The Memphis Grizzlies are a really good team but stand right outside of being a true title contender. The Western Conference is loaded, and will continue to be so for the next few years. It’s just going to be difficult to get out of, even if you get all the breaks with injuries, seeding and stuff like that.
The Grizz have a bit of a unique problem; they are pretty much loaded at every position, and it’s not clear where they can improve on. Especially considering that they are likely to be capped out and will only have somewhere around the mid level exception money ($5 million), and they might not want to use it in order to preserve long term cap flexibility.
They are probably not willing to go that close to the tax line. Memphis has at least $43 million in committed salary next year, depending on if Randolph opts in or out of his player option, the salary cap line is projected to be around $63 million (depending on revenue in league audit).
They want to re-sign Mike Miller, James Johnson is a free agent (although that ship might have sailed) and Ed Davis is heading towards restricted free agency (Beno Udrih is also an unrestricted free agent but you might get him or a replacement for him for the veteran’s minimum).
Someone might be the odd man out, you just can’t pay everyone what they deserve.
Take a look at the Grizzlies current depth chart:
SF Tayshaun Prince/Mike Miller (UFA)/James Johnson (UFA)
Even if they could afford them getting another wing player is ridiculous. Prince, Allen, Miller, Lee are solid NBA wings. And despite missing last season there are worse things in the world than having Pondexter as your fifth or sixth wing. Johnson is probably out now, but even though he played well he couldn’t crack Dave Joerger’s rotation in the playoffs.
The truth is you can’t go 11 or 12 deep in an NBA rotation.
Someone may have had a heart attack after I just called Prince a “solid NBA wing,” but the truth is he’s a 13-year NBA veteran who can defend his position really well.
It’s sort of in vogue to hate Prince right now because he can’t shoot and has the most depressing mid-post isolations in the game, but the guy isn’t stupid and knows what to do on the court.
There are tons of things that don’t show up in the box score that Prince does better than a rookie. He runs his routs precisely, knows where to stand, can move the ball and make the next play and plays good defense. If you play in the NBA for 13 years you know how to do stuff that helps your team win, even if it isn’t obvious.
Would you like an upgrade and more floor spacing? Yes, but the Grizzlies are capped out and have the No. 22 pick in this year’s draft. The expected return for a pick that low isn’t better than Tayshaun Prince.
Rookies just aren’t that good, even though it’s sort of sexy to imagine that you can get this awesome young guy to replace Prince in the starting lineup. Unless you get a steal a-la Chandler Parsons, the truth is you probably won’t find a replacement for Prince this year. And getting guys like P.J. Tucker and C.J. Miles is not worth the investment.
Memphis is loaded with good NBA wings, you don’t want to replace one of them with a player who fits a bit better but is on a long term deal.
What you’d ideally want if you went for an upgrade is a two for one trade, packaging Prince’s expiring contract with someone else to get back a better player. Even this is hugely problematic, the first being the Grizzlies can’t trade a pick since they have a protected first rounder going to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Marreese Speights dump.
Expiring contracts don’t get you really anything valuable anymore, and no one wants to take Lee’s deal (ends after 2015-16).
You could go creative and blow it all up, but that’s not really what you want to do when you are an inch from title contention. It’s fun to talk about blowing it up and growing from the draft OKC style, but the truth is that route takes a long time and is very difficult to succeed.
Memphis is one of the eight best teams in the league, you can’t squander that and go the other way.
Basically Memphis is stuck right now, they don’t have much long term cap flexibility, owe a pick to the Cavs and will draft at the bottom of the first round for the foreseeable future.
The way to get better is through internal growth, by doing what they do better. Unless of course, you can pull off an absolute heist and get the next Kawhi Leonard for a George Hill. Despite recent turmoil Memphis has some great creativity in the front office, and they have shown the ability to make good moves.
Memphis got Johnson for nothing, Leuer was a throw-in in the deal with the Cavs but he is actually a pretty good player. They got Koufos, probably the second-best backup center in the league after Omer Asik, for Darrell Arthur.
One more of those and the Grizzlies might be one of the heavyweight favorites to come out of the West next year.