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191: The Memphis Grizzlies face a crucial offseason
After a disappointing playoff exit, the Memphis Grizzlies have reflection and decisions on the horizon over the coming months.
“191” will be a format I test out for certain columns and breakdowns — whether it’s a big event, a season preview/review, recaps, etc. The 1’s will vary on the topic, but the 9 will usually pertain to 9 quick thoughts on 9 different players.
So let’s dive into the Memphis Grizzlies’ offseason within this context.
The Grizzlies faced a good chunk of adversity throughout the season from the abundance of injuries, Ja Morant’s suspension, and the first true slump in the “GrzNxtGen” era. Despite all of it, they managed to finish with the 2nd seed in the Western Conference and a top-5 regular season record for the 2nd consecutive season.
However, the disappointment from the Grizzlies’ postseason exit outweighs the success of the regular season. They had huge performances in Games 2 and 5 (their lone wins), but lackadaisical lapses and “self-inflicted distractions” doomed them, en rout to a 40-point Game 6 loss to end their season.
Now they’re facing a pivotal offseason. Many pundits have talked about the Grizzlies needing to grow up, on and off the floor. Change may be necessary to bolster their roster and its experience. 14 players of their 15-man roster are under contract for next season. Their lone free agent, Dillon Brooks, faced a ton of scrutiny this postseason. A divorce is imminent, and we all await to see how the Grizzlies seek to replace him in the starting lineup.
So, the Grizzlies face a crucial offseason, one that can ultimately serve as a pivotal point towards their goal of bringing a NBA championship to Memphis. There are several dynamics to watch for in their massive summer.
1 Question: How aggressive will the Grizzlies get this offseason?
Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies’ aggressiveness pursuing a bonafide upgrade at the starting small forward spot has been a lingering topic people have kept tabs here and there the past several months. In the 2021 draft, they traded up from 17 into the top-10 to acquire a high-upside big wing in Ziaire Williams, with rumored interest in similar prospects like Franz Wagner, Josh Giddey, and Jonathan Kuminga. At the trade deadline, they reportedly offered 3 first-round picks for OG Anunoby, and 4 of them for Mikal Bridges. So we know the Grizzlies have shown the willingness to push their chips in on the trade market, and Kleiman explicitly mentioned the same approach at exit interviews:
“It takes 2 for trades to get done, but we’re excited to get to the point of the offseason where that happens.”
“We intend to be very aggressive, but we don’t wanna do something just to do something.”
“You don’t even know at this point who might be available on the trade market.”
At this point in the offseason, we don’t know who’s available. It’s frankly not worth reporting with the postseason on tap. Over the coming weeks, we’ll get a better gauge on who’s on the trade market, and what the price could be to acquire them. There are a couple of elements to watch with the Grizzlies’ aggressiveness this summer.
How many draft picks do they part with to acquire their answer at the 3?
Kleiman has mentioned “pre-consolidation” for this roster — a deal to package together draft picks to acquire their desired player. How much of the draft capital will they shell out to get their guy? They have all of their first-round picks, as well as a top-4 2024 pick from the Golden State Warriors. Targets will likely be talked about in this space at a later date, as we truly don’t know who is available at this stage of the NBA calendar. People toss out names, but there may be players that become unforeseeably available.
The aggressiveness doesn’t just boil down to their “big fish” trade. Do they make multiple trades in order to bolster their depth with more veterans?
It may involve parting with a player drafted or developed, something they’ve only done once with their surprising cut of Kennedy Chandler. People may not see a move for a veteran starting 3, or someone brought back in a sign-and-trade for Brooks (if that’s on the table, or if it’s not the same deal) as “enough” for critics’ veteran quota. How do they acquire more veterans? We’ll wait and see.
Regardless, there’s an acknowledgment the Grizzlies need more to their roster to win a NBA championship, and that Zach Kleiman has expressed the desire to aggressively — yet wisely — upgrade this roster. All eyes will be on Memphis and their next move to bolster their chances of winning a championship.
9 Players with interesting summers
Dillon Brooks. Let’s go ahead and get the Brooks element out of the way. Though he’s not coming back next season, he has the biggest summer of any 2022-23 Grizzly. Will a team favor his defensive prowess over his offensive woes? Are the antics going to cost him? Who will pursue him? Whether or not Brooks goes for the mid-level exception will be big for the Grizzlies’ offseason plans. If he indeed signs above it, depending on who he’s signing with, they could negotiate a sign-and-trade to bring a player/asset back to Memphis. The spotlight has beamed over Brooks over the past month, and it will return as the calendar lands on June 30th.
Ja Morant. So really 1B for big Grizzlies offseason’s now. This past weekend’s news is discouraging, given Morant’s recent comments about getting better off the court just two weeks ago. I point back to the “ongoing process” term for his healing process — one used from Morant and Taylor Jenkins since his incident in early March. Nonetheless, there are 5 months until training camp, and 6 until opening night of the 2023-24 season. This is a pivotal moment for Ja’s career and the team’s trajectory in this era — a time for him to heal and grow past the events clouded around him the past year. There has to be growth.
Desmond Bane. Bane’s summer is going to be big for two reasons. For starters, he’s eligible for an extension, and Bane’s chances of one is more of a “when” than “if.” When it comes to the amount, all I have to say is … he and his agent had to be smiling watching Jordan Poole’s postseason performance after his “4-year, $140M” payday. The other one is regarding his toe. He played through the pain, and he’s evaluating his next step with doctors. Will there be surgery? Bane did say they’ll figure out a “middle ground.” Nonetheless, progressing through the injury could be momentum for a huge year 4 for Bane. Also, keep recruiting Mikal Bridges.
Jaren Jackson Jr. First off, shoutout to Jackson for (likely) becoming the longest-tenured Grizzly. Barring anything unforeseen, Jackson is finally going into an offseason healthy. His rookie year ended with a quad injury, but he still took an offensive leap from year 1 to year 2. His sophomore season ended with the meniscus injury, and he was still shaking off the rust from it into the next offseason. Last year, he had a foot injury that stunted his summer a bit. This offseason could be a pivotal moment for Jackson to evolve into the elite two-way big man we saw glimpses of in the last 2 months of the season.
Steven Adams. It’s the offseason. You can go ahead and slam “videos of Steven Adams raining 3-pointers” at -150 odds this August. Everyone will have their eyes on Adams though to see if he and the Grizzlies opt for another direction on his injured knee. At the moment, surgery isn’t in the cards for Adams’ injured knee this summer. The progress and steps with his knee this summer will be instrumental for the Grizzlies’ big man depth, especially with Brandon Clarke missing a chunk of next season.
Tyus Jones. The Grizzlies need a new starting 3, and Tyus Jones’ $14M expiring contract will likely be the salary-matcher for the Grizzlies. Teams with the desired wings (Toronto, Brooklyn) also have potential openings at the starting point guard position. Is this the offseason that leads to Tyus Jones achieving his goal of becoming a NBA starting point guard? Or will the looming punishment for Ja Morant’s latest incident make Jones indispensable?
Xavier Tillman. Tillman’s team option will be a no-brainer opt-in this summer. However, it does make him an unrestricted free agent in 2024 — opting out would make him a restricted free agent this summer. Given his impact within the team’s culture, and with his stellar play to end the season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them negotiate an extension to avoid an unrestricted free agency next summer.
Santi Aldama. Aldama’s leap into a legitimate rotation was awesome this season. This summer, he’ll be playing for the Spanish national team and eating 6-7 meals a day to put on some muscle. More Grizzly hoops this summer, Santi Aldama muscle watch, very nice! I’m pumped!
Ziaire Williams. It always feels pivotal when a 3rd-year player plays in Summer League, especially when he’s a former lottery pick. As of now, Williams is in that category. In addition, if there’s an offseason trade and the other party wants a young prospect, the 6’10” wing with lottery pedigree will likely be a preference. Zach Kleiman, Taylor Jenkins, and Desmond Bane all said it’s a “huge summer” for Ziaire Williams. Regardless of what happens, these next few months could serve as a foundation for him to bounce back and put things together in year 3.
1 Take: Balance aggressiveness with the status quo.
The Grizzlies do need to be aggressive this summer to bolster their roster around their Big 3. It’s very clear of what they need: a starting small forward that can defend and knock down shots. They’ll likely do whatever it takes, with the aggressiveness likely coming by offering a boatload of picks. Getting a legitimate starting 3&D wing — OG Anunoby, Dorian Finney-Smith, etc. — would be massive next to Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. It could really open up the floor when things get grimy in the halfcourt in the postseason. We saw what could happen putting Luke Kennard with those 3. Imagine having optimal floor spacing for 48 minutes. That’s the goal.
Within the secondary elements of their offseason, the talk of acquiring veterans will be prominent for a Grizzlies squad that “needs to grow up.” There’s also Zach Kleiman’s reflective question of “did we need to triple down on youth” — a rhetorical question more served to hold himself accountable in the team’s construction, and to reinforce their need to add experience.
While this remains true, the Grizzlies should still look to balance their aggressiveness and their need for more veterans with the status quo of what has expedited this process in the first place.
Taking a trip down memory lane, after a horrific 2017-18 season that saw a bunch of raw prospects shoulder more responsibility in the wake of injuries, the Grizzlies front office tripled down on veterans over prospects. Yes, the guys they traded away didn’t last in the NBA much longer after their Memphis’ run. The sequence of deals for players like Garrett Temple, Shelvin Mack, and Omri Casspi reeked of “bringing in vets just to bring in vets.” It didn’t work.
I don’t see this front office repeating the same process this summer as 2018, nor should they. A 2-for-1 trade with picks (this year’s 25th selection in the package) for a starting-level 3 and a potential sign-and-trade with Dillon Brooks could likely bring in 2 more veterans into the fold with 1 more roster spot to spare for a free agent. With the exception of no-brainer trades, it won’t be necessarily warranted to make some 1-for-1 trades with players like Jake LaRavia, Ziaire Williams, or Kenneth Lofton Jr. just to bring in a veteran. The aforementioned sequence of moves would bring in 3 veterans, at least — one of them being a starter-level player.
They could upgrade the small forward spot and bring in a veteran or 2 off the bench — while still seeing what Santi Aldama can do next, letting 2 of David Roddy, Ziaire Williams, and Jake LaRavia duke it out for the backup 3-spot, and using their second-round picks to fill in their final 2 two-way spots. That’d be a fantastic offseason for the Grizzlies.
The Memphis Grizzlies have options and pathways to bolster their roster with upgrades and veterans. Their incumbent All-Stars all have massive summers that could be instrumental in their next evolution as NBA players, as leaders in the locker room. The franchise received glaring scars this postseason that could serve as a pivotal moment for the “GrzNxtGen” era, one that could serve as a catalyst for their goal of competing for championships. This offseason is crucial — the only predictions we can actually make at this point: there will be growth, and there won’t be inactivity or complacency.
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