It is widely known that Mo Williams spent the past three days in Memphis talking to Grizzlies’ front office personnel and coaches before leaving town this morning. What isn’t as concrete is just what player Grizz CEO Jason Levien was meeting with on Monday that prevented him from being there on Mo’s first day in the (We Don’t) Bluff City. I first heard about this meeting via the always entertaining Chris Vernon Show, where he and notorious producer, Jon “The Body Spray Bandit” Roser, went through a list of potential free agents, crossing nearly every one of them off as possible suspects. Despite being told that the player in question wasn’t former #1 overall pick Greg Oden, Vernon’s suspicions remained, as have mine, that it was the much-maligned 7-footer that Levien was meeting with.
Since that tidbit of info reached the airwaves yesterday following the Mike Miller press conference (see 3SOB and fan reactions), I’ve seen/heard a variety of reports that it was Oden, but that the team will not look to sign both Oden and Williams. If that is indeed the case, then the question presents itself: Mo or Greg?
In Mo Williams, the Grizzlies would be getting a quality ball-handler and solid perimeter shooter. In other words, they’d have someone that would not only put Tony Wroten on semi-permanent suit duty behind the bench (which might not be a bad thing after his abysmal showing in Summer League), but would also keep Jerryd Bayless from having to be a primary ball-handler…pretty much ever. Whether you are a Wroten believer/Bayless fan or not, the second part of that has to make you smile. It also would allow the Grizzlies to have multiple shooting threats on the court at virtually all times of the game. Williams is also an excellent free throw shooter, which means late-game situations when the good guys are up by only a few points would suddenly be a little less dicey whenever the opponents decide to foul.
In Greg Oden….well, what would the Grizz have? He would be the third center behind Marc Gasol and Kosta Koufos, so he would not engender a lot of playing time most of the time. Due to his extensive injury history and the fact that he hasn’t seen live NBA action in over 3 years, no one is really sure what to expect out of the once-fearsome defensive force. For the contract he is likely to garner, a team can afford to bring him along slowly. With their depth, the Grizzlies would not be pressured to rush him back onto the court with expectations of productivity. So, he’s the ultimate low-risk, high-reward prospect in that regard. Oh, and his PER was pretty good his two years of playing, too.
So, it looks like a proven veteran playoff performer who fills a need versus a gigantic question mark whose role was recently filled by the likes of Hamed Haddadi. Simple choice, right? Well…..not so fast.
You see, going back to the early days of this franchise being in Memphis, one thing I have learned is that while front offices do like known commodities, they love “catching lightning in a bottle” even more — especially when that lightning has the potential to vastly outplay its contract. Mo Williams, for better or worse, is a backup point guard who will likely play around 12-15 minutes per game, everything being factored in. While Greg Oden won’t be ousting Marc Gasol anytime soon, he wasn’t the #1 overall pick for nothing. He has the defensive ability to be a one-man wrecking crew if he proves to be healthy. As such, he could make a very solid player like Kosta Koufos a mere afterthought by next season if he is able to replicate his level of play during the 80-something games he was able to play a few years ago.
The smart move for a team that is clearly looking at not only repeating the success of last year’s run to the Western Conference Finals (that’s right casual fans — it was us that made it there, not the Warriors or Thunder), but is trying to go one step further is to sign Mo Williams for a couple of million dollars and then try to wheel and deal with the “unwanted” contracts left on the ledger throughout the season to bolster their chances for a run at the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s the easy choice. The gutsy choice would be to take a flier on the talented question mark that is Greg Oden, hoping that you stumble into a player with size and talent to be a defensive force for 2-3 years at a discounted rate.
However…why is it an either/or question?
Mo Williams more or less duplicates what Jerryd Bayless does, only he’s a better PG, right? And with the signing of Mike Miller, it seems doubtful that last year’s playoff surprise, Quincy Pondexter, will be playing a ton of minutes at SF, so where will he get playing time?
It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that it probably surprised the Grizzlies front office as much as it did me that Bayless opted in to the second year of his contract. I doubt they foresaw that happening, which means it likely threw a wrench into their offseason plans. As such, if they can acquire Mo Williams, wouldn’t it make plenty of sense to then want to ship JB elsewhere? Buckle up, this is where it gets interesting.
What if the Grizzlies did a sign-and-trade with Utah for Williams? They could either pay him a little more than the approximately $2 million they have available under the cap or go up to the $3 million that Bayless is scheduled to make and not be any worse off financially than they currently are. Or, they could try to package Wroten in the deal as well if they are not sold on him as a viable contributor or just need to sweeten the pot to get the Jazz to agree to the S&T. That frees up minutes for Q-Pon at SG, as well as the possibility that Jamaal Franklin might get to see the court occasionally.
Additionally, it means that the deal for Pat Calathes suddenly makes even more sense. The key to Tony Wroten’s future is the fact that the current front office isn’t invested in him at all. He’s a holdover from the previous regime, so he wasn’t their draft pick and they have nothing tied to him. Not agreeing or disagreeing with that line of thinking — just pointing out that it is likely their objective viewpoint of him.
So, if you are suddenly able to add Mo Williams without actually adding salary…doesn’t that mean you could then add Greg Oden as well? Given my belief that this team will look to trade any or all of Bayless, Wroten, and Tayshaun Prince prior to February’s trade deadline, this makes a lot of sense from my perspective.
So, what should the Grizzlies do?