Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Deflections: Monta Ellis, A Coaching Theory, Finals Ratings

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 11:42 AM

1. Does Monta Make Sense?

Monta Ellis
  • Monta Ellis
I wasn't going to get into free agency and other off-season speculation until after next week's draft, but here's one that landed in our lap: Milwaukee Bucks guard Monta Ellis is 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.

Take that $57.5 million base line and add to it a estimated $5 million for re-signing Tony Allen and $1 million for re-signing Jon Leuer and that brings the team's payroll to roughly $63.5 million for 10 players. (Note: For this exercise, I'm assuming that Jerryd Bayless declines his $2.9 million option and walks. If not, the Grizzlies wouldn't have the money or open position to entertain Ellis anyway.) Let's assume at least one of the team's second-round picks ends up on the roster, budgeting a minimum $500,000. So that's more than $64 million for 11 players. You have to keep a minimum of 13 on the roster, so even assuming the 12th player is at the league veteran's minimum or even another second-round pick, using that full trade exception to acquire a player would bring into luxury tax territory. Even the full mid-level exception is going to be tight in this scenario.

Obviously, other factors could shift all of this around. If the team did not re-sign Allen, that would open up a big chunk of money to play with. The Grizzlies could make trades to free up more room. They could also acquire Ellis in a player-for-player deal, and it's easy to come up with Milwaukee scenarios involving Ellis or other players if you want to spend some time on the Trade Machine. (Most significant hypothetical deals, though, would involved Zach Randolph.)

What is Ellis worth?:

If it would be difficult for the Grizzlies to pay Ellis the kind of salary to which he's been accustomed, that's fine. Because if Ellis wants to be a contributor to a winning situation, his salary and role next season are almost certain to both see a correction,

Ellis is a significant scorer. His 19.2 points per game would have led the Grizzlies last season and it was only the fifth-highest average of Ellis' eight-year career. But all of this scoring has come at a cost, or at least without the benefits one might assume. Ellis has played in a total of 15 playoff games in eight seasons and has registered a negative plus/minus in each of his past five seasons. His Golden State teams were notoriously better when he was on the bench.

Ellis is a high-usage, low-percentage, ball-dominant scorer and shaky defender. Sound familiar? Like the recently departed Rudy Gay, Ellis is a good player who has never been quite as valuable as his surface stats indicate. For the Grizzlies, specifically, Ellis would not address the team's dire need for more outside shooting: Ellis shot 29% from three last season and is a 32% three-point shooter on his career. Ellis relies heavily on mid-range jumpers, where he consistently shoots in the mid-30s. He's not exactly the poster child for “smart” offense, and thus doesn't seem like the kind of player the team's new front office would be targeting.

That said, there's a case to be made for Ellis. He's only 27 years old and his dynamic, high-usage scoring could be valuable in the right role, which would be as a sixth man. Think of him, somewhat, as a better version of incumbent sixth man/third guard Jerryd Bayless. Ellis has also become a more willing and effective passer over the past couple of seasons, which makes him a more functional combo guard rather than merely an undersized two.

If Ellis were willing to accept that kind of sixth-man role — and a commensurate salary — then that's something worth looking at. But the hurdles are many and the team's desire for better three-point shooting might send them elsewhere regardless.

2. A Coaching Theory

Alvin Gentry
  • Alvin Gentry
The Grizzlies' coaching process continues to move at a deliberate pace. Reports indicate that the Grizzlies interviewed George Karl yesterday and are interviewing current assistant Dave Joerger today. But in addition to that come reports that the Grizzlies are also giving a second interview to Bulls assistant Ed Pinckney today and are bringing former Suns and Clippers head coach Alvin Gentry in for a second interview tomorrow.

I've been telling people lately that I'd guess the Grizzlies' coaching outcome at 75% Joerger to 25% Karl, but what to make of Pinckney and Gentry?

Yesterday on The Chris Vernon Show,'s Kevin Arnovitz floated an idea I had been batting around for a while but had been reluctant to voice: What if the Pinckney interview is as much an assistant coach interview as a head coach interview? This has always made the most sense to me. It just isn't viable for the Grizzlies to hire an outside assistant for the top job after letting Lionel Hollins walk. It seems inevitable that the next coach would either be a promoted Joerger or an outside veteran hand like Karl or Gentry. The idea that the Grizzlies might be vetting Pinckney — and this is just guesswork on my part — for a potential assistant role, particularly on a Joerger staff, seems to make a lot of sense.

But here's where my crackpot theory — and it's purely my own, not rooted in any inside info — comes in: What about Gentry? Gentry is absolutely a viable head coaching candidate, but, unlike Karl, is also quite likely to be on someone's bench as an assistant if he doesn't get a head job, much like Maurice Cheeks was an assistant in Oklahoma City in-between head gigs, leaving his summer to take the top job in Detroit. Gentry himself was an assistant in Phoenix after losing the head job in Los Angeles and before getting the head job with the Suns and has had other assistant jobs between other head-coaching stints in his career.

Wouldn't Gentry be an ideal lead assistant for a Joerger staff? A veteran right-hand with previous head-coaching experience? A well-regarded offensive mind and top-notch communicator? Add in Pinckney, schooled in Tom Thibodeau's defensive system in Chicago, and you have the makings of a terrific staff. If the Grizzlies wanted to hire Joerger as their head man, wouldn't introducing Gentry and Pinckney as assistants be a terrific way to roll that out? Could second interviews for each be about gauging that possibility? I'm only spit-balling here, but I wonder if that kind of scenario could be in play. It certainly makes sense.

3. Memphis Loves the NBA

As reported this morning by Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, the top-rated market for last night's classic NBA Finals game outside of the Miami or San Antonio area: Memphis. Only San Antonio, Miami, Austin, and West Palm Beach, Florida, notched higher television ratings for the game.

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