Stuck out of town for the holidays, I assumed I wouldn't be able to see the Grizzlies' opener — a 95-82 loss in San Antonio — but the free League Pass preview saved me. My blanket comment is that it's one game on the road against a good team and that even in the best of times the Grizzlies always lose the opener and almost always start out slow. Even with each game weighted a little bit more in a 66-game season, I feel like we need to have about five games in before getting too worked up about much. But that doesn't mean I don't have some thoughts on the game, and, true to form, these intended “quick notes” came in about three times longer than I planned:
1. Shot Distribution: Because so many hoops fans in Memphis have been trained via years of mediocrity to think their team can only have one good scorer at a time and because so few seem to remember how good the Grizzlies were at the moment when Rudy Gay injured his shoulder in back in February, of course the combination of Gay (18) getting a lot of field-goal attempts, Zach Randolph (8) getting far fewer than his norm, and the team losing is going to instigate some panicked overreaction.
The Grizzlies are not a team like, say, the Nuggets, where scoring skill is fairly balanced throughout the roster. Randolph and Gay are clearly the team's two most talented scorers. Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and O.J. Mayo comprise the second tier. Everyone else is — or should be — an offensive bit player. And shot distribution should reflect that reality. Instead, the shot distribution in last night's game was flatter than what the Grizzlies need it to be.
Saturday morning I'm getting on a plane for Minnesota, where I'll be spending the week between Christmas and New Year's, missing not only Wednesday's home opener with the Thunder but also Friday's home game with the Houston Rockets. Thanks for starting the season during the holidays, NBA!
So there may not be much activity in this space for the next week unless there's significant news outside the scope of the games themselves. But, you know what? I'm betting there's significant news. As I wrote in my post on new signee Dante Cunningham, I think a trade to further address the team's frontcourt depth is inevitable, whether it comes in the days leading up to Monday's season-opening game at San Antonio or later into the season. Signing Cunningham does not address the team's lack of a backup center, but, given that Cunningham gives the team a longer option at small forward in addition to a Darrell Arthur replacement at power forward, the signing is a useful precursor to a deal that would send out a wing player (Xavier Henry? O.J. Mayo?) for a big.
I now think a deal of some sort could happen sooner rather than later. Given my track record, it might happen while I'm in an airplane tracking up the Mississippi.
But before I head out, I need to go on the record with some predictions for the league in general and the Grizzlies in particular. Given the compressed and shortened schedule, the number of older teams with shoddy depth, and the looming uncertainty over the fate of arguably the league's second best player (Dwight Howard), forecasting the NBA seems even more difficult than usual this season. I predicted over/unders for all 30 teams on the Chris Vernon Show earlier in the week and am already shading several of my predictions from that show up or down.
But here's my best shot:
The Charlotte Observer is reporting that the Charlotte Bobcats will not match the Grizzlies' three-year, $6.15 million offer sheet to restricted free-agent forward Dante Cunningham, making Cunningham now the 13th player on this season's Grizzlies roster.
When the lockout ended and the abbreviated offseason began, the Grizzlies were strictly looking true big men — who could play power forward and center — in free agency. But losing Darrell Arthur to a season-ending torn Achilles on the eve of the opener changed — really, expanded — the team's needs, opening the door for Cunningham, a 6'8”, 230 pound combo forward who can play behind both Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.
The Grizzlies will be betting on the come with Cunningham, a 24-year old out of Villanova entering his third NBA season. Cunningham averaged about 11 minutes a game as a deep reserve for the Portland Trailblazers during his rookie season and then moved up to a full rotation player — about 20 minutes a game — last season, first for the Blazers and then for the Bobcats after being shipped east in the Gerald Wallace trade.
Cunningham's skill set is roughly similar to the departed Arthur — he's a decent mid-range jump shoot who is athletic enough to defend the pick-and-roll and score in transition. Cunningham is a little smaller than Arthur and less dynamic around the basket on both ends. He can't rotate over and play small-ball center the way Arthur did, but can slide over and give the Grizzlies a bigger option behind Rudy Gay at small forward, an option Lionel Hollins has longed for on this roster.
The Grizzlies played the first of only two home preseason games Friday night, losing 97-90 to the New Orleans Hornets. As is always the case in the preseason, however, the outcome is less notable than the particulars.
The Grizzlies sat half of their potential regular-season rotation tonight: Mike Conley strictly for rest and to allow more time for the team to get a look at other players at his position. Marc Gasol (sprained ankle) and Darrell Arthur (sore achilles) with minor injuries that would not have kept them out in the regular season. Sam Young (day-to-day on a sprained ankle) and Xavier Henry (out 2-4 weeks with a more serious ankle sprain) with less minor injuries that would have sidelined them in a real game.
There were really on five players tonight who really mattered for the Grizzlies in this game, three guard competing for rotation minutes and two free agent big men competing for a potential roster spot.
Guards: Second-round pick Josh Selby had a rough first outing, getting routinely abused by veteran Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack early and shooting 1-5 from the floor, including some bad misses. He never looked comfortable and certainly didn't look like he had a position. Selby had some high-scoring performances in many of the all-star pick-up games held during the lockout, but as I tweeted late in the game, Selby learned tonight that even a preseason game against a bunch of non-roster invites is much more serious competition than a summer exhibition against stars.
Marc Gasol just announced via his Twitter feed that he will be returning to the Grizzlies:
No details beyond that at this point, but those should be coming soon.
The Commercial Appeal is reporting that the Gasol deal is for four years at $58 million. If so, then Gasol basically got “The Rudy”: The Grizzlies topped a potential max offer sheet from an outside team (4 years and $55 million) by offering the same deal with higher raises (Grizzlies can offer 7.5% raises while outside teams only 4.5% raises). An actual max contract from the Grizzlies would have started with the same salary — $12.9 million — but would have extended an extra year to 5 years/$75 million. This is basically what happened with Rudy Gay too, where the Grizzlies preemptively topped an outside max deal but didn't give Gay their own max deal. (Gay's deal was for five years; a true max would have been for six.)
In all, this contract is richer than the team — and fans — initially hoped. Comparable players such as Joakim Noah and Al Horford had signed for 5/$60 a year ago. But given the number of teams with cap room and the scarcity of quality true centers, it was becoming clear that keeping Gasol was going to come at a premium, with the Houston Rockets said to be preparing a 4/$55 offer for Gasol.
ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting that the Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers are revisiting last season's aborted trade that would have sent O.J. Mayo to Indiana for Pacers' big man Josh McRoberts.
I don't have time to go into much detail right now on what is, at this point, only a trade rumor, but my quick take would be that this would be a risky move relative to the team's competitive chances this season: Mayo's best skill — outside shooting — is what this Grizzlies team needs most and he's almost certain to bounce back from his under-performance last season. Dealing Mayo now feels like selling low. On the other hand, given the make-up of the roster, it's difficult to envision Mayo remaining with the team beyond this season.
I could defend — and maybe even endorse — a Mayo-McRoberts trade given these parameters:
1. McRoberts comes on a multi-year contract at a low enough starting salary — $4 million max and preferably more like $2-$3 — that his addition helps stabilize the frontcourt depth, guard against Darrell Arthur's impending free agency, and gives the team an affordable supporting piece it can depend on for the next few years.
2. There's an extra asset involved. The previous McRoberts-Mayo deal had a first-round pick coming to the Grizzlies. Given that the values of the players involved hasn't changed significantly since the initial deal, one would hope that any new deal would also have the Grizzlies getting a pick.
3. The Grizzlies don't just hope a young guard — Sam Young, Xavier Henry, Josh Selby, Greivis Vasquez — makes a leap but instead uses the extra money this deal would likely free up to sign another shooter.
The Grizzlies added depth to their backcourt today with two signings — rookie draftee Josh Selby and free agent Jeremy Pargo.
Selby's deal is being announced only as "multi-year" but I was told earlier to expect a deal for Selby similar to the one Sam Young got as a second-round pick a few years ago. Young's deal was for three years with team options on the second and third year, starting at slightly higher than the rookie minimum.
Pargo's signing is reportedly for two years though the extent that the deal is guaranteed is still unknown. A powerfully built 6'2" point guard who played his college ball at Gonzaga, Pargo has been on the team's radar for awhile, having worked out for the team on multiple past occasions. The 25-year-old has most recently been playing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel, where was second-team all-Euroleague last season. The Grizzlies had cited additional point guard depth as one of their off-season goals. Pargo's salary for this season would presumably come in at under $1 million.
The addition's of Selby and Pargo brings the Grizzlies roster to 11 players, only two of which play power forward or center — Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur.
The number one goal for the Grizzlies — resigning Marc Gasol — is still unfulfilled, and Gasol flying out to Los Angeles — where his agent, Arn Tellem, and brother are — on the eve of training camp after having been in Memphis working out with teammates has been a cause of concern for fans. I was told again today by a team source that fans shouldn't worry about the Gasol situation, but until a deal is done there's liable to be plenty of anxiousness on that front.
Assuming a Gasol deal gets done, the Grizzlies would then have 12 players under contract and likely $2-$4 million under the luxury tax line with the desire to add two more frontcourt players. The team has a $2 million qualifying offer out to Hamed Haddadi, but the Iranian center is still in his home country and is said to be having visa issues. Given that and given that the coaching staff has never seemed particularly comfortable giving Hadaddi consistent minutes, my guess — and at this point it's just a guess — is that the qualifying offer gets pulled.
With that money freed up, I suspect the Grizzlies will sign a fourth big man from the rapidly shrinking free-agent pool: Three of the top six names I floated in my free-agency preview last week have signed elsewhere, but candidates such as Josh McRoberts, Jason Smith, Troy Murphy, and Leon Powe remain. I think the Grizzlies would love to get McRoberts, but I suspect market-value for him may be out of the price range if the team wants to stay under the tax line, so the other three names might be more likely.
After that, my hunch is that a fifth big is added out of camp, with four veteran options on the training camp roster — Brian Skinner, Mikki Moore, Josh Davis, and Jared Reiner.
The Grizzlies really liked Davis in training camp last year, but given that the fourth big is likely to be a floor-stretcher (McRoberts, Smith, Murphy) or at least more forward-sized than center (Powe), my guess is the team would go bigger with Skinner or Moore. However, if the Grizzlies ended up signing a true center as their fourth big — Pryzbilla, so I think this unlikely — then I think Davis might be a better fit.
The expectation is that we will have clarity on all these frontcourt issues by the time the team suits up for its first preseason game on Friday.
Battier was never likely to re-sign with the Grizzlies: It didn't make sense for the team from a salary structure/roster standpoint and it didn't make sense for Battier for the same reasons, as I detailed here. But I'm still guessing this move comes as a surprise to many casual Grizzlies fans around town. The Grizzlies remain in good shape at small forward, with Rudy Gay returning and Tony Allen, Sam Young, and Xavier Henry all on board to log minutes at the spot.
The Grizzlies will continue to focus on resigning Marc Gasol. If there's a successful resolution on that front in the next few days, expect the team to turn their attention to signing an additional frontcourt player to help back up Gasol.
The Grizzlies regular-season schedule for this abbreviated, compressed 66-game season was released yesterday, confirming that the team will open the season against its two playoff foes from last season — first on the road for a December 26th game in San Antonio and then a December 28th home opener agains the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Some other elements of the schedule:
National Television Games:
The 10 national television games are a franchise high — and this in a 66-game season. And I'm pretty sure the three home games on national TV — full-on national TV, not NBATV — are a high This includes two big ones in five days, when the Grizzlies host the Knicks on TNT and then come back for an ESPN matinee with the Bulls on MLK Day.
The full national TV slate:
Home vs. Knicks Jan. 12 TNT 7 p.m.
Home vs. Bulls Jan. 16 ESPN Noon
Away vs. Warriors Jan. 23 NBATV 9:30
Away vs. Clippers Jan. 26 TNT 9:30
Away vs. Celtics Feb. 5 NBA TV 11 a.m.
Home vs. Jazz Feb. 12 ESPN 8:30
Away vs. Nets Feb. 15 NBATV 6:30
Away vs Warriors Mar. 7 NBATV 9:30
Away vs. Lakers Mar. 25 ESPN 9:30
Away vs. New Orleans April 15 NBATV 6 p.m.
Who They Play and Who They Don't:
Full Split (2 Home/2 Away): HOU, OKC, GS, SA, MIN, NO
2 Home/1 Away: SAC, DEN, UTH, DAL
1 Home/2 Away: LAL, POR, LAC, PHO
Full Split (1/1): CHI, DET, TOR
Only Home: NY, IND, PHI, WAS, CLE, ORL
Only Away: ATL, BOS, NJ, MIL, MIA, CHA
Given the uneven schedule, this is a pretty fair mix of glamor/high-attendance home games. The Griz will split the four big Eastern opponents, getting Chicago and New York at FedExForum, but not Miami or Boston. The team will get two homes each with Oklahoma City and defending champion Dallas but only one visit each against the two Los Angeles teams. It's bummer that local fans won't get a look at the Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen/Paul Pierce Celtics in what could be their final season together or a return of the Lebron James/Dwyane Wade Heat after last season's thriller.
Competitively I don't think this slate is particularly notable given the scheduling constraints. It's probably helpful that two of the three East teams the Griz double-up with are expected to be two of the worst. I do find it odd that the Grizzlies only play division rival Dallas three times, so much so that I rechecked that multiple times to make sure I wasn't missing something.
This is a four-month spring and the Grizzlies probably need to do well in the first half of it, because the schedule — brutal all season for everyone — is particularly onerous in the second half. The team will play 10 of 15 games on the road in March and then has a stretch near the end of the season where they'll play 17 games in 25 days, including their only back-to-back-to-back set (April 2-4: @OKC-GS-@DAL. They come out of this with one day off and into a back-to-back against last year's finalists, Miami and Dallas). That stretch doesn't include either of their two four-game West Coast road trips.
By contrast, the easiest stretch of the schedule should be February 6th through March 3rd, where the team plays 10 of 13 at home, including a season-long five-game home stand. The road games in this stretch are all very winnable — Toronto, Houston, New Jersey.
With free-agency negotiations with players starting Monday (teams have been talking with agents for a few days) — and signings likely to commence Friday — the Grizzlies can resume putting together next season's roster. Barring trades — which could emerge, but have not been even hinted at at this point — let's walk through how the roster for this season could be built, starting with the current players under guaranteed contracts (using best estimates on salaries based on media sources and other info):
Zach Randolph $15,200,000
Rudy Gay $15,032,144
Mike Conley $6,611,571
O.J. Mayo $5,632,637
Tony Allen $3,150,000
Xavier Henry $2,171,640
Darrell Arthur $2,027,119
Sam Young $1,184,750
Greivis Vasquez $1,113,600
Total: $52,123,461 for 9 players
This is the foundation of the Grizzlies roster. As a matter of bookkeeping, note that while that salary figure is below the expected salary cap of $58 million, qualifying offers for Marc Gasol ($4.5 million) and Hamed Haddadi ($2 million) push the team over the cap even without factoring in cap holds on other players. The only way the Grizzlies would get under the cap is to renounce — or lose — Gasol. The former is out of the question and the latter is highly unlikely, so, effectively, the Grizzlies will be operating as a team over the cap but under the luxury tax line (expected to be around $70 million), giving them a full mid-level exception to potentially use for outside free agents (a maximum four-year deal starting at a maximum $5 million). The team will be adding 4-6 players to the list above while likely trying to stay below the tax line. (I'm of the opinion that the team should be open to going above the tax line this season and will make that case in a coming post, but I don't believe Michael Heisley is willing to do that, so for now I'm operating under the notion of a $70 million ceiling.)
Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace and head coach Lionel Hollins met with the media this morning for the first time since the end of last season's playoff run. As is typical of these types of public press conferences, there as not much in the way of actual news.
Hollins confirmed that he will be hiring two new assistant coaches, replacing both departed assistants, Johnny Davis and Damon Stoudamire, but didn't specify a timetable for the hires. Hollins noted that incumbent assistant Dave Joerger will be moving into Davis' old slot as lead assistant. As for what type of coaches he's looking for, Hollins mentioned a couple of qualities.
In praising Stoudamire, Hollins noted that in addition to his work in practices and games, Stoudamire had been invaluable in helping manage the personalities on the team and in dealing with players and their families and associates as people. This is an element of running a team — remember Bill Simmons' Isaiah Thomas-credited mantra, “The secret of basketball is that it isn't about basketball” — that we probably don't put enough emphasis on. As Hollins joked, to be a good coach, “You need a counseling degree, a psychology degree, a dad degree.”
The lynchpin of the Grizzlies team-building over the coming weeks will be a new contract for restricted free agent center Marc Gasol. With matching rights in hand, no-one believes the Grizzlies are willing to lose Gasol, but how much it takes to keep him will be determinative: With the team likely to be roughly $17 million under the luxury tax line — factoring in nine players on guaranteed contracts and rookie Josh Selby — before re-signing Gasol, the starting salary on his new contract will likely govern whether the Grizzlies have enough space left to pursue a (semi-) significant free agent (or, less likely, retain their own in Shane Battier) or whether the remainder of the roster will have to be filled out via minimum-range contracts.
What will a Gasol contract look like? Here are five possibilities:
A maximum contract for Gasol under the new collective bargaining agreement with start at 25% of the salary cap (expected to be around $58 million) and could extend for five years with 7.5% annual raises. The Grizzlies certainly hope this isn't necessary, but this is the ceiling on what Gasol's deal could be.
Contract: $14.5, $15.6, $16.8, $18, $19.4 = five years, $84 million