Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Griz Roster Prognosis: In Order of Probable Return

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 10:16 AM

A player-by-player snapshot of the Grizzlies' roster entering the summer, in rough order of probable return:

SURE THINGS

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Mike Conley: Under contract for three more years and with just over $26 million guaranteed left. Conley had a minor breakthrough season that included leading the team in scoring post-Rudy Gay trade and making his first All-Defensive (second) team. He averaged a 17/7 in the playoffs with a generally strong floor game (particularly in the earlier rounds) and showcased an improved floater, though his poor shooting (38/28) went curiously unnoticed. Loose talk that sprouted up early in the playoffs about Conley being a “top five” point guard was a little eye-rolling, but he's established himself as a quality two-way starter at a key position who is outperforming what was once considered a too-generous contract. A team captain and locker room stalwart who, at 25, still has room for improvement. He's going nowhere.

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Marc Gasol: Two years and nearly $31 million left. A DPOY who you can run offense through is a rare commodity. Even being conservative, Gasol is a top five center and top 30 player. If he can become a more consistent and assertive scorer — which may require making war with his own pass-first instincts at times — this two-way player at the most premium position can make a strong case to be a Top 10 overall player in terms of real value. As a second-team All-NBA honoree, perhaps he already can. A team captain and locker room stalwart who, at 28, still has room for improvement. He's also going nowhere.

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Quincy Pondexter: Locked in at $2.2 million in the fourth year of his rookie deal but eligible for a contract extension this summer. Pondexter, as I forecast last spring, evolved into a quality “3D” player this season — a wing role player who is a plus defender and spot-up three-point weapon. But the path was rocky. Pondexter got off to a strong start followed by a semi-serious knee injury and a slump upon regular-season return, but came back around in the post-season, shooting 49/45 in the playoffs overall and 50/48 against the Spurs, where he also bumped up his three-point attempts to more than six a game. If Pondexter builds on his postseason success — and his work last summer developing that crucial corner three suggests he will — he's a decent bet to double his 6.4 scoring average next season and perhaps push for a starting spot — at two guard if Lionel Hollins is still the coach. An extension this summer is probably unlikely since those early extensions are rare for players at this level.

YOU MAY BE SURPRISED, BUT …

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Jon Leuer: Still on his rookie contract, the little-used forward has a qualifying offer at just over $1 million. Leuer didn't get much run, but as in his rookie season in Milwaukee he generally acquitted himself well when he saw the floor. The front office targeted Leuer specifically in that cost-cutting deal with the Cavs. They think he has a chance to be a contributor, and, for what it's worth, so do I. Leuer's qualifying offer is reasonable and his lack of PT should supress outside offers. The smart play here? Try to sign Leuer to a multi-year contract that starts around (or maybe a little below) the qualifying offer, with team options in the out years. Then send him to Matt Bonner camp this summer to try to stretch that solid 20-footer out to three-point range, which he had been doing in the D League earlier this season. The downside is minimal. The upside is a cost-effective stretch big at the back end of your frontcourt rotation.

IT'S TRICKY

The Grizzlies' futures of all six of these players are in the air to various degrees and for various reasons. They're all hard to get a good read on, but I'm betting a couple of them aren't back.

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Tony Allen: An unrestricted free agent who made $3.3 last season. Allen wants badly to be back and the team wants him back, but Allen's agent will have a role here too and finding terms with which both sides are comfortable will be at issue. Allen made his third straight All-Defensive team but is also 31 with balky knees and a severely limited offensive game. Will there be a team — a la the Rockets last summer with then-Bulls center Omer Asik — that decides Allen can transform their defense and will be willing to offer Allen above his perceived market value, either in money or years? If so, this could get sketchy for a Grizzlies team with an eye on transitioning into a new roster around Gasol/Conley in the coming years and that desperately needs more outside shooting. But Allen's on-ball defense is still a devastating weapon against certain match-ups and he's synonymous with the team's unique culture. Ideally, the Grizzlies would give him a raise to mid-level money for a two-year deal, maybe with partial guarantees into a third season. But chances are it may take more than that, especially in regard to years. And that's where this will become a more difficult decision. I still think Allen is likely to return, but even if he does, I'd project Allen's career high 26.7 minutes per game this past season to decline next season.

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Tayshaun Prince: Owed nearly $15 million over the next two seasons with many years of deep playoff runs adding mileage to his slim, 33-year-old body. Prince fit in well in the regular season despite putting up very modest numbers and his long-limbed defense was an important factor in bottling up Kevin Durant in the second round. But Prince was increasingly unplayable against the Spurs, which the team finally acknowledged by barely playing him in its final half of basketball. The Grizzlies really need more three-point shooting at this position and Prince's contract makes him tough to move — the reasons I was initially lukewarm on the return from the Gay trade. Riding it out, at least for next season, seems the most likely scenario.

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Zach Randolph: Owed $17.8 million next season with a $16.5 million player option in 2014-2015. If the coaching question is first on deck for the Grizzlies this summer, then Randolph's future is the linchpin for where the team goes with the roster. Randolph will turn 32 this summer and his up-and-down season presents big questions. Which Randolph is closer to what you'll get next season: The 16-12, 47% shooting double-double machine who made his second All-Star team or the 43% shooting secondary scorer who limped into the playoffs? The resurgent go-to force who topped 20 points in more than half his playoff games in the first two rounds or the neutered would-be scorer who struggled to reach the 15-point plateau while shooting 30% from the floor against the Spurs? Going into next season, is Randolph more of a good player or a bad contract? There are three potential outcomes here: Keep him, trade him, or amnesty him. The world “amnesty” is now being suggested locally, but I have a very hard time seeing the Grizzlies paying someone who just made an All-Star team and helped them to the conference finals nearly $18 million not to play, and then presumably spending a big chunk of that money again on new players. I would ignore that suggestion. There's more logic in dealing Randolph, who is four-to-seven years older than the Conley-Gasol foundation. Attempting to re-route the salary devoted to Randolph toward more perimeter shooting and depth while developing Ed Davis as a starting power forward is a concept that should and will be explored. Ultimately, though, I think Randolph has more value to the Grizzlies as a member of their team — on the court and at the ticket gate — than as a trade commodity. So, for the moment at least, I'm leaning towards a return.

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Ed Davis: Locked in at $3.2 million next season in the fourth year of his rookie deal but eligible for a contract extension this summer. In theory, the best overall asset acquired in the Rudy Gay trade. Davis went from averaging 14/8 on 55% shooting as a starter with Toronto in January to getting DNPs in the post-season for the Grizzlies. In the regular season, Davis produced well for the Grizzlies in erratic minutes after his mid-season acquisition and the team went undefeated when Davis made a week-long starting lineup cameo in early March. Davis is slender, but rebounds, blocks, and scores efficiently in the paint. More than anyone on the roster, Davis' future might be tied to the team's coaching situation. Hollins' skepticism about Davis is such that moving him for perimeter shooting (might be the best move if Hollins is retained. But Davis was loved by the coaches in Toronto, so a coaching change here might get him back on track. Complicating matters: How much has Davis' post-season disappearance damaged his trade value?

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Tony Wroten: Entering the second year of rookie deal at $1.2 million. Wroten has the raw tools to be a star but is far enough away from realization what he could also be out of the league in short order. His future is wide open. I would have liked to have seen him get more minutes during the season to accelerate his development and make a better evaluation, and this summer — and not just Summer League — will be important for Wroten, whose maturity and focus has provoked minor questioning at different levels of the organization. It should be noted that Wroten was Chris Wallace's final draft pick, not a product of the new regime, which may not have the same level of investment in him. Still, dealing Wroten this summer would feel like selling low. Optimists can point to the Clippers' Eric Bledsoe and the Celtics' Avery Bradley, similarly dynamic but incomplete point-guard prospects who entered the NBA after one college season and were non-entities as rookies before emerging as significant rotation players mid-way through their second seasons. Wroten has the potential to follow the same path, and with purer point guard skills than either.

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Darrell Arthur: Owed $3.2 next season with a player option for $3.5 the following year. Coming off yet another preseason injury following an entirely lost 2011-2012, Arthur had moments but never looked fully together physically. At his best, Arthur can be a quality reserve forward with his pick-and-pop offense and pick-and-roll defense, and his contract is agreeable. But will we ever see his best again? Lionel Hollins thinks an extra offseason removed from Arthur's Achilles injury will have him in better shape next season. I'm not so sure, but the odds of that probably make for a better bet than what Arthur would fetch on the trade market. My own hunch is that the Grizzlies are unlikely to go into next season with Arthur, Ed Davis, and Zach Randolph all on the roster. Randolph has the most present value and Davis the most future value, but that also makes each a better trade asset. But if the team decides to keep both Randolph and Davis, Arthur might move. One option: Moving Arthur to a team under the cap for a pick to free up options in free agency.

LOOKING DOUBTFUL

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Jerryd Bayless: Has a player option for $2.9 million next season. Bayless' season was a little rocky, but he emerged as a significant bench scorer after the Rudy Gay trade and was a rotation contributor in a deep playoff run. Seems a good bet to at least match his current salary on the open market, but on a multi-year deal. The Grizzlies can't give Bayless much of a raise on what he's due without using their free agency exception, which I can't imagine they'd do. Bayless' struggles at point guard give some pause but there's no guarantee the team could do better if Bayless walks. The bet here is that Bayless opting out is a near certainty and his return is doubtful. A tough question for the Grizzlies to ask: Is Bayless a good enough pure shooter to bring back or could they do better with the same money in free agency?

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Keyon Dooling: Late-season pick-up is an unrestricted free agent. Better as a spot-up shooter than ball-handler, but Dooling will be on a roster next season, at the league minimum, as a fifth or sixth guard, if he wants to be. Having him back here in that configuration wouldn't be out of the question.

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Austin Daye: Has a qualifying offer of $4.1 million that's too rich to extend, meaning Daye will almost certainly be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Daye's young (25 this summer), long (6'11” at small forward), and has skills (42% from three this season), but has to get stronger physically to warrant being on the floor. Can he? There's a lot of reason for skepticism on that front, but Daye would make an interesting signing this summer for half his qualifying off (or, more likely, less). I doubt that's in Memphis, but I wouldn't entirely rule it out depending on what happens with the coaching and free agency situations.

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