The Memphis Grizzlies remain a weird team. A tough team, a championship contending team, and at times an inspiring team. Still a weird one, though, a squad that flies in the face of what has become the new NBA orthodoxy and is, again, out in the second round. The Grizzlies have run the Western Conference gamut, losing in the semifinals twice, the finals once, and the first round two different times over the last five seasons. All the hallmarks remain, the grits and the grinds and the way they make life hell for opposing teams even when falling in defeat.
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The run hasn’t given Memphis a championship, and there is rightful fear that the Grizzlies could be prone to break things up. Not by choice, mind you, but because the team’s best player might leave the only NBA team he’s known, and the only American city he’s known since 2001.
Marc Gasol is an unrestricted free agent, and he’s probably at the top of the 2015 class. He slimmed down even further in 2014-15, was a stealth MVP candidate (because that’s apparently a thing we say now) at the beginning of the year, and the loss of weight didn’t seem limit burden him with fatigue in the playoffs – save for a dip in field goal percentage, Gasol’s numbers were remarkably similar to his sound 2014-15 campaign.
Now, after seven seasons with the Grizzlies, he’s faced with a monster of a decision. Does he leave Memphis as his brother Pau did (nearly, Pau Gasol forced the trade that co-incidentally brought Marc to the Grizzlies) in order to chase down a ring? If Gasol feels as if the aging Grizzlies have just about had it, at age 30, does he leave significant money on the table to join yet another contender? Or does he try to give it one last go and hope that seeding and potentially injury “luck” allow the Grizz to top this year’s showing?
This is where the weirdness comes in.
General manager Chris Wallace’s staff includes vice president John Hollinger, who helped change the course of NBA analysis in the early aughts with a series of books that rightfully chided GMs for what could happen in Memphis over the coming years.
Yes, Marc Gasol’s game figures to age well and the rising salary cap will help make his pre-2016 contract a bit more tolerable towards the end, but contributing max money to 30-year olds involves the company of a select few. Is Gasol amongst that few?
Yes, Mike Conley is a dogged leader and steady all-around point man who is working on what turned out to be a bargain of a four-year, $40 million contract, and his game figures to age just as well as Gasol’s. The Grizzlies would no doubt love to sign Conley to an extension before he hits free agency in 2016, but there is no way Conley is taking this era’s money over what figures to be the next era’s largesse. Conley is well-respected and he will have suitors in what will be a desperate, post-Kevin Durant decision market. Should the Grizz pay max (as in, “2016-max”) money to a player who will turn 29 in training camp that year?
Even though Zach Randolph’s production fell off slightly in the postseason as tends to happen against increased competition, he was well worth the money Memphis paid him this year ($16.5 million) and should be worth the extension money Memphis has already committed to him (reportedly two years and $20 million) over the next two seasons. These are the smart moves
The move to sign Vince Carter during the offseason was a smart move, despite Carter’s miserable season. As it was when Carter was moved to the Orlando Magic in 2009, looked upon as the missing piece, he served up well under his reasonable expected projections, despite good effort.
The move to deal for Jeff Green? It was a daring one, as Green remains one of the NBA’s most polarizing players, the sort of “yeah, he looks good; but what does he do?”-athlete that John Hollinger would rail about in his books. The Grizz ripped off an 11-1 run after the Green trade, one they were right to make despite his terrible postseason. Memphis will eventually miss the first-round draft pick they surrendered for him, but Green’s ability to score in transition (with Z-Bo, Gasol and Tony Allen’s hands on this team, there’s not a lot of that) and supposed positional flexibility was worth taking a chance on with a win-now roster already on the books.
Green has a $9.2 million player option that he’ll likely pick up, mindful of that playoff turn that saw him just a third of his shots from the field and miss 14 of 18 three-pointers. The Grizzlies will likely have another summer acting as the latest team to try to figure out just what Green does.
The status of center Kosta Koufos is just as frustrating. One of the NBA’s top reserves, Koufos is a fantastic two-way player that is capable of starting on a good team – and perhaps even a great one could offer him far more than the $3 million he made last season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. In the unlikely scenario that Gasol leaves, Koufos would seem to be a solid-enough replacement in the team’s attempts to stave off depression.
One more go. That has to be the thing. To spend like mad to retain a pair of talented and bruising centers while welcoming Green back with a few tricks in mind as he enters his seventh season. Spend carefully in the attempts to find shooters on the cheap, hope shooting guard Jordan Adams (who shot well in his rookie season in very limited time) contributes to the rotation, and try to stick to yet another Western heavyweight (or two, or three) next spring. As it is every year, pray for health.
Then pray that the 2016 cap increase allows the team the opportunity to build something different – even with Z-Bo and potentially Gasol, Conley and Koufos still around. To acquire shooters, even!
That’s an aging core, and an expensive one even with heaps of expiring contracts in 2016 and a rising cap. This is sort of the situation that, for myriad reasons, the Grizzlies have been locked into.
That ain’t a bad thing, either. Bring it back soon, Memphis.
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