Sunday, June 30, 2013

Griz Offseason Guide and Free-Agency Primer

Posted By on Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 6:53 AM

Tony Allen: The Grizzlies first order of business when free agency opens.
  • Tony Allen: The Grizzlies' first order of business when free agency opens.
With the rookie draft in the rearview mirror, the next step in the NBA's offseason begins at 12:01 a.m. on July 1st, when teams are allowed to begin negotiating with free agents. (Deals can be reached in principle at any time after that, but contracts can't be signed until July 10th.)

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 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.

So, with the faint prospect of a Randolph deal tabled, here's how the Grizzlies roster and payroll currently stands:

Zach Randolph: $17,800,000
Marc Gasol: $14,860,523
Mike Conley: $7,900,000
Tayshaun Prince: $7,235,955
Ed Davis: $3,153,860
Jerryd Bayless: $3,100,000
Kosta Koufos: $3,000,000
Quincy Pondexter: $2,225,478
Tony Wroten Jr.: $1,160,040
Jamaal Franklin: $500,000 (estimated)

10-man total: $60,935,856

The next order of business, then, will be taking action — or not — on the team's own free agents. Here's a quick read on the four in question:

Tony Allen: Every possible indication at this point, from Allen and from the team, is that he'll be back and that a deal will be done in short order. Dave Joerger had dinner with Allen the night before Joerger was officially introduced as the new head coach. Allen spent Sunday afternoon signing autographs at a local furniture store. And team CEO Jason Levien told me and Chris Vernon in a radio interview Friday that he would meet with Allen at the first opportunity when the free-agent clock begins Sunday night. Is it possible this gets more complicated than it seems? Sure. There is, after all, an agent involved. (Or two, I guess.) If Allen's agent waits for outside offers to set a market and someone comes in with a three-or-four-year fully guaranteed offer at the full mid-level exception or above, then that could — no, should — give the Grizzlies pause. The Grizzlies will presumably prefer a two-year deal or a deal with partial guarantees on additional years given Allen's age and knee issues. But we'll assume for now that Allen is back next season at something around a mid-level salary.

Austin Daye: Daye's qualifying offer is $4.1 million. There's no way the Grizzlies extend that, which means Daye will be an unrestricted free agent. Daye's such a defensive liability it was difficult to have him on the floor last season and it makes him a poor fit for the team's current culture. But the Grizzlies need size on the wing and three-point shooting and Daye's a 6'11” small forward who shot 42% from three last season. So I wouldn't rule out a return at a (much) lower price, but the team will pursue other options first.

Jon Leuer: Leuer didn't see much game time last season, but was well-regarded by the coaching staff and is seen by the front office as an asset worth developing. He's got a qualifying offer of just over $1 million. I could see him returning on that or, perhaps more likely, signing a longer-term deal at a similar starting salary. Either way, I think there's a good chance he'll be back.

Keyon Dooling: Dooling is unrestricted and seems unlikely to be back, but he was a locker-room plus and has enough game left to be on someone's roster next season if he chooses. Bringing him back at the veteran's minimum isn't out of the question.

Assuming Allen and Leuer are back next season at a combined $6 million, the Grizzlies roster before factoring in outside free agents will look like this:

PG: Conley/Wroten
SG: Allen/Bayless/Franklin
SF: Prince/Pondexter
PF: Randolph/Davis/Leuer
C: Gasol/Koufos

That would bring the team to 12 players at roughly $67 million.

From an attribute standpoint, the team's biggest need is obviously three-point shooting. From a positional standpoint, given that Bayless will play a lot at the one and Pondexter can play at the two, the biggest need is more size at small forward, where Prince is the only “true” three on the roster. So a small forward with three-point range is likely to be the team's primary free-agent target.

But there's not much money to spend. The Grizzlies will have access to the full mid-level exception of roughly $5.1 million and have a trade exception from the Rudy Gay deal that's roughly $7.5 million. But the luxury tax line is projected at $71.6 million, giving the Grizzlies only about $4.5 million in wiggle room in this scenario. Factor in a likely 14th man at something like a minimum salary and potential contract incentives that could boost payroll more and it gets very tight.

There is the option of at least starting the season above the tax line, with the option of making a deal later on to get back under. Levien hinted at that on Friday as a possibility and it's something the Grizzlies have done in each of the past two seasons (with Bayless and Prince seemingly the most likely down-the-road trade candidates). Putting the full mid-level exception or the team's largest trade exception in play could make some higher-priced shooters — Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer — options for the team. (Brewer's not much of a shooter but his speed and aggression would fit the "attacking" idea Joerger has expressed. Budinger may command full MLE because of his age and upside, but perhaps he could have gone on the list below.)

But, for now, I'm going to assume the team will be targeting shooters at below the mid-level exception. With that in mind …

Mike Dunleavy Jr. -- A good fit if the price is right.
  • Mike Dunleavy Jr. — A good fit if the price is right.

Top Ten Sub-MLE Free Agent Targets:

1. Mike Dunleavy (age 32): My favorite option that is likely to cost below MLE, Dunleavy would still probably take the Grizzlies up to or over the tax line. Dunleavy shot 43% from three-point range last season, brings 6'9” size to the wing, and, like Prince, adds an additional ballhandler. He would be a great fit for this team.

2. Martell Webster (26): A 6'7” small forward who shot 42% from three last season and 38% on his career so far. He's pretty average in other areas and has had lots of injury problems, but his combination of wing size and shooting would be a very good fit. I think there's a good chance the Wizards bring him back, but the draft-day additions of both Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. in Washington would seem to put Webster more in play.

3. Dorrell Wright (27): A career 37% three-point shooter who defends and rebounds well enough at small forward to be more than just a specialist. Made $4 million last year. For a little less than that, I like him as a back-up plan. Not exactly the embodiment of “grit and grind,” but you can't have it all at this level of free agency. My favorite option that's all-but-certain to be in the Grizzlies' below-the-tax price range.

4. Matt Barnes (33): A spotty three-point shooter (career 34%) who has spent most of his time on the West Coast. Coming off a strong season for the Clippers and presumably due a raise over last season's vet minimum. A nice player who would help but not the shooter the Grizzlies need and probably unlikely to move.

5. Chris Copeland (29): Two big issues here: A one-year track record and may not really be able to play on the wing in the manner the Grizzlies' would prefer. Still, the 6'8” Copeland shot 42% from three last season. He's a restricted free agent, but the Knicks could only offer him the mini-mid-level (roughly $3.2 million), so he might move.

6. Francisco Garcia (32): A viable shooter but not a specialist (career 36%) and a little smaller than the small forward the Grizzlies would prefer. Has some versatility as a ballhandler and defender. Not the shooter the Grizzlies need, but a potential rotation-worthy piece at a sub-mid-level price.

7. Omri Casspi (25): A restricted free agent if Cleveland extends a qualifying offer, but probably a good bet to move. He's been a personal fave of mine since I first saw him at the Nike Hoop Summit and he's got some past history with Levien from their Sacramento days. Casspi shot 37% in both his first two seasons with the Kings. In Cleveland the past two years, his three-point shot (32% and 33%) and playing time have both declined. Is this decline reversible? Would a change of scenery help? Casspi is a gamble as a floor-stretcher, but he brings good size (6'9”) and energy to the position and could be a good “second draft” candidate to buy low on.

8. Toney Douglas (27): Not what the Grizzlies are looking for positionally, but at this point on the list the options are pretty slim and I like Douglas — a 6'2” combo guard — as a cheap, undervalued free agent. A career 36% three-point shooter (38% last season) and decent backcourt defender who could complement a developing Wroten. A useful player to have at the end of your bench.

9. Anthony Morrow (27): A career 42% three-point shooter but regressed into a spot-minutes role last season. Severely limited in that he doesn't do anything well except shoot, but could be an interesting cheaper, back-up plan to add shooting to the roster for something just north of the vet minimum.

10. Mystery Candidates and Potential Returnees: Okay, so I didn't have a tenth pure free agent I think much of. There's some belief that John Salmons (career 36% three-point shooter) might be amnestied in Sacramento, which could make him an option. Hedo Turkoglu (38% career from three) has a partially guaranteed deal in Orlando and is likely to be bought out. Carlos Delfino (career 37% from three) is injured right now and may or may not be ready for the start of the season. But maybe that will just depress his price tag after the Rockets declined his team option and made him a free agent. I don't see any good under-contract candidates for the Grizzlies to pursue with a trade exception, but something could pop up. And, if all else fails, there's the prospect of Daye or Donte Greene, who has a non-guaranteed deal with the team.


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