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The Grizzlies Offseason Blueprint
Not often is there a team that enters the season with the Draft lottery in mind, wanting to pick as low in the draft as possible. Thus, I present you the 18-19 Memphis Grizzlies, a team that entered this season with the main goal of conveying a 1st round pick owed to the Boston Celtics. For that goal to be achieved, the Grizzlies need to fall outside the top 8, since the pick is top 8 protected this year. So, finishing the season tied 7th-9th with two other teams (New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks) that, by the end of the season, were openly tanking is a sour outcome. The tie-breaker gave the Grizzles some room to breathe and be hopeful, landing them at the 8th spot in the Draft lottery, giving them a 42.6% chance of conveying the pick, a 26.2% chance of getting a top 4 pick and a 31.2% chance of ending up with the 8th pick, the worst case scenario lurking around Memphis all year.
Having or not having a their own 1st round pick this year is not of the outmost importance for the franchise in the immediate future, but it might come back to haunt the Grizzlies in the 2021 NBA Draft, when the pick becomes unprotected and is automatically sent to Boston, despite what the lottery luck might dictate. So in the best case scenario the Grizzlies get rid this year of obligations from past front office mistakes and take ownership of all their future 1st round picks, getting a clean slate to work with.
So, in this article I’m going to try to give a simple blueprint of what the Grizzlies offseason should look like and what roster moves would make sense. Since the Grizzlies will not, in the near future, have the roster requisites to compete for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, the philosophy of this organization for the next two seasons should be the already famous mantra: “rebuilding while remaining competitive”.
Before we move to the actual roster and what moves should the Grizzlies make with each player, let’s first analyze the front office/coach situations. For most of the Grizzlies fans out there, General Manager Chris Wallace should have been fired the second after the Grizzlies regular season ended. That was not the case, but there is still reason to rejoice, since Chris Wallace was reassigned to a scouting position (seeing his draft record as GM, I can assume he is not great at that either). Jason Wexler was promoted to President of Basketball Operations and Zach Kleiman to Executive VP of Basketball Operations, attending to the day-to-day matters. So, with the much needed change of scenery in the front office, hence came the head coach decision. To be fair, I was sort of ok with keeping J. B. Bickerstaff as the coach for the next season. I believe he would come very in handy with the rebuilding part of the process (since there was no competitiveness with him in charge), but the front office chose, wisely, to terminate his contract. So, what next? There’s probably going to be a fair amount of head coach positions available throughout the league in this offseason (Cleveland, Lakers, Phoenix, Oklahoma?, Minnesota?, Washington?, Philadelphia?), so the Grizzlies should try to anticipate the demand and get ahead in the pursuit of their head coach. Nothing has been talked about until now (flashback to last offseason), so I don’t know when they are going to announce their next head coach or who it’s going to be. Who should it be? Dave Joerger. But let’s face it, he is not coming back. So, what sort of profile should the Grizzlies want for their next head coach? He should be a developmental coach, someone who is good at developing young players, that has an understanding of the game and has a clear vision on how he wants his team to play. You’re probably thinking Jerry Stackhouse and it would have been a bold and probably successful choice. But he is gone to college basketball. So, I just hope this time around the Grizzlies opt for conducting a proper search for the head coach position, instead of just giving the job to the first person who sends in the résumé through the mail (looking at you, JB).
Now my fellow readers, the main course of this article: the roster moves that the Grizzlies should look to make this offseason.
Tyler Zeller – I’m just placing Tyler Zeller on this list because I don’t want to be unfair to him, since he was in the roster at the end of the season, being signed to play only four games, covering for the injured Jonas Valanciunas. There is nothing really wrong with him and there is nothing really great about him. If an end of the bench big was in need, I don’t see why not have him around for the veteran minimum. But this is a time to gamble on young players and Tyler Zeller has not been young for quite a while now.
Tyler Dorsey – There is still doubt to whether or not Tyler Dorsey is a NBA level player, but it’s safe to say that the trade that sent Shelvin Mack to the Hawks for Dorsey helped potentially save the Grizzlies season. Shelvin Mack was atrocious in Memphis and replacing him for Dorsey was a blessing. Tyler was supposed to come and play limited time, but his minutes spiked after Mike Conley, Avery Bradley and CJ Miles were shut down for the season. He showed flashes of being a serviceable 3 point shooter and ball handler, even if there are flaws in his game. At 23 years of age, I think the Grizzlies can take a chance and sign him to his $1,800,000 qualifying offer for next year and see how he develops throughout the season.
Jevon Carter – Jevon Carter had a so-so rookie season. Coming into the year he was viewed as a scrappy guard who could become a boost of energy off the bench and who was capable of tenacious defense for stretches. In that regard, he didn’t quite disappoint. But in all fairness, his offensive game is raw and he has shown that he can’t finish around the rim at an NBA level, due to his lack of size. His three point shooting was mediocre and his ball handling abilities also need to considerably improve. His $1,416,852 contract for next season is fully guaranteed and he should be back to soak up some minutes here and there and continue to develop his game.
Dillon Brooks – Dillon Brooks was the Brooks that Phoenix wanted but could not get. His level of play before his season ending toe surgery was encouraging and he should continue to develop this season at a much need shooting guard position, where the Grizzlies have had deficiencies ever since the grind father Tony Allen walked out the door. His not guaranteed $1,618,520 deal is going to be fully picked up and he will certainly see some increased minutes, if healthy.
Ivan Rabb – Ivan Rabb was a nice surprise this season, once he started to get minutes, although he finished the season on a not so positive note. But we can thank that to JB, since he started playing him out of position, at the center spot. He is essentially a lean and tall power forward, who can give you solid 15-20 minutes per game both on offense and on defense. Expect his $1,618,520 not guaranteed contract to be fully picked up for next season and for him to be Jaren’s backup.
Bruno Caboclo – Bruno Caboclo finally stopped being “two years away from being two years away” and became an NBA player. Having all the physical tools to play the game, one can only hope he keeps developing at the same pace and becomes a long term valuable asset to this team. The Brazilian Kevin Durant is signed to a not fully guaranteed $1,845,301 contract for the next season and the Grizzlies should look to extend him at a reasonable price, sometime during that span.
Joakim Noah – Joakim Noah came to Memphis to have a basketball resurrection and reassert himself as a center who can defend, rebound, pass and push up the tempo on the open floor. So, at 34 years of age, I believe he should and will choose to play for a team that has the word playoffs in their aspirations. Don’t get me wrong, I love his energy and his passion. After Gasol was gone, he stepped up big time and was a key piece in some of the wins the Grizzlies were able to amass. But this is just one of those cases where it doesn’t make sense to try to keep him here if he has better options, which I believe he will.
Justin Holiday – Justin Holiday was Chris Wallace’s last mistake as a general manager for the Memphis Grizzlies. Not Holiday’s fault though, who being a decent role player, was dealt a bad hand coming to a team that was spiraling downward before he even walked into the front door. The fact he was an overpay (MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden and TWO 2nd round picks) placed an even more unfair pressure on his shoulders to help turn the Grizzlies season around, which he wasn’t a factor big enough to do. He also suffered from being misused as a sporadic ball handler by JB Bickerstaff, something that he clearly does not have the skill set to do. All in all, he played some nice games for the Grizzlies and should land somewhere in a playoff team that could use his defense and his corner three shooting. But that’s where he’ll play next season, since there is no reason for the Grizzlies to even try and resign him.
CJ Miles – CJ Miles came on the boat from Toronto in the Marc Gasol trade and showed in Memphis that he can still be a valuable shooter off the bench for a playoff team. And that’s exactly what he should become next season, after having opted in on his $8,730,158 player option. He will probably be traded close to the trade deadline to a team that is in need of shooters, for a player with a similar salary but under contract for one more year and a second round pick.
Delon Wright – Delon Wright has shown that he can be a solid two way guard in this league. He played well for the Grizzlies and finished the season amassing triple doubles left and right. But it’s important to factor into the decision of his future that he is 26 years old and that he is not a real threat from three point range. Therefore, is value in dollars is limited. I think the smart play for the Grizzlies is to extend him his qualifying offer and wait out to see what the market has in store for him. Other than teams like the Suns or the Magic, I don’t quite see who could pursue him at an overpriced value. So, the Grizzlies should sign him to something like a 3 years/16 million dollars deal and be comfortable knowing that they secured a nice player at a fair value.
Avery Bradley – Avery Bradley is a nice player, on a unique contract. His $12,960,000 contract for next season only becomes guaranteed if not waived before the 3rd of July. So, what he is for the Grizzlies right now is a bargaining chip, that should be used to acquire a player with a similar or lesser contract and a 2nd round pick. That are teams out there that will be despaired to clear cap space and will make the offer, in order to waive Bradley and shave off 8-10 million dollars in cap space for next season. Being in a rebuild entices that the Grizzlies use their assets to acquire draft assets or younger players, and that’s exactly what should happen with Avery Bradley. He played great for the Grizzlies since being acquired in the JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple trade, showing that he still has a killer midrange game when hot and knows how to play lockdown defense on opposing point guards. He should be able to command offers from playoff teams, even if at a discount.
Kyle Anderson – Slow Mo was a great pick up for the Grizzlies, at a fair price. His $9,037,050 contract for next season reflects his value to this team, being a great defender and playmaker, using his versatility to help his team in all processes of the game. A season ending shoulder injury derailed his Grizzlies season debut, but he did enough to earn praise from all Grizzlies fans and they have reasons to rejoice that he is locked up for three more seasons.
Jaren Jackson Jr. – I mean, what am I supposed to say here? This kid is going to be a star in this league and the future of this franchise for years to come. He has all the tools to be a great two way, all-NBA caliber player: a big who can defend the paint, switch on to the perimeter, post up, roll to the basket and hit the outside shot. The next Grizzlies head coach should feature him a lot more on offense than JB Bickerstaff did and help him clean up a bit of the foul trouble that kept his playing time so low for such a big prospect. He also needs to work on his defensive rebounding, as it is the only part of his game that needs to severely improve. He is here to stay for a long, long time if the Grizzlies play their cards right and build a nice team around him.
Chandler Parsons – The man who was signed to form a big three in Memphis is entering the final year of his max deal, meaning that he is owed $25,102,511 for the next season. What to do with Chandler Parsons is going to be one of the main challenges the new front office is going to encounter and there is only two answers for this riddle. The Grizzlies can either play him this year (since he finished the season playing quite well, without soreness), let his contract expire and have 25 million dollars coming of the books or they can trade him around the trade deadline for one or two contracts of similar weight in money but a year longer (more than one year would crippling) and draft compensation. Trading him to get a 1st round pick back (that kind of free cap space commands a 1st rounder) while also biting the bullet on bad contracts for another year is tempting, but I’m on board with keeping him, so the Grizzlies can position themselves for the 2020 free agent class, not to sign big free agents (since there is going to be literally none), but to have room to resign current player on minimum or rookie deals (Caboclo, Rabb, Brooks) and to sign nice role players that can further deepen the bench. The decision will also come down to owning or not owning their first round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. If they don’t (conveying next year), I can see the logic for trading him to be in the Draft, so the roster starts getting younger and fit Jaren Jackson Jr.’s timeline.
Jonas Valanciunas – This big fella represents the crossroads at which the Grizzlies franchise stands. In fairness, there is only one course of action to take here. Jonas will decline his $17,617,977 player option for next season and sign a longer deal with the Grizzlies. I believe something around a 4 yea60 million dollars deal would a fair price to pay for him, but I’m afraid the Grizzlies might overpay him due to his recent play. There are all the reasons in the world to try to keep him: at 27 years of age (in a few weeks), he’s just entering his prime and the Grizzlies would take full advantage of that prime span; he was the centerpiece of the Gasol trade and losing him for nothing would be inconceivable; he is the perfect fit next to Jaren Jackson Jr., a big who is a great rebounder, a good post up player who has a decent midrange game and who can hit the occasional outside shot. Giving all that, I just want to leave you with this thought. From the moment the Grizzlies sign Valanciunas to a 4 year deal, he is no longer an asset and becomes a player. He has almost no trade value during the first two years of his contract and signing him is going against the tide by securing a player that doesn’t fit on the team’s timeline to compete and who, accustomed to play meaningful basketball in Toronto, might get fed up with all the losing that will come to the FedEx Forum in the next few years and become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Still, the only move is to pay him and hope things turn out ok.
Mike Conley Jr. – The time has come my fellow fans to accept that Mike Conley is leaving the Memphis Grizzlies. The little thread of hope that all Grizzlies fans held on to was dissipated when a The Athletic article came out basically stating that Conley wishes to go to greener pastures and compete in a playoff team. I, for one, understand him, as I think you all do. Being the last man standing from the Core Four must have a hard psychological impact on someone who right now has to sit at home and watch Marc Gasol help the Toronto Raptors make a deep playoff run and, who knows, have the opportunity to fight for a championship. Even though is quality as a basketball player and a locker room leader is unquestionable, his $32,511,623 contract for next season and $34,504,132 for the 2020-2021 season is a tough contract to swallow for a lot of teams. Only a few teams are realistic landing spots for him (Pacers, Pistons, Jazz, Suns) and his value is limited due to his contract, not his level of play. So, the trade should follow the mold of all teams that trade an asset while rebuilding while remaining competitive: one or two salary fillers, a good young prospect and a 1st round pick. Anything other than that is disrespectful to the future of the franchise and to the Grizzlies fans who grew to love this man to death.
Two way players Julian Washburn and Yuta Watanabe both have team options for next year and if it’s true that there’s reason to keep believing on Yuta, Julian Washburn should not return. At 27 years of age it’s clear that he is not a NBA player and the Grizzlies should focus on finding someone younger, with more future upside, to fill the spot.
So, crunching the numbers is not really the purpose of this article, but the Grizzlies are hovering around the luxury tax line, which they will do anything to get under. Don’t expect any big free agent signings, as they will probably just search for some cheap young talent to take a gamble on (a la Bruno Caboclo), using salary exceptions. As for all rebuilds, one or two veterans should be on board, to help with locker room chemistry and to nurture the younger players. For me, I am a strong advocate that the Grizzlies should bring back Zach Randolph on a veteran minimum contract, to help in the development of Jaren Jackson Jr. and to transmit some of that Grit and Grind mystique to the new players shinning in the FedEx Forum.
So, this Grizzlies rebuild while remaining competitive should last, at least, the next two seasons. Many of you will say that it’s a short period of time to fully rebuild, but remember that we already have a top rookie to begin with, and that we tanked last season already. In 2021 I fully expect the Grizzlies to be competing for a playoff spot, under new management, with a new coach and two high lottery picks to build around of.
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