These aren’t yet desperate times for the Memphis Grizzlies, though a 3-5 snooze out of the gate is a fair prompt for focus and urgency. The players responded with a respectable—if losing—effort against the Clippers on Monday night. The front office followed suit with a minor address in a reported deal to acquire Heat point guard Mario Chalmers.
The structure of the trade as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports would have the Grizzlies sending Beno Udrih and Jarnell Stokes to Miami for Chalmers and James Ennis. Assuming no other players are involved, that deal would require most of Memphis’s current trade exception (created via trading Jon Leuer to Phoenix over the summer) in order to satisfy league rules for salary matching.
This qualifies as a reasonable, defensible use of that resource that changes things in Memphis only marginally, if at all. Chalmers is a fine fit; the Grizzlies get a younger, quicker, and far better defensive player to back up Mike Conley. His history in the league would also speak to Chalmers being a respectable three-point shooter, though his last season (29.4% in 2014-15) and change (a repulsive 9.1% thus far this year) would suggest otherwise. Overall, Chalmers brings a broader capability on both sides of the ball than did Udrih. The upgrade isn’t so substantial as to meaningfully influence Memphis’ prospects, though perhaps some slight upgrade and the acquisition of another veteran who plays with an edge could spark something in the Grizzlies’ underwhelming play.
Chalmers also has enough flexibility in his game to play in two-guard lineups alongside Conley, just as Udrih and Nick Calathes had for Grizzlies teams past. The success of those lineups will largely depend on how convincing a threat Chalmers is without the ball, though it helps matters that he’s found success over the years as a secondary pick-and-roll creator.
Udrih is serviceable and even a valuable offensive initiator on the right night—especially for a team like the Grizzlies that often needed his scoring. Still, he’s attractive to Miami in this instance primarily for his salary. Udrih makes about $2.1 million less this season than Chalmers. That difference alone will save Miami, now subject to the punitive repeater tax after years of high spending, another $5.9 million in luxury tax payments. For months the Heat have been exploring their options in regard to shaving salary with just such an end in mind. They found and concluded a viable deal because the difference between Chalmers and Udrih isn’t worth $8 million to Miami.
A transaction with that motivation could hurt the Heat in some small ways, though not likely enough to make a dent in Miami’s season. And of the minor components involved, the Heat landed the more interesting piece: Stokes, a 21-year-old forward who never got much of a crack under Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. Miami’s deep frontcourt rotation might not be any more accommodating, though Stokes at the least has the interior skills as a post scorer and rebounder to give him some appeal as a potential specialist.