Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Deflections: Summer League, Free Agency Inaction, Ed Davis Tweetin'

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Summer League Rosters: Yesterday, the Grizzlies announced their full roster for the upcoming Las Vegas Summer League. The only significant unreported name is the newly re-signed Jon Leuer, who begins his quest for a more regular rotation spot here. Joining Leuer among the regular-roster participants are rising sophomore Tony Wroten Jr., rookies Jamaal Franklin and Janis Timma, and non-guaranteed forwards Donte Greene and Willie Reed.

Non-roster hopefuls are: Vander Blue, Laurence Bowers, Jack Cooley, Darington Hobson, Matt Howard, and Gerald Robinson.

I'll be surprised if any of the non-roster guys end up figuring in the Grizzlies' plans, but the three definite (Wroten, Franklin, Leuer) and three potential (Timma, Greene, Reed) roster players should make this a particularly interesting and worthwhile summer league.

Play opens this weekend with games at 7 p.m. (central) both Saturday (vs. Chicago) and Sunday (vs. Cleveland), both televised live on NBATV. Look for notes and observations from those first two games here on Monday.

Coaching Changes: Incumbent assistant Bob Thornton will lead the summer roster, with fellow incumbent assistant Lloyd Pierce also on the bench. It's unclear at this point who else will be joining Thornton and Pierce on new head coach Dave Joerger's regular-season staff. But take note of one new face on the summer-league coaching roster: Duane Ticknor, a minor-league veteran who was recently a head coach for the D League Dakota Wizards and someone who has a close relationship with Joerger. I was told a while back that Ticknor would likely be added to Joerger's staff and this looks like a step in that direction.

Free Agency Update: What to make of the Grizzlies in-action this deep into the free agency period? Among players who seemed to fit the Grizzlies roster goals and price range, there are a few who went for deals I would have liked the Grizzlies to ink: Mike Dunleavy for two years and $6 million to Chicago. Dorrell Wright for the same price to Portland. Even Omri Casspi for the league minimum to Houston. (He's been bad the last couple of years, but I'm a fan.) Others I don't mind the team missing out on: Two guaranteed years for Carlos Delfino (to Milwaukee) coming off an injury. Two years and $3.5 million for unproven Italian forward Gigi Datome (to Detroit). But somewhere in all of this there should be a match for what the Grizzlies have to spend, right?

The Grizzlies' front office has been pretty mum on their free-agent activity, so it's hard to know exactly what's happened so far. But a few things we can add to the mix for context:

1. The Grizzlies seem to have a few million to spend under the tax line, but that room gets pretty tight when you factor in not one but three potential roster spots to fill (if the team wanted to go to 15 players, which they presumably would eventually) and incentive clauses in preexisting contracts that might come into play.

2. It's not just about this season's tax line. Most of these players are getting multiple-year deals and I suspect the Grizzlies are reluctant to give multiple years for back-of-the-rotation free agents. With Jerryd Bayless as the only expiring contract on the current roster, the Grizzlies are currently projected at more than $67 million in player payroll for 2014-2015 for 11 players. And that's using qualifying offer amounts for both Ed Davis and Quincy Pondexter, who would both be restricted free agents. Factor in potential new contracts for either or both that might begin north of their qualifying offers, throw in the salary for a first-round draft pick, and include at least one other signing to get to the league-minimum 13 players, and the team could be above the luxury tax already even if it bumps up a few million, as expected. Adding a guaranteed two or three million for a veteran role player and it gets even trickier. So, the team's free agent decisions this summer aren't just about the impact on 2013-2014.

3. Are the Grizzlies losing out to other teams while making commensurate offers? Can't say for sure, but that wouldn't be surprising. Even in success, Memphis is not a sought-after free-agent destination. The team also returns a full rotation (with Kosta Koufos replacing Darrell Arthur) from a 56-win team, with three developmental pieces (Wroten, Franklin, Leuer) for whom the team has legitimate hopes. The Grizzlies need shooting, no doubt, but even with that, lower-level free agents may not see a clear path for major minutes here.

Put it all together and my hunch is the team has been bargain-hunting — maybe too trigger-shy — with a reluctance to give multiple years. The team's focus has been on a small forward who can combine both decent size with decent shooting (see the reported interest in Wright and Datome), but the options for players who fit that profile have dwindled into replacement-level territory and I don't have it in me to troll so deeply into late-period free agency waters that I'm breaking down the relative merits of “second draft” candidates (Luke Babbitt? Wesley Johnson? The return of Austin Daye? [which I would be fine with at this point, btw]) or nearing-the-end vets (Hedo Turkoglu? Vlad Radmanovic? Potential amnesty candidate John Salmons?).

There are only two available players, at this point, that the Grizzlies have a reported connection with. One is Greg Oden, who most seem to think will end up in Miami. The other is Australian forward Joe Ingles, who most recently played for FC Barcelona. Ingles was rumored as a person of interest for the Grizzlies when they were free-agent shopping mid-season and has popped up again.

At this point, bargain-hunting might really be the way to go. Will someone of significance — never mind position or need — slip through the cracks and be willing take a one-year deal in the $2 million range? Someone the team could count as an asset to either be used in trade or make other roster parts more expendable in a trade?

Barring that, it might be best to take a flyer on a minimum player or two for the final roster spots and preserve a little bit of maneuverability below the tax line to make in-season trades easier. At this point, the Grizzlies are more likely to be able to address their need for shooting in the trade market than the free agent market.

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Ed Davis, Tweetin': Local NBA Twitter got a nice break from the free-agent trickle and summer-league announcement yesterday in the form of a rare player-on-writer tete-a-tete, when Ed Davis took exception to Ron Tillery's observation about Davis' name not appearing on the team's summer roster. I won't give a play-by-play, though you can see that here. I also never wrote about the initial Davis/summer league non-issue (short version: Lionel Hollins asked Davis to go to summer league; Davis declined).

My take on it now: There wouldn't be any downside to Davis playing summer league ball if he chose to, but there wouldn't be much upside either. And there's no reason whatsoever to expect him to or to find his absence notable. Fourth-year players under contract and with established NBA credentials almost never play in these games. The O.J. Mayo example is a stretch: Mayo went in an attempt to make a positional change his coach was (for good reason) reluctant to allow, not to simply “get better.” We focus on summer-league play because it's televised and visible, but the real work that matters for players at Davis' level is what they're doing — or, in some cases, not doing — in emptier gyms with less attention. And my understanding is that Davis has been on an organized, supervised summer regimen far more meaningful than a few summer games with rookies and non-roster free agents.

Davis' Twitter retorts were good fun, but also put him in even more of a “show and prove” spot for next year. But that's probably good too. Things may have gone south between Davis and Lionel Hollins from the jump after Davis landed in Memphis mid-season. But that excuse is now gone. It's on Davis to re-assert himself and get his career back on the track he seemed to be on in Toronto, where he had emerged as a high-quality rotation player before being deemed too small by Hollins. Davis will now have every opportunity to re-introduce himself to the league.

Fancy Forum Foods: If you're not already following new Grizzlies head of business ops Jason Wexler on Twitter, you might want to check his feed for a sneak peak at some new menu items that might be available at FedExForum next season.

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