Apr 25, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale reacts to a call during the second half in game five of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
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The Memphis Grizzlies are approaching an offseason that will define the current era. What exactly can the Grizzlies do to make the leap?
The Memphis Grizzlies have become one of the most quietly consistent teams of this generation. 2016-17 marked the seventh consecutive season during which the Grizzlies reached the NBA Playoffs—the third-longest streak in the Association.
Unfortunately, for a seventh consecutive season, the Grizzlies have reached the playoffs and failed to win a championship.
Some may attempt to downplay the importance of titles to combat the manner in which other accomplishments are often downplayed. The reality is, every front office is tasked with building a team that can win it all, and no other long-term standard should exist.
In the case of the Grizzlies, a second consecutive season with a first-round exit is reason enough to ponder how much longer the Grizzlies can play with this same roster.
Memphis lost a thrilling 4-2 series to the San Antonio Spurs, which creates some measure of forgiveness. It’s coming off of a 43-win season, however, and has three players signed to contracts worth upwards of $20 million per season.
The Grizzlies have officially reached a crossroads.
The question is: what does the future hold for the Memphis Grizzlies and how should general manager Chris Wallace go about making a push for a championship?
Mar 13, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) and center Marc Gasol (33) talk during the first half against the Milwaukee Bucks at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
How To Build Around Marc Gasol & Mike Conley
The Memphis Grizzlies have invested two massive contracts into point guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol. Daunting as the numbers may be, those decisions make sense. They’re, arguably, the two greatest players in franchise history, and they’ve led Memphis to consistent postseason success.
The question that must be answered before any other topic is approached, however, is quite simple: what is the best way to build around Conley and Gasol?
Conley is a playmaking point guard who has proven to be both clutch offensively and a capable on defense. Gasol does everything—literally—on both ends of the floor. They have skill sets that are easy enough to build around, yet Memphis has failed to find the missing piece for close to a decade.
The Grizzlies have long held the potential to become this generation’s version of the mid-2000s Detroit Pistons, but they need their Rasheed Wallace type of move.
Conley and Gasol are team-first players who have no problem deferring in a motion offense, but the front office must complement them with players who fill specific roles. Those roles come down to three basic principles: they must be able to shoot, defend, and pass within the confines of the system.
Although Memphis has somewhat limited cap space, its needs could be filled at an affordable price. It all comes down to a pair of key decisions that will determine how Memphis will proceed.
Apr 20, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) drives against San Antonio Spurs forward David Lee (10) during the second quarter in game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
The Zach Randolph Dilemma
Zach Randolph has been a pillar of Memphis Grizzlies basketball for close to a decade. He’s been a beloved member of the organization since 2009, when he was traded by the Los Angeles Clippers for small forward Quentin Richardson.
The question is: how does Randolph fit into the Grizzlies’ long-term plans as a soon-to-be 36-year-old power forward with an old school skill set?
Randolph can still feast as a rebounder and low-post powerhouse, and those traits are invaluable to a team like Memphis. While Marc Gasol journeys the entirety of the halfcourt on defense, Randolph boxes out and helps ensure that Memphis will limit second chances.
He grabs rebounds himself and enables his teammates to do the same.
On the offensive end of the floor, Randolph helps restore the belief that, even in this jump-shooting league, there are few skills more valuable than being able to get a quick and easy two points.
Randolph was playing on a $10,361,445 salary in 2016-17, which is a fair figure in the current salary climate. Memphis may need him to take a slight pay cut, however, as it’s paying Mike Conley, Gasol, and Chandler Parsons upwards of $75 million.
With a limited amount of cap space to fill out the rest of the roster, some sacrifices will need to be made.
If Randolph is willing to take a hometown discount to help this Grizzlies core make one last push for a championship, then bringing him back would be a wise decision.
For all that he does well and poorly on the court, the truth about Randolph is that he’s bigger than basketball in Memphis; he’s a key part of this winning culture.
Feb 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Tony Allen (9) brings the ball up court against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The Tony Allen Dilemma
Whether or not the Memphis Grizzlies re-sign Zach Randolph, a similar dilemma will arise with Tony Allen. Mr. First Team All-Defense is an NBA champion who has been with the Grizzlies since 2010, when he shocked the masses by spurning the Boston Celtics for what was previously viewed as a lowly organization.
Loyalty matters in Memphis, and even at 35 years of age, bringing Allen back on a two-year deal would be an advisable move for the Grizzlies.
For whatever Allen may lack on offense, the Grizzlies won’t find another on-ball defender quite like him. Come the playoffs, when games slow down and creating in the half court becomes the primary task, having a rabid defender like Allen would give Memphis an undeniably powerful advantage.
Considering Allen made $5,505,618 in 2016-17, it stands to reason that he could be re-signed for an affordable cost during the upcoming offseason.
If Memphis decides to move on from Allen, then finding an affordable option to replace him could be a tall task. It already owes upwards of $93 million in salary, and bringing Allen back would mean making a financially responsible move.
If nothing else, it would fit the need to continue defending at the highest possible level.
Unless a better defender or a vastly superior offensive player who executes at a high level on defense can be had, then re-signing Allen would be one of the best realistic decisions Memphis could make.
With salary restrictions and a need for defense, keeping Allen could prove to be an ideal move.
Feb 8, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandan Wright (34) during the game against the Phoenix Suns at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Phoenix Suns 110-91. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Clearing Cap Space
In a perfect world world, the Memphis Grizzlies would dump the $72,321,773 that will be paid to Chandler Parsons over the next three seasons. The more realistic outcome, however, is that Parsons will be given a chance to redeem himself after an injury-plagued 2016-17 season.
Nevertheless, one can’t help but feel as though the Grizzlies would benefit from replacing Parsons with a cast of players who can create viable depth.
If trading Parsons proves problematic, then the Grizzlies could make a more realistic move by dealing Brandan Wright. Wright is due $5,955,760 in 2017-18, but he’s appeared in a combined 40 games during his first two seasons in Memphis.
If a team is willing to take a one-year gamble on Wright, or if the Grizzlies opt to buy out his contract, that could create an opportunity to make a splash in free agency.
The harsh reality is that Memphis’ limited cap space could prevent it from making a serious splash in free agency. The Grizzlies are in desperate need of improved depth, however, and moving Wright could mean replacing him with a player with less injury concerns.
Whether it’s creating cap space or simply replacing Wright with a player who will be available to play at all—a move that would be progress unto itself.
Apr 6, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard Justin Holiday (8) drives against Washington Wizards point guard Brandon Jennings (7) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Free Agent Targets
This is where things get difficult for the Memphis Grizzlies. With nearly $94 million in salary already consumed, the financial flexibility will be limited if the organization is unable to dump Chandler Parsons and the $72,321,773 he’s still owed.
With a core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Parsons all but guaranteed to return, Memphis must surround them with low-cost and high-value options.
The first player whom the Grizzlies should look at is Justin Holiday, who spent the 2016-17 season with the New York Knicks. Holiday was one of the few Knick players who defended. He’s also a quality 3-point shooter who can create for himself and others.
If the Grizzlies are lucky, Holiday’s market value could be limited and the front office could make a steal of a signing to help bolster the efforts on both end of the floor.
A more ambitious target for Memphis will be J.J. Redick, who can work without the ball and diversify the offense while playing at a respectable level on defense. Redick will likely be out of Memphis’ price range, however, which makes Jodie Meeks and P.J. Tucker more attainable options.
If Memphis is going to take a chance on an upside player, then making a run at Nikola Mirotic could be the ideal way to add a dynamic offensive option next to Marc Gasol.
Mar 27, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) shakes hands with guard Tony Allen (9) during the first quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
For better or worse, the Memphis Grizzlies have committed a healthy sum of money to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They’ve also handed a heavy contract to Chandler Parsons, which has created limited flexibility on the free agency front.
Thus, the question beckons: should the Grizzlies continue to attempt to win with the current core or blow up the major pieces around Conley, Gasol, and Parsons?
Tony Allen and Zach Randolph can still perform at a high level, but both are age 35 or older. Thus, while father time may not have caught up with them entirely, it’s fair to believe that Memphis needs to get younger in order to make true process.
With limited cap space and no available first-round draft pick, the options are limited and the need for executive creativity is as pressing as ever before.
Re-signing Allen and Randolph would help maintain the team’s core and identity. It could also leave enough cap space in order for the Grizzlies to make an additional signing that would both improve the team’s depth and make up for Brandan Wright’s injury woes.
Of the limited options, the Grizzlies’ best bet would be to remain loyal to the core players and make an attempt to develop a stronger second unit.
If Chandler Parsons lives up to the hype and dollar signs, then all Memphis truly needs is to improve its depth.