I am a little baffled by the unease surrounding the Grizzlies perceived “inaction” this offseason. First, I don’t think that it is fair to call the offseason to-date inactive. Second, there seems to be a misconception about the relationship between activity and improvement. Lastly, people are overestimating the impact of the moves made by other teams while undervaluing the moves made by the Grizzlies.
First, a look at what the Grizzlies have done thus far:
- Traded Darrell Arthur to Denver for Kosta Koufos
- Re-signed Tony Allen to a four-year contract
- Got a top-20 player with the 41st overall pick in Jamaal Franklin
- Re-signed Jon Leuer
- Declined to bring back Lionel Hollins
- Hired Dave Joerger
People seem quick to forget that this team went to the Western Conference Finals last season. It isn’t like Memphis needs a dramatic overhaul in order to be competitive. We’ve said all along that the team needed a shooter, a legitimate backup for Gasol and a passable backup for Conley. Two of those things are (likely) resolved, though not without questions.
Koufos is the first real backup Marc Gasol has had in his career. After being spelled by Darko, Thabeet, Hadaddi or an undersized power forward for most of his career, he now gets a chance to rest while turning the reigns over to a guy who started for the 57-win Nuggets in 2012-2013. If anything, the biggest downside of the trade is that Koufos (despite being an excellent value) may not get enough minutes to have the impact he is capable of having. Nonetheless, he is a solid basketball player and for $3m per year first the front office model of a player who will outperform his contract. Also, have you seen his girlfriend?
The trade was equally important for the balance it provides our inside game, eliminating the logjam that stunted Ed Davis’s development last season and allowing him to become the primary backup for ZBo. The Zbo/Ed and Marc/Koufos foursome is without question the deepest, most talented and well balanced front court in the NBA. Expect big things from Ed this season, as he will finally get a chance to play with other skilled bigs. Also, don’t sleep on Jon Leuer. John Hollinger (and his machine) loves Leuer and he was included in the Cleveland trade for a reason. He will play a role on this team going forward and offers an interesting change of pace at the forward position.
The backup point guard role is going to be filled by Tony Wroten. Last year #FreeWroten was a regular part of any Grizzlies discussion. Fans blasted Lionel for his refusal to play Wroten, to develop him. Is Wroten ready to step into the role? We don’t know. But Joerger has expressed a commitment to playing and developing him. That means riding some rough spots – and there will be some really rough spots – but it also means we will get to see more of his electric playmaking. Also, let’s not forget that for the shortcomings Wroten may have as a shooter, he makes up for with solid perimeter defense. For a team that makes its name on defense first, a backup point guard who can penetrate and create while maintaining the team’s defensive identity (on a rookie contract, no less) has the potential to fill the team’s needs at that position. If Wroten fails, then expect the team to make a move to bring in another aged veteran to take some (or all) of his minutes. For better or worse, however, it looks like we will start the season with Wroten as the primary backup, which is exactly what you said you wanted.
The elephant in the room remains the lack of shooting. Of course there has been a sense of frustration watching shooter after shooter sign with other teams. I am as guilty of voicing that frustration as anyone. You have to remember that we have a few things working against us. First, Bayless’s decision to exercise his option and remain with the team soaked up a significant portion of our available money and minutes. I do not buy into the (classically Memphis) “nobody wants to come here” theme that has become prevalent over the few days. Sure, there are some guys who probably don’t want to come to Memphis because they perceive it a small town. More often, however, you’ve seen guys take one of two types of deals, neither of which could be offered by Memphis: (a) fill a role for a contending team that can offer significant minutes to offer but less money, or (b) sign a deal for more money than the player is actually worth to play for a mediocre/bad team. You have not, however, seen guys take less money to go to small markets to play for teams that don’t have obvious minutes available. That is essentially what you’re saying you’d expect these guys to do to come to Memphis. Don’t be silly.
The lion’s share of our minutes at the shooting guard and small forward position will be played by some combination of TA, Bayless, QPon, Prince, Franklin and Leuer (yes, seriously – I know you think I’m kidding but I’m serious, you will see Leuer play with two bigs at some point). That doesn’t include the veteran and/or European
(*cough* Datome *cough*) likely to be signed to a cheap contract and likely to play one of those two positions. There are only 96 minutes to distribute at those two spots. Assuming the guys play minutes similar to last season, TA (~27), Prince (~31) and Bayless (~22) account for approximately eighty minutes. Quincy (~21) and Franklin (~?) easily eat up the rest, and then some. Where are you going to get 20-25 minutes per game to offer Korver or Redick? Easy answer: you’re not, once Bayless decided to stay and you re-sign TA.
But go ahead and feel slighted that those guys didn’t snap up a chance to come to Memphis. Go ahead and assume that the front office has been sitting idly by watching shooters sign elsewhere. Or worse, assume that they’ve been ineptly running around the country offering contracts and being rejected. The reality is that the only way this offseason was going to be “exciting” was if the team elected not to re-sign TA (something you would have crucified them for) or traded ZBo (see prior parenthetical). Under any other scenario, they were going to have between $5,000,000 and $8,000,000 to play with (depending on what Bayless did) once Tony was re-signed. As it turned out, its the low-end of that spectrum and when combined with limited available minutes, you’re going to have a hard time bringing in a top-tier free agent, no matter what city you are in.
Second, people seem to assume a causal relationship between number of gross transactions and net improvement. This is not a situation where the team with the most offseason transactions is the presumptive “winner” of the summer. In fact, there is some legitimacy to the idea that less is more when you’re coming off a 56-win season and are the Western Conference runner-up. Sometimes you can over-tweak, and this summer is a dangerous opportunity for that in Memphis.
I see some people want the FO to pull a Jerry West. Brian Cardinal ring a bell??
— CamOnGriz (@CamOnGriz) July 6, 2013
I always laugh (and cry) when I hear the story about the 2004 offseason and the acquisition of Brian Cardinal. Don’t get me wrong, The Custodian did some good things in Memphis and I like the guy, but he was signed to a six-year, $34,000,000 contract for one reason and one reason only: Michael Heisley was frustrated by the perceived “inaction” of the Grizzlies during the summer and confronted Jerry West about his failure to sign a free agent. West allegedly responded by immediately picking up the phone, calling Cardinal’s agent and offering the full Mid Level Exception, just to shut up Heisley. Side note – be careful what you say about Brian Cardinal on twitter. He apparently searches for his name and will respond.
If you’re a Grizzlies fan, you should go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you really want to pay Gary Neal or Carlos Delfino or Alan Anderson or Daequan Cook $20,000,000+ over the next 4 or 5 seasons “just to feel like we’ve been active” this summer. I suspect the answer is no.
Third, everyone is too quick to proclaim our Western Conference foes “dramatically improved” but many have the same flaws they did a year ago despite some significant changes:
- LA Clippers: LAC may have added JJ Redick and Jared Dudley, but Darren Collison is no Eric Bledsoe backing up CP3. They still have a serious problem on the interior as Ryan Hollins (lol) is probably their most physical big. The Clippers have also failed (thus far) to replenish the depth they’ve boasted the last two years.
- Golden State: It is easy to look at the addition of Andre Iguodala as a big win, but that ignores the loss of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, two important pieces for them in 2012-2013. They also jettisoned Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins (and two future first-round picks) to Utah to clear cap space. While they have money left to spend, they’ve got serious depth issues and only two proven interior players in Lee and Bogut. They have work to do before I’m ready to declare they dramatically improved.
- Denver: The Nuggets have had a rough offseason. They fired George Karl and lost Iguodala. They downgraded from Kosta Koufos to Darrell Arthur and intend to let Javale McGee man the center position. The addition of JJ Hickson and Randy Foye hardly offset the losses and the organizational upheaval probably results in the Nuggets taking a step back next season, rather than a step forward.
- Houston: I’ll admit, the addition of Dwight Howard makes Houston a better team than they were last season. The problem with projecting that forward is that I’ve never seen a team featuring D12 be a “great team” in a meaningful sense. Howard may take this opportunity to prove the world wrong and set the distractions of the last three seasons aside, but until he proves he can lead a winner, I’m not ready to buy their status as a contender.
- Everyone else: Oklahoma City has yet to fill the hole left by Kevin Martin’s departure and while they’re still a presumptive Top-2 team in the West, they have some depth issues to address – not to mention they’ve not done much to neutralize their lacking interior, which the Grizzlies have exposed the last few years. San Antonio is going to be San Antonio. They will plug in pieces that just ALWAYS work and like OKC are a presumptive Top-2 team. Dallas has not gotten better, at all. The Mavs may have actually gotten worse. New Orleans has a lot of interesting pieces but aren’t anywhere near putting them together. Minnesota has interesting pieces and might be ready to put them together, but until Love and Rubio stay healthy for an extended period of time (together), it’s hard to put much stock in them. Portland will be marginally better, but not in a way that will threaten the Grizzlies. And the Lakers are going to be…awful!
In the end, the Grizzlies are roughly where they were a year ago, a month ago and a week ago. They are somewhere in the 3-6 range out West. Nothing the team was going to do this offseason would change that (for the better), short of a dramatic overhaul that happened to work perfectly. San Antonio and OKC are who they are because the pingpong balls bounced there way and they landed franchise centerpieces. You don’t do that in free agency, most years, even if you’re New York or Los Angeles.
Don’t buy into the hype that we’ve been left behind. We went to the Western Conference Finals last year and not only returned our key pieces, but made a serious upgrade of our already dominant front court. Are there still questions and needs to be addressed? Certainly. Show me an NBA team that doesn’t have holes. Even championship rosters could use a backup point guard, another shooter or a backup center. It is about building a roster where you can offset your weaknesses with strengths. This roster, as currently constructed, can do that.
One of two things will happen now: (a) the team fills out the roster with a veteran guard/forward who at some point in his career was a decent shooter, or (b) tries to package some pieces together to trade for a player that will address multiple needs. The suggestion I see most is packaging Bayless and Prince ($10,000,000 in salary) for a difference maker on the wing. It sounds good, in theory, but Prince has two years on his contract and not many teams will be jumping at the chance to unload said difference maker for that package.
Either way, I suspect there are some more moves to be made between now and opening night. Fight the good fight until then and don’t pine for change for changes sake.
Grind on, Memphis.