A week ago, the Grizzlies were facing questions regarding a handful of players from last year's roster and were looking at an off-season “to-do list” with three primary items. But the last few days have clarified many of those questions: The team's overcrowded power forward rotation was cleaned up by dealing Darrell Arthur. The team crossed “back-up center” off its list by obtaining Kosta Koufos for Arthur. The question about Jerryd Bayless' future was answered when he unexpectedly invoked his player option to return next season. With Bayless' decision, new head coach Dave Joerger's publicly stated interest in developing second-year point guard Tony Wroten Jr., and a rapid reduction in open roster spots and money to spend below the luxury tax, the team likely considers “ballhandler” crossed off the list as well.
This all leaves relatively few player questions, relatively few roster spots, and relatively little money to spend on those remaining slots, which might make for a relatively quiet next couple of months.
But let's walk through what's left:
THE BIG QUESTION
The one thing that could turn a low-key offseason into something more momentous and unpredictable would be a Zach Randolph trade. This would be unpopular, but there's definitely a rationale for doing so. Randolph is coming off his second All-Star selection and was heroic at times in both playoff series wins. But, like Rudy Gay before him, albeit for different reasons, Randolph is now teetering on the line between “good player” and “bad contract” and the $17.8 million the Grizzlies owe him this season and the $16.5 million player option Randolph has for the 2014-2015 season, in concert with other contracts on the books, give the Grizzlies very little maneuverability over the next couple of seasons — unless Randolph is moved.
For this reason, expect to see Randolph trade rumors pop up this summer. But, for the same reasons, expect the Grizzlies to have a difficult time finding a deal worth making.
My best current sense of Randolph's status is that a deal is possible but unlikely and wouldn't happen until later in the summer if it happened at all. For that reason, it's unlikely to impact the team's approach to free agency. Oh, and disregard the suggestion that the Grizzlies might amnesty Randolph this summer. Barring new circumstances (like a serious injury), that's preposterous.
Emptying the notebook after a day of draft post-mortem:outlined last night.
** As far as other attempts to get into the first round, I reported last night on Twitter that the Grizzlies attempted to obtain the Timberwolves pick at #26 (which ended up going to Oklahoma City). There was some speculation that the Grizzlies pulled back from their pursuit because the player they were targeting (perhaps Reggie Bullock, who went #25 to the Clippers) was off the board. Not so. The Grizzlies got outbid on these deals, with competing teams offering both cash and a second-round draft pick. The Grizzlies apparently had a couple of players they were targeting in the late first round: swingmen Jamaal Franklin and Allen Crabbe, who eventually went at #31, the first pick in the second round. My impression is that the Grizzlies had Franklin rated higher but may have taken Crabbe if given the opportunity because he fit their needs better as a shooter.
** After Crabbe was off the board, the Grizzlies were hoping Franklin would continue to drop to them at #41 and were prepared to move out of #41 if Franklin was gone and they weren't enamored enough with other options.
Move 1: Traded Darrell Arthur and the #55 pick to Denver for center Kosta Koufos
I thought there was a chance that Arthur could move on draft night, but for a late-first-round pick. And expected him to move this off-season regardless, but to free up more payroll space under the tax line for other moves. Instead, it came in the form of a (basically) financially even player-for-player deal with only minor draft implications.
But this looks like a good move for the Grizzlies. They checked off their second or third biggest off-season need (a true back-up center to play behind Marc Gasol) and cleared up a crowded scene at power forward, solidifying Ed Davis as the back-up power forward and creating a potential opportunity to develop Jon Leuer as a fifth big. The team's entire frontcourt rotation fits together better now.
Beyond that, they likely got the better — or at least most valuable — player in the deal: Koufos is a 24-year-old true center (7'0”, 265 pounds) who started 81 games for a playoff team in Denver last season. Koufos averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds a game on 58% shooting in 22 minutes a game in what was something of a breakout fifth season. He's a much better rebounder than Arthur and doesn't have as troubling an injury history. He's a more efficient scorer than Arthur, but won't space the floor the same way. His offense is primarily rooted in the paint. Koufos will allow Marc Gasol to get some needed rest and should be among the NBA's best back-up centers.
Arthur, when healthy, is a better player than he showed last season. But there's reason to wonder how much he can get back to his peak form. And this front office — high on Ed Davis — was not as high on Arthur as, for instance, Lionel Hollins was.
Financially, it's also a plus. The deal frees up an extra $200,000 or so this season, but, more significantly, it puts the Grizzlies in the driver's seat for 2014-2015. Arthur's deal was a player option for $3.5 million that season. Koufos' deal is a team option for $3 million, which is more advantageous for the Grizzlies.
What to do in a year in which I watched very little college basketball, the Grizzlies stopped letting media in to see draft workouts, and the team has zero picks in the Top 40? Nerd out on stats, profiles, video scouting reports, and conversations with people who know a lot more about this draft class than I do.
I'm not a draft analyst, but I'll play one for the next 2000 words in an attempt to get a handle on what the Grizzlies might do Thursday night and what they should do.
There's been some suggestion that the Grizzlies may try to get into the first round on Thursday night. I'm all for that, but also somewhat skeptical of it happening. There seem to be plenty of teams willing to move off picks, but most seem to be looking for a future pick in return and it's very difficult for the Grizzlies to meet that price given the picks they already owe from past trades.
It's hard to see the Grizzlies obtaining a first-round pick in a cash exchange, a practice that seems to be dying out. Might a combination of the #41 and cash move the Grizzlies into the first round? Maybe. But I doubt it. The best bet for obtaining a first-round pick might be in a deal involving an existing player, with Tony Wroten Jr. and Darrell Arthur the most likely to figure. But most teams interested in trading picks are looking to preserve cap space this summer, not fill it up.
If the Grizzlies do keep all three of their picks — #41, #55, #60 — on Thursday, look for them to take at least one “draft-and-stash” international player and at least one prospect with a chance of making next year's roster. The third pick could go in either direction. It's very unlikely the Grizzlies would bring three second-round picks into training camp this fall.
In the second round, by and large, teams are simply trying to unearth functional NBA players and don't usually take specific roster needs into account. That said, I think there are two types of players the Grizzlies would be unlikely to select: True power forwards (such as Jackie Carmichael, Trevor Mbakwe, or Richard Howell) and non-shooting wings (such as Andre Roberson, C.J. Leslie, or B.J. Young).
To give a sense of where these prospects are expected to go I included, in parenthetical form, the rankings for each player on four different “Top 100” lists — Chad Ford, Draft Express, NBADraft.net, and Hoops World.
THREE LONGSHOTS I LIKE
These players all project somewhere between the very end of the first round and the first third of the second round. I'm very intrigued by all three but will be surprised if they're available when the Griz pick at #41, but it's possible that one slips.
Mike Muscala (33/34/70/34): I'm a sucker for skilled bigs and this versatile forward/center fits the bill. Muscala does pretty much everything well: He's got a full array of post moves, can finish with both hands, can shoot with decent range, rebounds, passes, defends. And all this at 6'11” and 230 pounds. So what's the problem? He's been doing it all at Bucknell, so there's a real question as to how well his relatively modest athleticism will translates in the big jump to the NBA.
The 39-year-old Joerger has spent six seasons on the Grizzlies bench, joining the team as part of Marc Iavaroni's staff and surviving the transition to Lionel Hollins a year-and-a-half later, where Joerger was later elevated to lead assisstant.
Long considered the frontrunner for the job, Joerger won five titles in three different leagues over seven minor league seasons as a young head coach. He will now get the chance to test those skills at the highest level.
As of yesterday, a source with the team had speculated that the Grizzlies would be unlikely to make a coaching announcement prior to Thursday's NBA draft, and the team has not officially confirmed Joerger's hire. But with the news leaking late Monday night, one expects an announcement will now come sooner rather than later.
News and notes on a day of recovery as the 2012-2013 season officially ends:
The gym is dormant today but the team will hold double workouts on Monday featuring a dozen or so players, which are expected to be the team's final workouts before next Thursday's draft.
Among the college prospects expected on Monday: Texas guard Myck Kabongo, N.C. State guard Lorenzo Brown, Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael, and Memphis forward Adonis Thomas. Florida forward Erik Murphy was scheduled to attend but a recent shoulder injury makes his presence questionable.
With three second-round picks, the Grizzlies are expected to be in the “draft-and-stash” business on Thursday night. And, to that end, the team is also bringing in several international prospects on Monday. Among the leading names in that contingent are expected to be Brazilian forward Augusto Lima, French forward Joffrey Lauvergne, and Latvian swingman Janis Timma.
I'll post a no-doubt hapless attempt at the Grizzlies' draft preview next week, probably on Tuesday morning.
Fan Open House: The Grizzlies will hold an open house for potential season ticket holders tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at FedExForum. Fans can “test drive” available seats and meet with team ticket reps. There will be free parking in the arena's parking garage and anyone buying tickets will get a tour of the team locker room.
1. Does Monta Make Sense?reportedly opting out of the final year of his current contract, at $11 million, turning down a reported extension offer of two years and $24 million in the process and becoming a free agent this summer. Soon after that report, Bucks beat writer Gery Woelfel suggested on Twitter than Ellis has told friends he would be interested in playing for the Grizzlies.
What to make of this? On the first item, the odds of Ellis matching the three years and $35 million he allegedly left on the table in Milwaukee seem slim, but maybe he just wants to be out of Milwaukee that badly. The odds of Ellis getting a similar contract from the Grizzlies is close to zero, but the idea that he would target the Grizzlies is not surprising. Ellis is a Mississippi native who makes his off-season home in Memphis. Coming to Memphis would also likely land him in a winning situation with a team that needs more scoring and shot creation.
Still, there are plenty of hurdles and questions standing in the way of this theoretical partnership.
Is it financially feasible?:
I'll break down the Grizzlies' cap situation in more detail in a couple of weeks, but based on published salaries, the Grizzlies projected roster payroll for next season is currently at $57,567,539 for eight players (Conley, Gasol, Randolph, Prince, Pondexter, Davis, Arthur, Wroten). Add cap holds and draft picks and the Grizzlies will enter the free agency period above the projected salary cap line of $58.5 million but below the projected luxury tax line of $71.5 million. This will give the team access to the full mid-level exception, which starts at $5.15 million, which would be the most the Grizzlies could offer any outside free agent this summer in terms of starting salary.
However, that's not the only method via which the Grizzlies could acquire Ellis or a player of similar stature. The team also has a trade exception of nearly $7.5 million from the Rudy Gay deal. But the financial issues at play here go beyond merely the rules that govern player acquisition.
We're two weeks away from the first draft for the Grizzlies' new regime, even if they only have a trio of second-round picks with which to work. And while Hollinger's “draft rater” process certainly won't be the sole determinant of what the team does, it will have a big role in the team's draft-night decisions.
Unique among NBA decision-makers, Hollinger's past pre-draft thoughts are public record. Here are the links for Hollinger's year-by-year draft rater findings, though you might need an ESPN Insider account to read them in full:
Perhaps Hollinger's past assessments can provide a clue to what kind of picks the team will make going forward. And I might attempt to play that game in another draft preview post over the next couple of weeks.
But first, I thought it would be interesting to retroactively apply Hollinger's published draft rater pieces to past Grizzlies drafts. How might these drafts have been different if Hollinger had been making the picks?
First, a few caveats:
*Hollinger's draft rater only runs projections for players with college experience and thus doesn't factor in players making the jump straight from high school (relevant to the earlier drafts) or international players.
*Hollinger only published a full, subjective draft board — adding international players and accounting for factors the draft rater can't measure — for 2011 and 2012. In prior years, only raw draft rater rankings were presented. So it's more of a stretch to say “this is who Hollinger would have picked” in those years, but going strictly by draft-rater rankings still gives a pretty good indication. And better that than trying to predict subjective adjustments. (With one exception.)
*The first draft rater was published in 2007, though Hollinger did a retroactive look at the system's projections for the years 2002-2006 focusing only on lottery-level picks, updating 2007 and 2008 projections with new system tweaks in the process. So there generally isn't enough information to assign second-round picks for earlier years.
All that said, here is how the draft rater suggests Hollinger would have picked for each Grizzlies' draft since 2002, with explanatory notes:
Levien first spoke with team play-by-play man Eric Hasseltine on 92.9/730 ESPN Radio. He followed with team sideline reporter Rob Fischer and Fischer's co-host Brett Norsworthy on Sports 56 WHBQ. You can listen to the interviews yourself, but if you don't want to wade through the boilerplate, here's the money quote, taken from the Hasseltine interview but repeated in close to the same language on Sports 56:
“We want to have the kind of organization where we get people in a room who are prepared, who have opinions, who are going to disagree about what we should do and what the personnel moves should be. I want that disagreement. We want to really dig in and get messy when we're in that room talking about what the decision and direction should be. And then once we come to a decision, whatever that personnel decision is, we want to walk out of the room arm-in-arm, locked together in how we're going to proceed. And we're going to face the public that way together. And we're going to go out and face our adversaries that way together. We believe that getting the right head coach in here, working with our personnel folks. Working with our organization, we're going to have great success.”
Additionally, on Hasseltine, Levien shot down the notion that the coaching decision was driven by financial considerations and said a final decision on a new coach would come “sooner rather than later.”
On “Fish & Stats,” Levien said he had not made a decision on Hollins at the time the season ended and that it was possible for events in the interim to change his decision. Levien said that he did not underestimate the amount of criticism the decision would bring and referred to “the public record” of critical comments from Hollins as a factor in the decision.
This shouldn't be that surprising: Lionel Hollins' fate as Grizzlies coach was always dependent on the resolution of conflicting normalcies: “Don't mess with success” vs. “New owners hire new people.” When Hollins bristled publicly about the Grizzlies' new front office on multiple occasions mid-season, the odds tipped in the favor of change but that didn't seal his fate. Instead, closing interviews — not just with Hollins but with others around the organization — seemed to convince team CEO Jason Levien to make the change he probably always desired.
There are many factors at play in this unpopular decision, but it's ultimately about an apparently unbridgeable cultural divide: Hollins is of the “you provide the players, I'll coach them” mold. Levien and controlling owner Robert Pera want to forge a more collaborative organizational culture, one where everyone is working on the same track and the coaching staff doesn't just receive players from the team's front office, but also actionable information. Even as Hollins publicly dismissed talk about “philosophical differences,” those very differences were on display.
Film references are instructive (at least for me): Via Japanese master Akira Kurosawa there's the Rashomon effect, in which truth is difficult to uncover because people tend to give contradictory interpretations of the same event. Hollins, by his account, thought his exit meeting with Levien and Pera went really well. Levien and Pera apparently thought otherwise. Via French titan Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game is the wisdom of “The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.” It's equally easy to see — at least to me — why Hollins would assume he'd earned a new deal and also why Levien would be reluctant to commit a long-term contract to a coach with whom he didn't think he could have a productive working relationship. Blame feels irrelevant.
“Risk” and “mistake” are different things: “Don't mess with success” is pretty persuasive if you ask me, but to call this a mistake is to assume a future, and I don't put that much stock in the importance of Hollins or any individual coach. But it's certainly a risk. There are obviously coaches out there who can work better with his bosses. There are also a smaller number who can be as or more successful on the floor. There's a smaller group still who can do both. And there's no guarantee this or any front office can successfully choose that person no matter how good a hire seems at the time. Past Grizzlies history is instructive here.
But, to his credit, Levien showed a confidence and willingness to make unpopular decisions with the Rudy Gay trade, though the team was on firmer ground there, even if a lot of traditionalists didn't know it (and still don't). The risk is greater this time.
A few quick observations as we continue to fly through the turbulence:
*As of yesterday, Lionel Hollins was waiting to be contacted by Jason Levien for a renewal of talks between the two about Hollins' future with the Grizzlies and, from Hollins' perspective, some clarity about the “philosophical differences” that reportedly separate the two. My feeling only, but if the Grizzlies are already reaching out to Karl while Hollins awaits a follow-up discussion, then I can't imagine Hollins is back at this point.
*I'm not sure where the idea of the Grizzlies and Hollins agreeing on a two-year deal now is coming from, but it's been communicated to me, on more than one occasion now, that Hollins would not be interested in that.
*Karl is a major coaching figure who has had made the playoffs with five different franchises and has made the conference finals or better with the last three teams he's lead (Sonics, Bucks, Nuggets). On the other hand, Karl has gotten out of the first round only once in his past 11 seasons as a head coach.
*Stylistically, is Karl a good fit in Memphis? His tendency is toward deep rotations and an uptempo pace and, as presently constituted, the Grizzlies' roster is not well-equipped for that.
*Check out the Twitter feed for NBA writer Chris Tomasson, who was once based in Denver. He outlines some of the complaints about Karl in Denver, which sound very similar to some of the complaints about Hollins here.
*It was suggested to me a while back that if Hollins were to take a job with another team and the Grizzlies did not hire current lead assistant Dave Joerger, that Joerger would likely follow Hollins to his new job. Does the messiness of the past few days change that?
*The Commercial Appeal this morning adds a new name to the mix for the Grizzlies, in addition to Hollins, Joerger, and Karl: Recently let go Suns coach Alvin Gentry. Hiring Gentry would make him the second “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns assistant to helm the Grizzlies (after Marc Iavaroni).
*Is this good or bad for Hollins? If you assume, as I now do, that Hollins was unlikely to return to Memphis regardless, this works two ways: Karl is now considered a candidate for the Clippers job, giving Hollins more competition there. On the other hand, it opens up another job, and a good one. And it's already being reported that the Nuggets will reach out to Hollins. ESPN's Marc Stein has suggested that a coach swap between the Nuggets and Grizzlies is now possible.
More as it comes.
A few hours after I posted my initial reaction to the Grizzlies' granting Lionel Hollins permission to negotiate with other teams, Hollins himself took to local airwaves for a dramatic interview that bordered on public plea. In the two days since, I've been busy working on non-Griz writing and editing but have been keeping up with the reaction — on Twitter, on comment threads, on local sports-talk radio. A few freewheeling thoughts on Hollins' public statement and the talk it's generated over the past couple of days:
The Pain of Making it Personal and the Difficulty of Blame: I have no personal investment in whether Lionel Hollins returns as Memphis Grizzlies' head coach. There are certainly those in the local media much closer to him than I am, but I think I get along with him fine. I've never cared much about his media-relations skills or perceived lack thereof. I think Hollins has strengths and weaknesses, like all coaches, but also think the scale tips more toward “strengths” for Hollins than for most. I've been pretty consistent in saying that I think the potential pitfalls of bringing Hollins back are less profound than the risks of letting him go. But a coaching change is unlikely to alter my projection for next season — at the moment, a slight step back from this past year's regular and post-season achievements — and I do think this decision is about the future, not about the past; about what's best for the Grizzlies not only next season but over the next several seasons. And, as I've written at length, I think that's a more complicated situation than simply “Lionel Hollins has done a great job; he deserves to be back.”
But, listening to Hollins' raw, candid interview with Peter Edmiston on Sports 56 Monday morning, I was most struck not by his blown-out-of-proportion comments about assistant Dave Joerger or even his passing mention of me, but by the personal aspect of it. When Hollins talks about his personal commitment to Memphis and about his now-deep family connections to the city, that's real. And on those grounds in particular it would be painful — for Hollins most of all, but for the city and its fans too — for his tenure here to end, a tenure, by the way, that is more profound over multiple assignments than perhaps any figure in franchise history. But it will be similarly bitter in the very possible event that Zach Randolph — who has said Memphis is now his home, regardless — wears a different uniform before he retires. Change happens.
Most stories cite sources as saying “major philosophical differences” were the reason talks stalled even before the sides could negotiate potential contract terms. It's hard to be too surprised by this. In citing a series of questions and concerns that might prevent Hollins from returning to the Grizzlies' sideline next season, I led with “implementing organizational philosophy” when working through The Coaching Question back in April. Revisiting the issue in May, I wrote this:
Given the on-going success of this postseason and the team's player-contract situation, bringing the current core back next season now looks likely, and bringing Hollins back to coach it preferable. But this core has a two-year expiration date. So, is Hollins the right coach to preside over the transition to a new roster and potentially new style, the territory a new contract would take him into?
When that becomes part of the question, then issues about Hollins' commitment to and ability to implement a new organizational philosophy, as well as his development of young assets begin to loom larger.
A second issue with a new long-term contract for Hollins — and one I'd prefer not to get too far into right now because if feels unnecessarily trouble-making, but here we are — is the opportunity cost in likely losing lead assistant Dave Joerger to a head-coaching opportunity elsewhere. Joerger has been, in large part — let's not deny Hollins his due credit here as well — the architect of what may be the league's best defense and has a compelling head-coaching pedigree at the minor-league level. There are many who believe he could be the next Tom Thibodeau or Erik Spoelstra. While Hollins may be the best coach for the present, does a long-term deal close off the possibility of Joerger in the future?
Though sources close to the talks have apparently stressed that a deal could still be reached, those two issues — Hollins' potential incompatibility with the organizational philosophy and the long-term considerations that have to come into play when considering a likely four-year commitment — are the ones that now seem to be driving Hollins and the team apart. In both of those earlier posts, I concluded that losing Hollins would be very risky and that I felt the team was likely to try to bring him back. My opinion hasn't changed on the former, but on the latter the tea leaves were pointing in the other direction last week, which Chris Vernon and I talked about on his show on Thursday.
A few thoughts on where we are now: