Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Deflections: Calathes, Miller, Summer League React

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2013 at 3:57 PM

Coming at you live from Narragansett, Rhode Island:

The latest Grizzlies acquisition: Nick Calathes
  • The latest Grizzlies acquisition: Nick Calathes
The Calathes Deal: I promise Grizzlies transactions when I go on vacation and I don't disappoint. Yesterday, the Grizzlies formalized a deal with the Dallas Mavericks (first reported by ESPN.com's Marc Stein) to acquire the rights to point guard Nick Calathes, currently with Lokomotiv Kuban of the Russian League. To obtain the rights to Calathes, the Grizzlies removed protections on a 2016 second-round pick already owed to Dallas.

Calathes had a terrific career at the University of Florida and was a highly regarded draft prospect (particularly by then ESPN.com analyist John Hollinger, as I mentioned here a few weeks ago), but ended up falling to the Mavericks in the second round after agreeing to a contract with a Greek team prior to the draft. After four successful years overseas, Calathes seems ready to jump over to the NBA, and when the Mavericks drafted Shane Larkin and then agreed to free-agent deals with veteran Jose Calderon and Israeli rookie Gal Mekel, it was clear Calathes' rights were obtainable.

There's some thought that this deal was made in reaction to the poor play of Tony Wroten Jr. in Las Vegas Summer League [more on that to come], but my sense is that this was considered a good value play by the Grizzlies and would have been pursued regardless. The two pressing questions: What are Calathes' NBA prospects and how likely is he to join the Grizzlies this season?

On the former, Calathes is roughly similar to former Grizzlies' point guard Greivis Vasquez: He's 6'5”/6'6” with advanced playmaking skills but is a spotty shooter with middling athleticism. The shooting — a solid three-point shooter at Florida, Calathes' percentages from both long-range and the free-throw line declined mysteriously over time — is a concern. But Calathes is coming off an MVP performance in the 2012-2013 EuroCup tournament and the Grizzlies think there's a good chance he can step over and be a quality back-up point guard.

But when will that be? Calathes has one more year on his current contract, but the buyout has been termed “reasonable” by team officials — somewhere in the $500,000 range, I believe, which the team would be able to pay. Beyond that, there would be the question of reaching a deal with Calathes, since he wouldn't be subject to the rookie scale. With Mekel signing for something like the minimum in Dallas and Calathes apparently desiring a return to the U.S. this fall, the thought is that the Grizzlies could reach an amenable deal if they chose. Is that what they want? The best read is that Calathes' Grizzlies future will be on hold pending the exploration of some other free agent options [more on that in a minute] as the Grizzlies work on completing their roster with three open spots, just a few million left under the tax line, and a narrowing field of options.

Internal estimates put the chances of having Calathes on next season's roster at 50%-60%. And if he's not, he's a sure thing to come over in 2014-2015. Look for some resolution on this question by mid-August.

Summer League Roundup: I only had a chance to watch the first two Grizzlies' summer league games. And it didn't really get much better after that. What matters for the Grizzlies is the performance of Tony Wroten, since the team's two other roster players (Jamaal Franklin and Jon Leuer) were inactive with ankle injuries. Wroten's stat line was terrible but those on the scene were able to see some glimmers of hope: Improved defense and an ability to draw fouls chief among them. Another caveat would be that Wroten's best skill is his passing and on this team he didn't have many options. It will be more fruitful to see him in preseason, playing a secondary role alongside real NBA scoring threats. But the biggest concern from Wroten's summer performance, after his terrible shooting, was the sense that he actually performed better off the ball, a problem considering that Wroten is a good passer and bad shooter. If Wroten's future ends up being on the wing rather than at the point, that both lowers his ceiling and complicates his future with the Grizzlies, considering the team's offseason has featured the drafting (Franklin) and re-signing (Tony Allen) of non-shooting wings.

Beyond Wroten, the only summer performer of real note (Marquette's Vander Blue might get a look) was pick-and-pop big Jack Cooley, who performed so well he might get a contract offer from a team, not just a training camp invite. The Grizzlies like Cooley quite a bit, but given the more glaring needs (shooting, ballhandling) to be filled with few roster spots and limited money to spend, adding a sixth big to the roster seems unlikely.

Waiting on Mike: I was thinking Mike Miller might make a decision before I got around to writing today, but the Grizzlies, Thunder, Rockets, and Nuggets are still waiting. The Grizzlies were apparently the last to meet with Miller, who met with head coach Dave Joerger last night in South Dakota and again today after spending yesterday in Oklahoma City. Sources close to the Grizzlies expect Miller to choose either Memphis or OKC and consider it a 50/50 call. Those teams are — as I see it — close enough and their need for a wing shooter of Miller's ilk glaring enough that Miller's choice could tip the scales in that particular two-team race.

With a Miller decision expected no later than tomorrow, we're about to know a lot about the Grizzlies' off-season end-game. If Miller choses the Thunder, look for the Grizzlies to re-route their interest from wing shooters to point guard options in free agency. I'm not sure which names they would target, but there are still some interesting backcourt names remaining on the board, among them Gary Neal, Mo Williams, and Beno Udrih.

Recommended Reading (and Watching): Beyond the Arc favorite Kevin Arnovitz did a couple of True Hoop TV interviews with Grizzlies' figures in Las Vegas, talking to John Hollinger and Dave Joerger. There's not a lot of Grizzlies commentary — understandably — in this post-free-agency breakdown from Grantland's Zach Lowe, but for an overview of where the league stands right now, it's a great read. I haven't had a chance to dive into this Paul Flannery piece on coaching and analytics yet, but I've bookmarked it as a must-read.

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