Trading unwanted point guard Jeremy Pargo, along with cash money and a second-round draft pick, to Cleveland for swingman D.J. Kennedy was an accounting maneuver more than a conventional trade. The Grizzlies had no place for Pargo, but buying him out would have cost them double — in addition to the $1 million on his contract, they would have owed an additional million in luxury tax (that or it would have been an unmovable million that would have made any attempt to get under the tax more difficult). Even with paying the Cavaliers to take Pargo off their books, the Grizzlies will end up saving money on the deal. It's unfortunate to have to part with assets (not just cash, but the pick) to fix a mistake (as was the case with including a future first round pick in the Hasheem Thabeet-Shane Battier deal), but given the situation the Grizzlies found themselves in with their roster and their payroll, it had to be done. As for Kennedy, he's a non-guaranteed contract. He might be in training camp, but even then he'd be a long shot to make the roster.
Jettisoning Pargo dropped the Grizzlies back down to 12 players, requiring at least one more signing, and that came in the form of Hamed Haddadi, who returns again on a minimum-type contract that, as I understand it, is fully guaranteed for this season and partially guaranteed for next season. While severely limited, Haddadi has long been more useful than his sporadic playing time suggested. He'll return in an ideal role: As a fifth big man providing spot minutes when match-ups demand more size off the bench. He's serviceable in that role, with the bonus of being someone who gets his teammates and the home crowd really hyped up whenever he plays well.
The NBA's regular-season schedule was released last night. You can see the full Grizzlies' schedule here.
Here are a few thoughts as we look ahead to what should be a really fun season:
Games of Note:
At Los Angeles Clippers — Wednesday, October 31st: The season opener is a tough one, a road rematch with the team that eliminated the Grizzlies from last season's playoffs. The bad news: The Clippers might be better this season after adding veterans like Chauncy Billups, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, and Rony Turiaf to their bench. The good news: Blake Griffin had knee surgery this summer and might not be 100-percent for this game.
Utah Jazz — Monday, November 5th: The home opener against one of the West's young, emerging teams.
Houston Rockets — Friday, November 9th: “Linsanity” — to what ever degree it will still exist — makes its Memphis debut.
Miami Heat — Sunday, November 11th: The Heat didn't play in Memphis during the lockout season, but the defending champions come to town for their lone appearance here.
At Oklahoma City Thunder — Wednesday, November 14th: The team's first national television game (on ESPN) is also an early measuring stick against the defending Western Conference champs.
Tuesday afternoon, the Grizzlies completed a trade that had been rumored for at least a couple of weeks, sending forward Dante Cunningham to the Minnesota Timberwolves for guard Wayne Ellington.
As an exchange of two back-end-of-the-rotation players on small and nearly identical contracts, this is not a big deal, but, though most in Griz World seem to like it, I do think it's a bad one. (For the Grizzlies, I mean, as a casual Timberwolves fan I love it for them.)
While not as egregious as last season's ostensibly minor decision to jettison Greivis Vasquez and intrust Jeremy Pargo with the back-up point guard spot, I do consider this to be another self-inflicted wound for the Grizzlies, and here's why:
For starters, Dante Cunningham is simply a better basketball player than Wayne Ellington, and, in most cases, the team getting the better player wins the trade in the NBA.
In three NBA seasons, Ellington has yet to register a double-digit PER (15 is league-average). He's proven to be a viable though not prolific three-point shooter (career 38% on two attempts per game, though he slumped to 32% last season), but doesn't really do anything else: At 6'4”, Ellington doesn't have playmaking skills, isn't much of a defender, doesn't get to the rim, and is a poor finisher when he does. Basically, Ellington has to shoot in the high 30s from long-range to be worth playing at all. If he were a free agent this summer rather than still on his rookie contract, he'd be hunting around for minimum-type deal, in line behind still-unsigned free agents such as Brandon Rush, Jodie Meeks, Leandro Barbosa, and Willie Green.
The Las Vegas Summer League came to a close yesterday and Grizzlies fans have to feel good about the performances of the two players who really mattered for their squad, rookie guard Tony Wroten Jr. and second-year guard Josh Selby.
A few notes on each player:
Josh Selby: With the Grizzlies still apparently in the market for a three-point shooting guard, Selby did all he could to suggest he can help fill that role next season, hitting an outrageous 25-42 from three-point range in five games. He's not going to shoot like that in the regular season, obviously, and the shots might not be as easy to get, but this shooting display is certainly promising, and should give Selby a boost of confidence heading into an important training camp.
While Selby has certainly boosted his odds of becoming viable bench scorer in the real league, I would be higher on him coming out of Vegas if he had been a little better inside the arc. Selby was a so-so 12-28 on two-point attempts in Vegas. He hit a couple of really nice floaters, which was encouraging, and had a couple of mid-range shots off the dribble. But he wasn't consistently dynamic with the ball and didn't get to the rim effectively. Selby had some good assist games, but his assists tended to be off pretty basic passes, often to set up jumpers.
The Grizzlies have reportedly signed Bayless to a two-year deal, with the second season a player option. Based on the mini-mid-level exception the Grizzlies had to use, the starting salary would be $3.1 million.
I had identified Bayless in my last post as the best available free agent that fit the Grizzlies needs and price range, so I think this was a good get for the Grizzlies.
As much as everyone focuses on outside shooting, adding more ballhandlers — or, at least, proven ballhandlers — to the backcourt, not only at the point but at the two-guard as well, was perhaps an even greater need. And as a strong, 6'3” combo guard with an improving three-point shot, Bayless has a chance to check all of those boxes.
As I suggested in my last post on the Marreese Speights signing, retaining Speights did not close the door on the Grizzlies bringing back fellow frontcourt reserve Darrell Arthur. But it left the team with a choice: Retain Arthur or have access to the full mid-level exception (starting salary: $5 million) to address perimeter needs. The team's payroll status and the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement would not allow both.
And now the Grizzlies have made their choice — retaining Arthur with a three-year, roughly $9 million contract (with the third year a player option), as first reported by Chris Vernon.
Though the roster now has a pretty steep backcourt/frontcourt imbalance, movement in the market made this an easy choice: With Jason Terry, Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, and Nick Young off the board, and perhaps the only remaining, obtainable backcourt free agent potentially worth the team's full mid-level — Courtney Lee — being pursued by the Celtics, the Grizzlies would likely have been overspending with the full mid-level on any one player. And while the team could have split it between two lower-level targets, the ability to do so doesn't trump retaining Arthur for such potentially good value. At worst, the Grizzlies are well-equipped to balance the roster with in-season trades if desired.
Arthur has had some serious — if seemingly random — injury issues, but has shown the kind of upside that could make this contract a pretty big bargain.
Bringing back both Speights and Arthur also feels like a hedge — short- and long-term — against Zach Randolph returning from a serious knee injury at age 31. If the Grizzlies have apparently skirted the question of moving one of their big contracts this summer, they may not be able to do so a year from now. Having Arthur and Speights under contract will give them flexibility to consider not just Gay but also Randolph, several years older than the rest of the current core, in any future tax-oriented roster restructuring.
Where does the Arthur signing leave the Grizzlies as the free agency period officially begins on Wednesday? Including so-far-unsigned rookie Tony Wroten Jr. and using the best salary estimates available, the team has 12 players and a payroll right at the tax line.
Speights, who had a strong first season with the Grizzlies after being acquired in the wake of Zach Randolph's early-season knee injury, first hinted at the new deal on Twitter tonight, saying only that he'd be back with the Grizzlies this season. A source confirmed a two-year deal with a starting salary “close” to Speights' qualifying offer of $3.8 million. Depending on the exact starting salary, Speights' deal should be in the $8 million range. The second year of the deal is a player option. [CORRECTED]
Contracts can be negotiated now but cannot be signed until July 11th.
Despite the Speights deal, the Grizzlies are not ruling out bringing back fellow restricted free agent Darrell Arthur.
The Grizzlies would like to retain Arthur as well, but doing so while addressing the team's stated goals of adding a veteran point guard and a proven three-point shooter will be tricky, even with the team recently committing to exceeding the luxury tax to start the season.
If the Grizzlies choose to use the full mid-level exception — which is $5 million and can be split among players — they would have to withdraw their qualifying offer to Arthur. If the team signs Arthur or maintains his qualifying offer, they will only have access to the “tax-payer mid-level,” which is $3 million.
Addressing two of three remaining goals — Arthur, point guard, shooter — is very feasible. Addressing all three will require creativity or filling one of the perimeter needs via a minimum contract.
As for potential perimeter targets, the Grizzlies remain theoretically in the hunt for Ray Allen, but I don't detect much confidence on that front.
Of the three other names previously reported as targets, the Clippers' Randy Foye and the Hawks' Kirk Hinrich remain on the radar, while versatile Russian guard Alexey Shved seems less likely. Based on his Euroleague production, Shved projects as an NBA rotation player, but the same was true of Jeremy Pargo. The Grizzlies already have a couple of roll-the-dice prospects on the perimeter in Josh Selby and Tony Wroten Jr. They're looking for more certainty in free agency.
Two new names that are definitely under consideration: The Rockets' Courtney Lee and the Sixers' Jodie Meeks, both of whom were set to be restricted free agents but became unexpectedly unrestricted when their former teams withdrew (Lee) or did not tender (Meeks) qualifying offers.
Off these four, Lee is probably the only one who could demand a full mid-level offer. Both Hinrich and Meeks should be available for well below the full mid-level.