Saturday, June 30, 2012

Free Agency Preview: Speculating on the Final Griz Roster Spots

Posted By on Sat, Jun 30, 2012 at 4:17 PM

With the draft over, the next step in the NBA offseason is the free-agent negotiation period, which begins tomorrow.

With 10 players — and four big contracts — already on the books, the Grizzlies don't have many roster spots to fill or much money left to fill them with.

Here's an estimate on where the team stands heading into free agency:

Zach Randolph $16,500,000
Rudy Gay $16,460,532
Marc Gasol $13,891,359
Mike Conley $7,180,000
Tony Allen $3,300,000
Dante Cunningham $2,090,000
Quincy Pondexter $1,234,320
Tony Wroten $1,200,000*
Jeremy Pargo $1,000,000
Josh Selby $762,195

Total: $63,618,406
Projected Tax Line: $70,307,000
Room Under Tax: $6,688,594

Qualifying Offers:

Marreese Speights $3,823,362
Darrell Arthur $3,006,216

*Not only is this salary figure on Wroten an estimate, it also hasn't been signed yet. The Wroten deal might be done soon, but given how close the team is to the tax line when including those qualifying offers, it seems like there would be a chance Wroten's deal might be delayed until the team goes through free agency.

It's possible the team could trade or even buy out Pargo to open up a roster spot, but the later would keep his salary on the books and would actually add to an already tight financial crunch by opening up a roster spot without opening up extra money.

If you assume the Grizzlies will try to keep 14 players and factor in Chris Wallace's suggestion that the team will pursue a shooter and a veteran point guard in free agency, then it seems likely that the four additional players might include two frontcourt players, a point guard, and a wing shooter.

Crucial to factor in: Based on discussions I had with team officials after the draft, the impression I got is that the team will be open to the prospect of exceeding the luxury tax to begin the season, and therefore will consider using their mid-level exception to pursue a shooter and/or point guard. [And since I wrote this, but just before I was set to post, Michael Heisley has now gone on the record to confirm the team's willingness to use exceptions and exceed the tax.]

A couple of notes here: Taxpayer calculations are made at the end of the season. Last year, the Grizzlies were over the tax line for a portion of the season but were able to dip under the line at the end by trading Sam Young to Philadelphia without taking back salary in return. The Grizzlies feel like as long as they don't exceed the tax line by too much they will have the ability to make deals later to get back under the tax if need be. My guess is that three factors will drive this: Whether the team believes, post-All-Star-break, that it's a real contender. Whether there are players — like Young — the team feels it can move but doesn't really need. What the attitude toward the tax is from potential new ownership. It's easier for Heisley to change his previously stated position on exceeding the luxury tax when he doesn't plan on being in the owner's seat when the bill comes due.

As far as the mid-level exception, the Grizzlies are so close to the tax line right now that it isn't clear whether the team will have access to the full mid-level exception ($5 million) or the taxpayer mid-level ($3.1 million). Reporting has suggested the Grizzlies have the full mid-level, but this is a bit of a moving target. What mid-level you can use is based not on what a team's financial situation is before the exception is used but on where a team would be after using an exception. And this status might shift depending on what happens in regard to restricted free agents Arthur and Speights. Both of these mid-level exceptions can be split among multiple players.

With all this in mind, let's speculate on how the roster could be completed:

My expectation is that the Grizzlies will sign two players who play power forward and/or center and it's highly likely that those two players come from the group of three on last year's squad — Arthur, Speights, and unrestricted free agent Hamed Haddadi.

It's possible, especially if the team can agree to a deal with at least one of them that has a beginning salary lower than the qualifying offer, that both Arthur and Speights could be retained. But I think that's a longshot. The most likely scenario here is that the Grizzlies would agree to a multi-year deal with either Arthur or Speights to be the team's primary frontcourt reserve and then let the other walk. Of the two, I think Arthur is the preference, but much of this could be driven by what kind of outside offers Arthur or Speights generate.

With one of this pair under contract, my guess is that the Grizzlies would then sign a back-up center to a minimum-level deal. This would likely be Haddadi, but could be someone else. Free agent Michael Dunigan, who will play on the Grizzlies' summer-league team, will get a look.


This seems like a bigger free-agent priority than point guard and also one where there are much better options available in free agency, so if the Grizzlies delve into their mid-level it's likely to be used for a shooter.

Here's what the market looks like:

Unlikely Options:

The Commercial Appeal is reporting that the Grizzlies will offer Ray Allen their full mid-level exception. I will be surprised if the team is actually able to sign Allen, but I approve very much of this move and think there's a good case to be made to Allen both in basketball and financial terms. Still, I would be surprised to see a deal get done with Allen.

Other options that seem either too pricey or too tied to their current team to really envision the Grizzlies landing them: Jason Terry, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Steve Novak, Nick Young, and Courtney Lee (restricted).

Moving on to more realistic targets:

Restricted Free Agents: There are two players here I could see the Grizzlies trying to make a play for, listed in order of my own preference:

Brandon Rush (26 years old, 41% three-point shooter) — The Grizzlies could have gotten Rush from Indiana in an O.J. Mayo deal last summer, but he went to Golden State instead when the Grizzlies decided not to deal Mayo. Rush is a big-time three-point shooter and a decent defender, but doesn't have ball skills. Still, this would be a nice player for the Grizzlies to get and I wonder if he wouldn't be vulnerable. Golden State just drafted Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green to go with holdovers Klay Thompson and Dorrell Wright, so the wing is getting a little crowded.

Rudy Fernandez (27, 36%) — Not as good of a pure shooter as Rush, but a good shooter who is more dynamic offensively. There's also the Spain connection with Gasol, for what that's worth. Don't really see the Grizzlies out-bidding the Nuggets and Fernandez has made noises about returning home, so suitors might have to outbid Real Madrid too.

Unrestricted Free Agents: These are more likely options. Again, in rough order of my own interest:

Randy Foye (28, 37%) — With Mo Williams now gone, the Clippers have to be a threat to retain him, but they have Eric Bledsoe emerging and have to worry about Nick Young in free agency too. Is Foye enough of a combo guard to check both boxes for the Grizzlies? Maybe not, but there's at least a bit of versatility there. [The Commercial Appeal has now identified Foye as a potential target.]

Jodie Meeks (24, 37%) — The Sixers will apparently decline Meeks' option and make him an unrestricted free agent. This also makes him a prime candidate to move.

Marco Belinelli (26, 39%) — A sure-thing shooter — last season's 38% from three was a career low — who seems primed to move since the Hornets now have four guards under contract ahead of him. Doesn't really fit the defensive mindset Lionel Hollins loves.

Gerald Green (26, 37%) — Green returned from the exile in a major way for the Nets last season. A major athlete who I think Chris Wallace likes — Wallace was in Boston when the Celtics drafted Green. I have him this low because he's less proven as a shooter and also, I think, less likely to move.

Mickael Pietrus (30, 36%) — An erratic but viable shooter who can guard multiple spots. I suspect he'll return to Boston.

Leandro Barbosa (29, 39%) — Would be a fun player to have. The Pacers' backcourt could be in some flux and I'm note sure how committed they are to retaining him.

Carlos Defino (29, 36%) — A good not great shooter, but more versatile than some others on the list. I suspect he'll be back in Milwaukee.

Vladamir Radmanovic (31, 38%) — Not the positional fit that the others are given the assumed absence of O.J. Mayo, but he's a very good long-range shooter at 6'10”, which would add a dimension the Grizzlies haven't had in a while. Can probably be had for a reasonable, one-year deal.

Michael Redd (32, 38%) — Shot only 32% from three last season and I worry that he doesn't really have much left after all the injury problems. But maybe worth a shot at the right price, and another guy almost certain to sign a one-year contract.

Shannon Brown (26, 34%) — Might move from Phoenix, but not a reliable enough shooter for the Grizzlies to pay what it would cost to get him.

Super-Cheap Options: If nothing works out with the more established options, the Grizzlies could take a shot on a less-established player at the minimum. Adam Morrison has worked out for he team. Undrafted rookie John Shurna has been a summer target. Somebody like that.


Unlike with the shooters, I don't think there are many particularly good options here. The Commercial Appeal is reporting that the team is interested in Andre Miller, but even at this advanced stage, it seems like Miller could find a bigger role for similar money elsewhere. And if the Grizzlies can only make a significant signing for one of their two perimeter needs, they would be better off focusing on the shooter.

Other options that seem unlikely: Raymond Felton, Aaron Brooks, and even Jordan Farmar.

More Viable Options:

Kirk Hinrich (31, 38%) — Hinrich is not what he was five years ago, but for the right price — one year, $2.5 million? two years, $4 million? — I think he would be a nice addition to the team. He would give Lionel Hollins the veteran had he wants at this position. He's big enough and good enough defensively to play as something of a combo. And he's a good three-point shooter. [The Commercial Appeal has now identified Hinrich as a potential target.]

Patty Mills (23, 38%) — Mills doesn't have much of a track record, but has shown good flashes. He's restricted, though, and probably likely to return to San Antonio.

John Lucas III (29, 34%) — Lucas has bounced around but did good work for the Bulls off the bench last season. Even with Derrick Rose potentially out for most of next season, the Bulls will probably bring back C.J. Watson and just drafted Marquis Teague, so Lucas seems a decent bet to move.

Keyon Dooling (32, 6.9 PER, 35% 3P) — Not really a point guard, but Dooling is vet who can handle the ball, defend, and knock down the occasional three. For a one year near-minimum deal, he could be helpful.

Gilbert Arenas (30, 35%) — Not much talk of bringing Arenas back, but he had a nice little run late in the season before he injured his finger. Arenas' lack of athleticism was exposed by the Clippers in the playoffs, but absent better options, I wouldn't object to bringing him back on a one-year, minimum deal.

Victor Sada — A point guard for FC Barcelona and apparently close to Marc Gasol. I bring him up only because he's actually been linked to the Grizzlies in the Spanish press and because I have reason to believe there may be at least a little bit of fire behind this smoke. I know very little about him, but people I know who keep tabs on international players don't take him very seriously as an NBA prospect.

Others: Jonny Flynn, Earl Boykins, Sundiata Gaines.

Honestly, if the Grizzlies couldn't get one of those first three or four names on the list, I might prefer they try to make due with what they have for now and pursue a signing or trade later if needed.

Conclusion: I would love it if the team were able to pull off the rumored Allen signing, but I think it's a longshot. I think Miller might be even more of one. A more likely scenario seems to be trying to split the mid-level between a lower-level point guard like Hinrich and a second-tier shooter like Foye, Rush, or Meeks.


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