The morning after news broke about the Memphis Grizzlies agreeing to terms with former Toronto Raptors’ guard Jerryd Bayless, Chip and I were discussing what a quality move it was. Then Chip asked an excellent question: “Is Bayless the best free agent signing the Grizzlies have ever made?”
While you can make the case that other players have become great signings after the fact — think James Posey and Tony Allen — in terms of a high-caliber player who fills a need perfectly, it seems like Bayless is practically perfect. However, in the interest of science, I thought we’d review the Grizzlies’ history in Memphis and see how he stacks up.
July 2003 – Signed James Posey (Houston Rockets – RFA)
James Posey had logged 4 seasons in the NBA with Denver and Houston before signing an offer sheet with the Grizzlies in the 2003 offseason. Posey, a solid player with Denver was traded to Houston mid-season as part of the three-team deal that also involved Kenny Thomas and Mark Bryant. The former Xavier standout was averaging 14.1 ppg and 5.8 rpg at the time of the transaction. He faltered somewhat in Houston, his averages dropping to 9.3 and 4.8 respectively, but his FG% jumped as he took fewer shots and made more of them. He also managed to cut his turnovers in half.
Once he arrived in Memphis, the man known as “Skittles” helped change the losing culture of the Grizzlies with his tenacious defense and infectious personality. You can make the case that even if he wasn’t the best player on the team, he was the most important one in helping to lead them to their 50-win season and first-ever trip to the postseason.
July 2004 – Signed Brian Cardinal (Golden State Warriors)
Brian Cardinal was struggling to stay in the league when he managed to find a home on the West Coast. Having spent his first three seasons in Detroit and Washington after being a second round pick in 2000, he had only played in 28 games total to that point. With the Warriors, he finally got playing time and managed to be a productive player. Cardinal was one of those maddening players that you tend to love to watch…as long as you’re not playing against him. His gritty, hard-nosed style of play earned him plenty of floor burns, as well as a lot of love from his own fans. With solid stats across the board and an excess of hustle in his game, he seemed like a good fit with the new-look Grizzlies when Jerry West signed him.
Hindsight being 20/20, it is obvious that giving “The Custodian” a six-year contract was questionable — not to mention the effect that it wound up having on a few players already on the team, most notably previous season’s hero James Posey. Cardinal was able to fill in for an injured Pau Gasol and post similar numbers to his breakout year with the Warriors, but injuries ultimately derailed his time in Beale Street Blue before he was traded to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo swap.
August 2005 – Signed Damon Stoudamire (Portland Trailblazers)
Arguably the most high profile signing in franchise history when it occurred, the Grizzlies signed Stoudamire after having traded away starting PG Jason Williams to the Miami Heat just three days before this. The former Rookie of the Year had been an outstanding player in both Toronto and Portland before falling out of favor when the team decided to clean up its “Jail Blazer” image that it had become known by. A proven scorer, “Mighty Mouse” was also a veteran leader for a team that desperately needed guidance in the wake of player unrest the previous season.
Stoudamire came in and made an immediate impact, leading the team to one of the best records in the league before an untimely knee injury in December forced him to miss the remainder of the season. The team still managed to make the playoffs, but weren’t the same without his knack for hitting big shots. He returned to action the next season, but wasn’t the same player, lacking the explosiveness and quickness that had been his MO for his entire career. He helped mentor Mike Conley in his rookie campaign before being waived and eventually becoming part of the coaching staff.
July 2007 – Signed Darko Milicic (Orlando Magic)
While Darko was something of an iconic cult figure amongst hoopsheads and a joke for others, it was undeniable that the 7-footer knew how to be productive when given playing time. As the primary backup for Dwight Howard, the former #2 overall pick averaged better than 7.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 2 bpg in around 20 mpg for two seasons in Orlando. For a team looking for a big man, there were plenty of worse options out there.
The Grizzlies signed him to a three-year deal for a reported $21 million. Despite some injury issues, Darko managed to start 64 of the 70 games in his first season in Memphis, tallying a career-best in rebounding numbers. Next season, Marc Gasol arrived, pushing Darko to the bench, where more injuries limited his action. In the offseason, he was part of the trade dominoes that resulted in Zach Randolph landing in Memphis.
August 2008 – Signed Hamed Haddadi (Iran)
The 7-foot Iranian set the world on fire in the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, leading all players in rebounds and blocked shots. Having previously said that he would sign with an NBA team prior to that, he fielded several offers before signing with Memphis. A skilled player, Haddadi’s lack of athleticism and speed has relegated him to being a backup, although he is always productive when called upon. Besides, who else on the team has hair like Elvis? That alone makes it worth having him around.
July 2010 – Signed Tony Allen (Boston Celtics)
A solid, if somewhat mercurial player, Tony Allen was consistently inconsistent in his time in Beantown. Fans and team members alike wondered what he would do on a nightly basis — and, more importantly, if “Bad Tony” was going to show himself. He was an important member of the Celtics’ squads that made two Finals, but Boston wasn’t terribly upset when he agreed to come to Memphis.
Let there be no mistake about it — TA changed the culture in Memphis just as James Posey had done 7 years prior to him. Posey made them believe they could win; Allen made them believe they could dominate. Grit & Grind was born with Allen’s determination and junkyard dog style of play. While he is still the same player that coaching staffs are loathe to fully trust, the fact remains that when he’s on the court, the Grizzlies tend to win fairly often.
March 2012 – Signed Gilbert Arenas (The Couch)
Agent Zero was just waiting on the phone to ring when it finally did. For some inconceivable reason, Chris Wallace got the notion to give the free agent gunner another shot. And while he had some obvious rust, Arenas was able to help the Grizzlies in their push for playoff positioning as they continued to search for a backup for Mike Conley.
July 2012 – Signed Jerryd Bayless (Toronto Raptors)
A top-10 player in high school, Jerryd Bayless was drafted by the Pacers and traded to the Blazers, where he played for two uneventful seasons before being traded to New Orleans. The Hornets didn’t keep him long (11 games) before shipping north of the border to the Raptors, where he played for the last two seasons. Afforded decent playing time, Bayless put up solid stats, averaging career highs in nearly every category. The biggest knock on the former Arizona Wildcat is his injury-plagued previous season, which limited him to 31 games.
His ball-handling and improved shooting from the perimeter is exactly what the doctor ordered though. His ability to play both guard positions will allow the Grizzlies to give Conley some much-needed rest, while also allowing them to bring their young guards along slowly at the same time.
So, let me know your thoughts in the comments. Who do you think is the best free agent signing since the team moved to Memphis?