The Grizzlies have a knack for turning no-names into stars. By signing Nick Calathes, they may have done it again.
By BRANDON SPECKFS Tennessee
Memphis made it official Tuesday, releasing the fact it had signed Nick Calathes, reportedly to a two-year deal with a team option for the second year.
Grizzlies haven't made a big splash in the free agent pool this offseason, yet the ripples they have made could turn out to be tidal waves if things pan out.
Kosta Koufos and Fab Melo added to the backup roles for center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. Mike Miller gave the Grizzlies the shooter they so desperately needed during the playoffs.
Calathes, like Melo, has yet to make a name for himself in the NBA. But the 6-foot-6 guard has done so across the pond. He was named 2012-13 EuroCup MVP after a season in which he averaged 12.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot more than 52 percent in 17 EuroCup Games.
Another quiet addition, but another shooter to fill Memphis's most glaring hole.
He's more than a shooter though. Calathes was drafted 45th overall by Minnesota in 2009, is only 24 years old and a Florida alum like Miller. He spent four pro seasons abroad -- all improving his game -- three in Greece, helping Panathinaikos Athens to back-to-back Greek League Championships. His rights were traded a year later to Dallas and then Memphis got his rights this summer for lifting the protection on a 2016 second round pick already owed to the Mavericks.
Another low-risk, high-reward chance for the Grizzlies, Calathes reportedly took less than the $2 million he would have made in Russia. Calathes' worth is evident on each side of the floor, a bigger-than average point guard with a proven skill set who can get to the rim.
Low-risk, high-reward is becoming what this team is known for, turning no-names into superstars, yet still convincing the NBA they have no superstars. And trading true stars without skipping a beat. This move maximizes the team's guaranteed contract roster at 15 players.
Miller is a Florida shooter. Calathes can shoot too, but in only two seasons with the Gators, he set the school's single-season record for assists with 231 as a sophomore and is still third all-time in assists with 452.
Memphis wanted a shooter and just when it looked like it wouldn't happen, Miller went home. It had also been looking for a backup for Mike Conley. Mo Wiliams and Beno Udrih went elsewhere and it again looked like Memphis would be left searching.
Again, things worked out. Maybe that's the plan. Nevertheless, it's working.
It may just be insurance, but it's cheap insurance that has a great chance to pay off. Tony Wroten could still be that guy, but he's yet to show the numbers in the NBA -- or even in summer league last month -- that Calathes has shown overseas. Jerryd Bayless' re-signing was big too, but as big as he comes up in some situations -- mostly off the ball -- Calathes' can come up just as big and make quite a backup tandem. Memphis has again worked its way into a good depth problem. If Conley and Bayless are producing, Calathes could have trouble finding his niche with the team. But that's a welcomed issue.
Calathes' latest resume numbers are impressive. In Russia last season he averaged 13.9 points, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 4.3 rebounds in 30.4 minutes a game. He shot nearly 55 percent from the field, 36 percent from beyond the arc and led Lokomotiv Kuban to its first EuroCup title as tournament MVP. Steady improvement has worked him into the NBA.
Like the Grizzlies did with Melo last week -- taking a guy with big potential who had somewhat lost favor with his team -- they've taken a guy who in July agreed to spend the upcoming season in Russia.
Memphis got Calathes for near the very least. And at the very least, he should seal up the backup point guard issues. The Grizzlies have now more than firmed up their spacing problems by getting Miller, solidified their lack of point guard depth by re-signing Bayless and adding Calathes and more than rewarded Gasol and Randolph down low with big man help.
And again, the Grizzlies did it without a splash, but more importantly without giving up a lot of cash and without shopping any of the key pieces that cohesively guided them to the Western Conference finals.
Memphis has put itself in a great position, making moves that will further the franchise if they pay off, but be an afterthought if they don't.