls. If there’s opportunities where we can make the team better within our culture, we’re going to be very aggressive. But we’re not just going to go out and do something just to do it.”
The Grizzlies, historically under Kleiman, have made most of their moves in creating their team via the NBA Draft and through trades. The Kevin Durant trade request has pretty much frozen the trade market this offseason, without Minnesota (who understandably moved on after Brooklyn’s request for KD) acquiring Rudy Gobert in their blockbuster with Utah. With the trade market frozen, the Grizzlies haven’t been as active as they normally are during the summer. To give credit to the critics, the only move the Grizzlies have made was turning De’Anthony Melton into Danny Green and David Roddy. Green, recovering from a torn ACL, is the typical “take on salary to get the draft pick” type move that Kleiman has done time and time again. Green’s role with Memphis is yet to be determined, though, as he was seen with the team sitting courtside earlier this week in Vegas.
The key in the Kleiman quote above is that he is “making calls” and not taking them. It shows they’re being relatively aggressive and seeing who is available out there. but as Kleiman has stated numerous times throughout his tenure, he won’t make moves just for the sake of making them. Time will tell if Kleiman has some bigger moves up his sleeves as the dust settles on the Kevin Durant situation, but ultimately it sounds like the Grizzlies are pretty okay with running it back if the right trade doesn’t come their way.
Those who are not happy with the way the Grizzlies offseason has gone so far will typically point to the lack of aggressive moves. My argument is pretty simple: what “aggressive” moves out there are ones Memphis fans would be glad the front office did?
It wasn’t a loaded free agent class, with Jalen Brunson being the lone “available” unrestricted free agent, and he was down to Dallas or New York long before free agency started. Put simply, there were no realistic “game changers” in the open market. There have been a few role player contracts handed out that have been solid value, with Donte Divincenzo being a popular potential target. While guys like Divincenzo, Otto Porter Jr., Joe Ingles are solid players, they’re not going to make or break the Grizzlies season. The Grizzlies still have their main 8 of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Ziaire Williams, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, and Steven Adams. Even with the injury to JJJ, the Grizzlies are going to go as far as those 8 take them. End of rotation players aren’t going to have a massive difference on the season, especially when the other guys on the Grizzlies roster have already proven they can hold their own when called upon.
While the moves haven’t been aggressive this summer, the Grizzlies have no need to force things. What has worked for the Grizzlies since hiring Zach Kleiman and Taylor Jenkins has lead to vast improvements season after season. Quite frankly, there isn’t a ton to change on a team that just finished with the 2nd-best record in the NBA and feel as if they could have been in the NBA Finals had Ja Morant not gotten hurt, or if Desmond Bane’s back was 100%, or even if Steven Adams didn’t miss the first 2 games against Golden State with COVID.
It isn’t sexy, but bringing back the majority of the guys who helped lead to last years success isn’t such a bad plan. There are larger defensive concerns off the bench with both De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson gone, no doubt, but still plenty of time to figure that out. Konchar figures to be in the lead to take Melton’s role, and Jake LaRavia or David Roddy will battle with the likes of Santi Aldama to take the Anderson minutes that are available. Ziaire Williams will also likely have an expanded role off the bench with the departures of Melton and Anderson.
The Grizzlies also are following a popular blueprint of former NBA Champions and other Finals contenders. Both the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors from this past Finals were created primarily through the NBA Draft. Considering the Grizzlies success in recent drafts, it’s a solid approach for Kleiman to take. The Milwaukee Bucks are a relatively solid comparison to the Grizzlies as a small market team with a superstar. Before winning the NBA Finals in 2021, the Bucks missed the playoffs in 2 of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first 3 seasons. They followed that with 4 seasons that ended in playoff heartbreak before making the “All-In” trade to acquire Jrue Holiday.
While it certainly took Giannis a little more time to develop compared to Ja, it’s a solid comparison. Ja is the star, and either Desmond Bane or Jaren Jackson Jr. can be the Khris Middleton. The trio of Ja, JJJ and Des is a damn good trio if you allow them to grow and develop in their own right. The Grizzlies may ultimately have to make the “All-In” trade similar to the Bucks, but they can afford to be patient. Outside of Kevin Durant, none of the available players really push the Grizzlies over the top at this point. Some very good players have been traded or rumored to be traded over the last few weeks such as Dejounte Murray, Rudy Gobert, John Collins, and Malcolm Brogdon among others.
As previously mentioned, the Bucks went through 4 postseason failures in Giannis’ prime before making a major trade. The Raptors seemingly were killed by LeBron for a decade before finally making the aggressive move in trading DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Boston Celtics never made the splashy trade, instead relying on internal growth to get to the Finals this past season. After losing in the Finals, Boston had the assets and flexibility to make the low-risk move to acquire Brogdon.
Time is on the Grizzlies’ side with them being so ahead of schedule. Championship windows can close before you know it, but ultimately the Grizzlies feel comfortable relying on what has gotten them this far which is being selective in trades and nailing your draft picks. The Grizzlies have built an extremely solid culture in Memphis and grown collectively over the past 3 years. Kleiman is doing his job in making calls in efforts to improve the team, but also has the trust and flexibility to wait until the right offer is on the table before taking that leap. Until then, the Grizzlies are fine relying on who they are to compete for championships.
It’s understandable for fans to have wanted more action throughout the offseason, and the fallout from the Kevin Durant sweepstakes could play a large role in that, but ultimately Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies front office deserve the benefit of the doubt and have done exactly what they’ve said they would do in their efforts to win a championship.