- Memphis broke the bank on Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons last summer. They'll have to follow that up with a thrifty approach.
With the NBA playoffs behind us, the 2017 off–season is here and many teams must make massive decisions. CBA expert Danny Leroux breaks down the major challenges and opportunities for the Memphis Grizzlies in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
Last summer, the Grizzlies had an opportunity to use cap space before giving Mike Conley the richest contract in league history. Another big bulk of that money went to Chandler Parsons, who ended up only playing 675 minutes due to knee issues.
Fortunately, Memphis was able to pick up the slack with Vince Carter and less-heralded 2016 signee James Ennis and finished the season 43–39. Without the cap space to sign another Parsons, general manager Chris Wallace will have to find more values this off-season to return the Grizzlies to the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Grizzlies this offseason:
JaMychal Green: Coming into the NBA later than most players makes Green an older restricted free agent. He turns 27 later in June, and that should narrow expectations that he will dramatically improve on his solid 2016–17 season. but that could help Memphis in terms of Green’s offer sheet from another team. The Grizzlies should be concerned that another team will see him as a starting caliber power forward and pay him as such, because they have no cap flexibility to replace him should they decline to match. Considering his long path to the NBA and limited earnings so far, Green could also accept a reasonable offer before free agency to mitigate the risk of a potentially tepid restricted market. Agents make their money in no small part by reliably estimating contract offers, and that will be especially true for Green’s representation.
Zach Randolph and Tony Allen: Current estimates put next season’s luxury tax line at $121 million, and if the Grizzlies retain Wayne Selden—which they should—they have just over $94 million in committed salary. That leaves about $30 million for Green and two centerpieces of the Grit-and-Grind era. Green receiving his expected salary in an offer sheet will likely require one or both of Randolph and Allen to take a pay cut. That seems possible at a glance, and Memphis could also tack on extra years to shift some of that burden to the future. Unfortunately, their high-priced pieces are still on the books for a while so that could just be kicking the can down the road with a largely stable salary cap.
The Luxury Tax: While Randolph and Allen taking less could make it possible to retain their current team and stay below the tax line, ownership could also be willing to dip into the luxury tax on a temporary basis to maximize the remaining time when Conley and Gasol can be key pieces on a playoff team. One of the reasons this could work is that the Grizzlies have very few contracts for the 2017–18 season that make sense to dump for tax purposes since they are mostly a mix of big-ticket players and low salaries. The one exception could be backup center Brandan Wright, particularly since Randolph took over that role most of last season. Moving his $5.6 million could be enough to keep everyone else and avoid the tax.
Potential Free Agents: JaMychal Green (Restricted), Zach Randolph (Unrestricted), Tony Allen (Unrestricted), Vince Carter (Unrestricted), Wayne Selden (Team Option)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: None
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): None
2017 Draft Assets: None. Sent their first-round pick to Cleveland in a 2013 salary dump and it ended up in Portland after the Jusuf Nurkic trade.
Potential Targets: If the Grizzlies are able to find the money to add talent, it will likely look similar to their contracts last summer for James Ennis and Troy Daniels. Backup point guard looks like the most pressing need unless the front office feels that either Wade Baldwin IV or Andrew Harrison is ready to handle those responsibilities full-time. Jose Calderon and Beno Udrih could be capable gap-fillers while those young players develop. At other positions, Memphis will be looking for players who fall through the cracks, but will not have much playing time to offer so free agent interest could be limited.
Pressure Scale: 5. Memphis set their path last summer with substantial contracts for Conley and Parsons. Unless they move one of them or Gasol, they will look overwhelmingly similar next season with a remarkably stable balance sheet. Finding value in free agents like Ennis and Daniels last season made it substantially more tenable financially and the front office will need to keep being proactive in order to maintain that dynamic for 2018 and beyond. This would also be a good off-season to make a decision on 2015 first-round pick Jarell Martin, because he is still on a rookie scale contract for two more seasons. But the Grizzlies drafted Deyonta Davis last year with Gasol under contract and both Green and Randolph likely to follow.
State of the Franchise: Maintaining. Despite getting almost nothing from their biggest free-agent acquisition in years, the Grizzlies still made the playoffs and competed in their first-round series against the Spurs. That will largely be the plan moving forward as the core of Gasol (32) and Conley (30 this October) ages into the NBA’s wilderness on their current contracts. Memphis can slow that journey by again finding value in the free agent market and through internal improvement from Davis, Baldwin, Martin, Harrison and their other young players. Even if Parsons is limited to a bench role until he proves his knee can handle a larger workload, he could help strengthen their second unit offensively and take some playmaking pressure off of the still-developing guards. The key pieces are already in place but the Grizzlies know as well as anyone that success in the NBA is a collective effort.