The Memphis Grizzlies’ surprising final roster cuts

Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images /

In a surprising move, the Memphis Grizzlies have decided to cut former first round pick Wade Baldwin and Rade Zagorac heading into 2017-18.

According to ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Memphis Grizzlies plan to waive Wade Baldwin and Rade Zagorac.

Cuts were inevitable in Memphis. The NBA’s 2017-18 regular season starts Tuesday, and teams are required to trim their rosters to 15 total players prior to opening night. That the Grizzlies decided to cut bait with Baldwin and Zagorac comes as something of a surprise, however.

Both players were drafted just a year ago, and have fully guaranteed money on the books for the coming year, and in Zagorac’s case, the 2018-19 season as well. It’s unusual for an organization to walk away from players that have had so little time to prove themselves in the NBA, particularly when they have to pay them, but Memphis painted itself into a corner by signing a number of grizzled veterans this summer.

The Grizzlies let performance be the final factor in their personnel decisions, awarding Jarell Martin, Mario Chalmers and Andrew Harrison with spots on the team for their superior play in training camp and the preseason. Memphis’ front office deserves some credit for that. Admitting you missed on a first round pick requires some pretty significant ego swallowing.

They’re certainly not free from admonishment, however. If the Grizzlies are making the right call in moving on from Wade Baldwin — and based on his play to date, they very well may be — then it’s evidence of a serious misevaluation of talent.

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He hasn’t been their only miss either. In the past five years, the Grizzlies have used first round picks on Tony Wroten, Jordan Adams, Martin and Baldwin. Martin is the only player still on the team, and unless Baldwin gets signed by another team, the only player still in the NBA at all.

Memphis can hide behind the cover of having had only late first round draft picks, but smart teams find a way to add value drafting in the late teens and 20s. Barring the possible development of Martin (who is admittedly a very interesting player), the Grizzlies have failed wholeheartedly in doing so. Now they’re stuck paying extra money to two players they never really gave a chance to grow. That’s a master class in how not to build a roster.

Then again, holding onto players you don’t believe in simply because you drafted them is also a poor means of personnel management. Memphis put itself in something of a bind when it decided to compete in the present. It’s not easy to develop young players and compete meaningfully. That’s the tightrope that the Grizzlies will be walking for the next few years.

Waiving Baldwin and Zagorac will be beneficial in the short-term, and it won’t be crippling in the long-term, but if cutting failed first round picks becomes a pattern, particularly after Mike Conley and Marc Gasol pass their primes, things could get really ugly in Memphis. The Grizzlies need to find a better way to refill their coffers than taking risks on injury-ravaged free agents.

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The Grizz haven’t officially waived anyone, and they’ll undoubtedly be looking for trade partners throughout the rest of the day. If they can get some sort of value in return for either of Baldwin and Zagorac, that could soften the blow of their departure considerably. There aren’t a lot of candidates for a deal out there though, and the Grizzlies have essentially zero leverage. They’ll likely just have to bite the bullet and move on.