Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Roster Rundown: Unrestricted Free Agents

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 10:27 AM

James Johnson is one of the guys who can sign anywhere after this season. Will he be back?
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • James Johnson is one of the guys who can sign anywhere after this season. Will he be back?

Now that the season's over and we've all had a little bit of time to cool off, let's take a look at the Grizzlies' roster from the 2013-14 season with an eye toward who's going to be here next season. There are all kinds of question marks surrounding the players on the team—from player options to restricted free agents to unguaranteed final years—and those questions will be answered sooner rather than later as the Griz front office makes the changes they feel they need to make.

We'll start with the unrestricted free agents (and see Larry Coon's world-famous NBA CBA FAQ page if you really want to understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of NBA free agency). These are the guys who don't have a contract for next year, and can sign with any team they want to: Mike Miller, Beno Udrih, and James Johnson.

Mike Miller

Ah, Mike Miller, ah, humanity!

Seriously, though, Miller gave the Grizzlies some much-needed outside shooting, even if ultimately it wasn't enough. Earlier in the season, when Courtney Lee was shooting 5 percentage points above his career average, Lee and Miller made the Grizzlies one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league (when was the last time you heard that?) spreading the floor out so the big men could go to work, while serving as reliable escape valves for when the low-post action broke down.

Miller played for the Grizzlies for the veteran's minimum, since Miami (who amnestied Miller last summer) is still on the hook for his whole salary for 2013-14 and 2014-15—any deal that brings him back to the Griz will have to be for the same minimum next year because of the way the amnesty clause works.

Miller, obviously, had his most reliable season in years, appearing in every single game of the regular season and playoffs (89 total) and if that reliability keeps up—the reliability of his health, of course, being his biggest downside over the past few seasons—he's going to be worth a three-year deal. He's said he wants to come back to the Grizzlies "as long as he's treated fairly," which, to my mind, means "as long as I get offered a three-year deal."

Is he worth it? Depends. If he's going to play every game—and play every game the way he did after the All Star break, shooting the lights out in smaller minutes but getting up a higher volume of shots than earlier in the season when he functioned mostly as Dave Joerger's security blanket, then yes. If he's (1) not taking at least four 3-pointers a game and/or (2) only going to appear in 50-odd games? Maybe not. It's a tough question, because the Grizzlies can't know which Miller they'd get until they've got him.

Odds he'll return: 70%.

Beno Udrih

The Mid-South's Most Beloved Slovenian Third-String Point Guard came to town on a waiver claim after the Knicks (or really Mike Woodson, I guess) never played him. He played about sixty minutes during the regular season before The Tamoxifen Incident (hang on, I have to go pour one out for Nick Calathes' rookie season) and then was forced into the backup spot for the playoffs.

He shot well in the playoffs, to the point that it's hard to determine which one of his standout performances we can look back on as The Beno Udrih Game. His shooting was the difference in at least two playoff games—this is a guy who won two rings with the Spurs (even if he was a limited contributor there too) so he's not a stranger to the pressure of the playoffs—and his overall demeanor throughout his stay in town has made him a fan favorite.

And, he'll be at BBQ Fest:

If Udrih is willing to come back and sit on the bench most of the year collecting a vet minumum deal serving as the backup to Calathes and the backup to the backup to Conley, the Grizzlies should make that happen. He's guaranteed to play some, whether it's a game or two because somebody tweaks an ankle or in a three-point-guard super small lineup. It won't be much, but if he's just happy to be here—which seemed to be the case during this season—I have to think the Griz would be happy to have him back. Depth at the point guard spot is never a bad idea.

That said, there may be competition for Udrih. There may be other teams that want him for a backup, not a third-string guy, which is a guarantee of consistent minutes and more opportunity to play. If that's what Udrih wants—and if it's a good situation—I'm sure he'd rather be there than riding the pine in Beale Street Blue. It's going to come down to (1) what roles other teams are willing to offer him and (2) how much he's happy just to be in Memphis.

Odds he'll return: 55%.

James Johnson

Hang on, got to get the right Prince song going... Nevermind, Prince apparently got all the videos of "Controversy" taken down from YouTube.

I don't have any confidential information to back this up, but my gut tells me Good Ol' Bloodsport ain't coming back. Maybe it's the way his season derailed after the Griz gave him his own Neck Tattoo Giveaway Night. Maybe it's the way Dave Joerger didn't trust him farther than he could throw him, which isn't very far. Maybe it's the fact that he split after his exit interviews and didn't talk to the media. Maybe it's just the fact that he played well enough that some team is going to pay him more money than he's probably worth. Maybe it's the fact that he just can't control his chaos enough to reliably stay out of foul trouble—

It's a combination of all of those things, combined with the fact that the Grizzlies don't really need his skillset at the small forward spot and already have enough power forwards on the roster (well, at least until we get to the "Player Options" section of this here Roster Rundown), combined with the fact that one could never really tell whether Johnson was an "energy guy" or an absolute headcase.

So, before I'm burned in effigy on Twitter, I'll acknowledge the good things Johnson did. He bailed the team out when they were in a dire stretch of losses. He came off the bench and provided a much-needed spark. He made some big shots. He played incredible defense on Blake Griffin in that one game. All of those things can be true and Johnson can still not be a good fit on the team.

I don't know. I could be wrong. Maybe nobody else will want to sign him and he'll end up on the Griz as a deep reserve, mostly unhappy about playing time and every now and then teaming up with Tony Allen (assuming he's here—we haven't gotten to the "The Big Four" Roster Rundown yet either) to unleash the Lords of Basketball Chaos Motorcycle Club and get the fans begging for him to be a bigger part of the rotation all over again.

I don't think he's coming back, and I think everyone will be okay—the Grizzlies, the fans, and James Johnson.

Odds he'll return: 15%.


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