In today’s landscape of overreactions, every transaction is labeled as either finding the missing ingredient for the beginning of a dynasty or as a colossal failure. The NBA is notorious for its history of questionable personnel decisions, and many times organizations are victims of chasing players without a real idea of how that player is going to fit within their system or in the locker room.
(Yes, I’m looking at you, New Orleans Pelicans and that Tyreke Evans contract. Honorable mention to the Pistons for the Jennings/Smith experiment.)
Just ask the 2012 Los Angeles Lakers about this issue. Winning the off-season is an entirely different accomplishment than having the franchise set itself up for a successful future with acquisitions. The top teams in the league are successful because they trust in the process of building a contender by finding pieces that fit rather than changing the shape of the puzzle.
It sounds simple, but it should not be taken for granted: Memphis has been brilliant in making personnel moves that make sense both on the court and for the team’s bottom line financially. Rather than looking to make a drastic splash in free agency, the new front office has been diligent in their approach.
The gap between being a champion and beginning a rebuilding process is small. The Grizzlies were swept in the Western Conference Finals, but the two pivotal games of the series were both overtime losses. The Spurs were able to expose Memphis’s glaring weaknesses: a lack of both outside shooting and quality depth at the center and point guard positions.
In the four games against the Spurs, the back-court trio of Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten, and Keyon Dooling combined for 46 points in 143 minutes while shooting an abysmal 32 percent from the field. Dooling is no longer with the team, and Wroten did not exactly instill confidence into the coaching staff in the Summer League with his apparent lack of commitment to improving his jump shot.
The front office has explored various options to find a solid player to limit the drop-off when Mike Conley is on the bench. Memphis acquired Nick Calathes via trade from the Dallas Mavericks and has expressed interest in veterans Mo Williams and Beno Udrih. It appears that Calathes, a 6’6” point guard fresh off of winning a EuroCup MVP, will agree to test the skills he once honed at the University of Florida in the NBA next season.
If Calathes agrees to a contract like expected, the team may still look to land either Williams or Udrih, but most likely not both. Either one would be a huge upgrade for the second unit as both can stretch the floor with a reliable jump shot.
Front-court depth became an issue (and a weakness) as neither Darrell Arthur nor Ed Davis provided any meaningful contributions off of the bench in the postseason. Davis, once hailed as the prize of the mid-season trade, was a non-factor for the Grizzlies as he logged just forty-eight total minutes in the playoffs and a mere sixteen in the Conference Finals. Arthur was just as ineffective as his impact is perfectly reflected by his inability to score in the post on Matt Bonner, his match-up for the majority of his minutes.
On draft night in a move that slipped through the cracks of an eventful evening, Memphis acquired Kosta Koufos from the Denver Nuggets for Arthur. The move shed $231,683 (Hey, every cent counts!) off of the team’s payroll for the 2013-14 season while also acquiring a player who started in 81 games for the 57-win Denver Nuggets.
With a quality center to back up Marc Gasol and play naturally alongside Ed Davis and the second unit, the Grizzlies now boast one of the deepest and most talented front courts in the league (while saving money in the process). However, it is worth noting that it remains to be seen whether or not Koufos can handle the pressure of his biggest challenge: filling in the gaping hole that opened when Hamed “the Hammer” Haddadi was traded.
The main point of emphasis for the off-season was the lack of outside shooting on the team. Memphis ranked in the bottom third in three-point percentage for the and dead last in attempts for the 2012 season. And while Quincy Pondexter’s emergence in the playoffs could solve some of those issues, fans were perplexed as the team missed out on sharpshooters without as much as any reported interest.
A move was not made until one seemingly fell into their laps. After providing a spark in the Finals for two years a row, Mike Miller was a casualty (used lightly) of the amnesty provision. The Grizzlies, with the help of a year of free golf, were able to beat out Houston and Oklahoma City to land the specialist.
A career 40 percent three-point marksman, Miller played the fewest minutes of his career in 2012-2013 as he continued his battle against injuries. Still, when healthy enough to be on the court, he was effective. The key to the acquisition, however, is not the actual production of the fourteen-year veteran, but rather the threat he poses to defenses when on the court. The floor will be spaced when he is in the lineup which automatically makes him invaluable on a team with Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen. At the veteran minimum, the reward far outweighs the risk, but the postseason will be the key in determining whether or not the signing was a success.
One could certainly question how the off-season would have played out for the Grizzlies had Miller not been released by the Heat. Would the team have still stood pat while looking to land a player in-season through one of their five trade exceptions? Luck could have been a major part of the successful summer.
A wise man (me writing this right now) once said: Luck is usually the term given to those that are prepared for opportunity, and it is no coincidence that the top organizations continually out-savvy their counterparts. The best teams in the league seem to always find pieces that fit, and the Grizzlies seem to have finally settled into that tier.