Down Where The Trade Winds Blow
Another trade deadline has come and gone. There were blockbuster moves all around the league that included a lot of buyers among the Eastern Conference contenders. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired Nikola Mirotic, a sharpshooter and scorer at the forward position. Not too long after making headlines as an All-Star selection snub, Tobias Harris scored 34 points and hit the go-ahead bucket to lift his, then, Clippers team over the Hornets. Elton Brand, Philadelphia’s General Manager, had Harris paired up with Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, and Ben Simmons on the 76ers’ roster by sunrise, giving the Clippers “league-coveted” draft compensation in the form of primarily a Miami 2021 unprotected first rounder and leniency in the summer with expiring contracts. The second-seeded Raptors could not stand idly by as their opponents got better, especially when you consider that they have to consider the happiness of a certain former Spur who is set to hit free agency this summer.
So what did they do? They turned Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles, Delon Wright, and a 2024 second round pick for the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies also were able to flip the expiring contracts of Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green to the Clippers for Avery Bradley with no picks involved and sent Shelvin Mack’s veteran minimum deal to his former team in Atlanta for second-year point guard, Tyler Dorsey, where Mack was immediately waived.
When the Grizzlies first made it public that they were going to go through the trade season listening to offers on Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, I was worried. Subjectively worried that two of the four players who made me fall in love with this wonderful sport that is basketball would be gone. Worried that the Grizzlies’ front office of majority-owner Robert Pera’s goons would make bad decisions. The initial Wojnarowski report said, “the organization is motivated to begin reshaping the roster around its 2018 first-round pick, forward Jaren Jackson, league sources said.” He continued by saying that the plan was to do this through “pursuing typical deal packages in dealing veteran stars, including some combination of young talent, draft picks and salary-cap relief, sources said.”
Many fans embraced this plan. Everyone seemed to agree that “it was time to move on.” As I discussed in my last column for Blu3WorldOrder, the support of this rebuild should be reconsidered. After all, if the front office has had bad luck evaluating players who have had somewhat lengthy careers in the league when attempting to build around the present core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph in the past and have had such horrible ability to draft players since Conley was picked at fourth overall in 2007, then is there really an avenue for success when attempting to build around the future through the draft and evaluations of young talent? Sure, there’s been subtle changes around the front office as the years have gone on, but it’s essentially the same primary voices in charge who are making the bad decisions.
I digress, I finally told myself that if it’s good to decent return for Gasol - ideally, a decent first-rounder, semi-decent young prospect, and an expiring contract or two to make the money work - then it wouldn’t be as bad as an idea to make the trade as I thought. I was still reluctant, but I accepted it: it’s a business. The move wouldn’t have been necessary if the proper or sought after return wasn’t there. Of course, my last statement hinges purely on the assumption that Marc wouldn’t opt out of $25.5 million dollar deal in a free agency class that may feature not only the former Spur Kawhi Leonard, who has a player option of his own, that he has now teamed up with in the north, but, also Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Tobias Harris, and Demarcus Cousins all as unrestricted free agents. I didn’t even mention the other primary players with an option to stick with their teams or test the market: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler to name a few.
Two other players with player options this summer? Newest Grizzlies Jonas Valanciunas and CJ Miles. Valanciunas had been thriving in an off the bench and occasional starting role for the 40 - 16 Raptors. The 26 year old, so far, has put up a career-high tying 12.8 points on 57.5 percent from the field (also a career-high) with 7.2 rebounds in a career-low 18.8 minutes per his 30 played games and 10 total starts. His player option stands at $17.6 million. There’s a higher likelihood that he opts in because of who he would be sharing free agency with. For example, the names listed above.
CJ Miles and his $8.7 million player option are also in an interesting position. He’s a 31 year old 6’6” wing who’s shooting 31.4 percent on 3.4 attempts per game from deep scoring a career low since the first three years of his career in points at 5.5. Marc Gasol shot better at 34.4 percent on 4.2 attempts from deep than CJ Miles shot from the field entirely - 34.0 percent even - with just one more attempt per game. No, that doesn’t mean much when you consider an obvious difference in roles. It’s just a tad bit interesting and a chance to plug in a reminder that he has an $8.7 million dollar opt-in. His decline from decent or even good to truly awful was very sudden, particularly when you compare his Per 36 minutes numbers. First drafted in 2005 at 34th overall to the Jazz out of high school, Miles has made himself a career from behind the three point arc where he has shot an average of 35.9 percent over a 14 year career. It’s only meant to be that he became a Grizzly the same season he hasn’t been able to hit his shots.
The last player that the Memphis Grizzlies received for Gasol was Delon Wright. Wright, a 4th year player, is coming to the end of his standard rookie contract that features the standard restricted free agency, granting the team he is with the option to either match other teams’ offers, sign him to one of their own, or letting him walk. Wright is highly spoken of as a player who hasn’t had much of a chance to grow because of the absurd growth of Raptors wing/guard Fred VanFleet. In the 18.3 minutes he’s played per the 41 games he’s played in this season, Wright has came away with 6.9 points and nearly a steal (0.9) per game off of a field goal clip of 43.3 percent on 6 attempts. Could certainly expect the young guard will gain attention over the summer with his restricted free agency.
On the receiving side of another front office business decision, the Grizzlies traded for Avery Bradley from the Clippers. Yes, this is the same Bradley that after his fellow NBA players deemed him the best defender in the league, Memphis fell in love with him… which was two years ago. Since then? Everyone has looked past his defensive capabilities and quickly became disillusioned with him. Many many Clippers’ fans felt the same way that the Raptors’ fans felt about CJ Miles: taking minutes away from younger talent who need them because of their lack of help on the offensive end. So far this season, he’s only missed 6 games and has started all of his 49 appearances for the Clippers helping them to a 30-25 record. Since the 2015-16 season, the 28 year old hasn’t played more than 55 games in a season. His 8.2 points per game came through 38.3 percent shooting and, off of 3.5 attempts per game from deep, 33.7 percent three-point shooting. This season Bradley is making $12 million. Next season, $12.96 million, according to Spotrac.com, with only $2 million guaranteed if waived before July 3rd. As Cam Rose of The Outsiders Podcast pointed out, Bradley is the same age as Tony Allen was when he arrived in Memphis. Only strengthens the sentiment Grizzlies fans have had ever since Bradley popped up on their “He’s the next TA!” radar.
For this league rippling transaction, the Grizzlies gave up JaMychal Green ($7.6 million) and Garrett Temple ($8 million). Temple started the season red hot for the Grizzlies, but cooled down truly rather suddenly and could never get back to that point, on the court at least. You can’t forget the reports of him and Casspi getting ready to slug it out like “brothers” in the locker room.
JaMychal was an odd situation. The Grizzlies played their best basketball of the season while he was out with an injury he suffered during the home opener. When he came back, he made all of the big hustle plays: the dunks, the blocks, and the corner three every now and then. Just enough to get the fans on their feet. However, a closer examination of his game and you can see his limitations on defense when it comes to truly staying in front of his man and how he could often just be in the way, in general.
The frustration I have with these moves is how little they build past the immediate future. To make these moves and only come away with one second rounder? On January 3, the Grizzlies were way-too-early buyers with the acquisition of the Bulls’ Justin Holiday for Marshon Brooks, who was immediately waived, Wayne Selden, who has already has a few good games, and TWO second round picks. Here’s some math provided by Keith Parish of the Fastbreak Breakfast podcast:
Add in the Holiday deal and I believe that would place you at a net total of negative three second round picks.
With a possible $17.6 million tied up next season in Valanciunas, a possible $8.7 in CJ Miles, at least $2 million is guaranteed to go to Bradley, that leaves you with a restricted free agent in Delon Wright who you and others like (so even more money to be possibly tied up because it’s common to overpay on RFAs), and a second round pick for 2024.
So far, I’ve seen initial reactions where fans were content with the move. Fans basically said, “Ehh, not good, but ok,” with a shoulder shrug and had moved on. Then later, during the Grizzlies and Thunder match-up, Marc posts on his Instagram Story his travel to the Memphis International Airport and a his arrival to a bit of bright red Toronto Raptors gear with a big 33 in the center. That, added in with Mike Conley’s post game quotes and the pour of “Thank You, Marc” Twitter posts, seemed to just do the trick when it comes to pulling the heartstrings.
Many asked the same question. “Did you really expect more for a 34 year old center?” Explain to me why I shouldn’t have? It is a rebuild, correct? The purpose of a rebuild is to gain assets to have something to build around. If the Grizzlies were truly hoping to move toward the direction of a rebuild, maybe it would’ve helped to actually get some assets for your franchise center who you were determined to move by the deadline. So determined that they completely mismanaged the entire situation, offering no plan for the future other than having Mike Conley mentor to Jaren. As if Gasol wasn’t.
If it was a perfect world, or 2k, or the Mavs organization, or wherever the Grizzlies don’t go 11-29 since Thanksgiving due to bad coaching, management malpractice, weird and ill-timed injuries, and the inconsistency of Marc and Mike themselves, we wouldn’t be at this point. We would probably still have been the buyers we were in early January, if you want to call acquiring Justin Holiday for two second-rounders that.
Sadly, it isn’t a perfect world. With a plan to rebuild accompanied by an incapable front office and ownership, it’s as if this whole rebuild thing wasn’t such a great idea. After Gasol, we have Conley, who many reporters that were close with this deal said he’ll be up for trades in the offseason. After the reports that Memphis’ asking price for him was too high, what does that tell you? That should tell you that, just as Gasol received minimal return, Conley probably will too. If Conley is traded for a minimal return, who’s left to trade for future-minded assets to build around Jaren? This could put Kyle Anderson up in the air, as well.
The Look Ahead
The Grizzlies also traded Shelvin Mack back to the Hawks for second year point guard Tyler Dorsey. A literal representation of screaming out, “Go back from which you came” as if the front office wanted to try their hand at exorcisms because of all of the demons that will need to be cast out soon. Dorsey had an okay rookie year, averaging 7.2 points in 17.4 minutes per game over 56 games including 5 starts. During his rookie year, he shot 36.2 percent off of 3.6 attempts from deep. I’m talking about his rookie year more because with Jeremy Lin and current-rookie Trae Young ahead of him both playing quite well, his chances to show out more have been somewhat sparse with a decline of 8 minutes per game.
Not only would there be less of Shelvin, but more Ivan Rabb playing time and Jaren will become more of an option with Gasol out of the rotation. In five of Ivan’s past six games he has played 20+ minutes. In those five games? He has averaged 13.8 points with 8.8 rebounds. In last Tuesday’s wire-to-wire win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ivan even had more offensive rebounds (6) than defensive boards (5). Then, in the first game without the franchise centerpiece on the roster, Jaren gave Memphis fans some hope and anticipation for the future of the team by showing out with 27 points and 7 rebounds shooting 12 of 18 from the field.
With Ivan’s recent success on the Grizzlies’ court, hard work off the court, and his hustle on the red and white hardwood in Southaven for the local GLeague team, JB Bickerstaff declared that Ivan would be the starter indefinitely going forward because “he’s earned it” after Saturday night’s 99-90 win over the Pelicans. He started and came away with a solid and energetic outing of 10 points and 9 rebounds. Joakim Noah, off the bench, helped him out a little bit by pouring in 19 points with 14 boards in 32 minutes to lead the team to victory. At one point in the game after Mike Conley, who finished with 11 points, 9 assists, and 6 boards, locked up Jrue Holiday long enough to get an offensive foul call off of Julius Randle for an illegal screen to help Holiday, Joakim Noah gave Mike a hard two-handed shove. He was in the zone to say the least as he went on to dunk a few times.
The newest Grizzlies all got run time tonight except for two: Valanciunas had to deal with immigration paperwork as the native Lithuanian made his transition from Canada to Memphis and Dorsey played the previous night for the Hustle, scoring 6 points (3 of 7 from the field) with a steal in 16 minutes off the bench. With no Garrett Temple, who had started all 49 of his played games, Avery Bradley notched the start. Shooting 3-10 from the field and 1-2 from deep, Bradley came away with 8 points in 25 minutes. Delon had a similar stat line going 3-7 for 7 points in 23 minutes. CJ Miles outshined both. Although, not by much. He had 13 in 21 minutes after going 6-9 from the field.
With Jonas expecting to make his Memphis debut on February 12 against the Spurs in the FedEx Forum, the Grizzlies are in a desperate win-now attempt to not land in the top 8 of the lottery in this year’s draft. Seemingly counter-productive to any plans of a rebuild on the surface, if the Grizzlies can land outside of the top 8, then their first round pick will be sent to Boston. Yes, conveying this year’s pick to Boston is the front office’s, and many others, stated goal. Should be yours too. Landing inside the top 8 this year would mean that next year, Memphis’ pick would go to Boston if they land outside the top 6. Grizzlies continue to lose enough to keep that pick next season, then, it will go to Boston in 2021 regardless of where the team stands. The Commercial Appeal’s David Cobb dubbed it “the race to convey.” For Memphis to reach their intended finish line, they will have to sprint all the way there as they currently sit with the 6th worst record in the NBA and second worst in the West. Presently tied for the 8th worst record in the league are the Wizards and the Magic at 24-32 both on pace to win 35 games.
The Memphis team with only 11 wins over its past 40 games has 25 games left this season to figure things out. “I think with the changes that we made and the amount of bodies that came in and moved out, this is a new team,” JB Bickerstaff said during his media availability. “Stylistically, I think it will look different on both sides of the ball. We're looking at it as a blank slate with this group and an opportunity to build something positive.” There is, as admitted by the head coach, a brand new team to figure out and a lot of wins left that need to be won for this to be deemed even a remotely successful season. With JB’s last new team, when the 2018-19 season began, the Grizzlies went 15-10 in their first 25 games. At the time, fans all felt that the team could have done better. Now with nearly zero expectations of success, this new look team will have to do it all over again.