Grizzlies Front Office Continues to Impress

Ja Morant is now a Memphis Grizzly, and, unless David Griffin decided to incite chaos by skipping over Zion Williamson, he was always going to be since the Grizzlies came away with the second overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft back on May 14, 2019. Sure, there were reports from questionable sources that teams were talking to the Grizz about the slot, but according to Zachary Kleiman, the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, those playground rumors were just that… playground rumors.

“The calls that we received on No. 2 we promptly shut down” Kleiman told the present media members at the FedEx Forum after the draft. “We knew that Ja Morant was the point guard of the future for the Memphis Grizzlies."

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This soundbite came a little over 36 hours after the Grizzlies traded away Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz for Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, the twenty-third overall pick in last night’s draft, and a future first round pick. Everybody had their own reactions to the trade’s haul ranging from anger to complacency to joy.

Korver, 38, is widely unexpected to suit up as a Grizzly due to his partially guaranteed $3.4 million contract becoming a fully guaranteed $7.5 million cap hit on July 7, 2019. In 54 games for the Jazz off the bench, the career sharpshooter averaged 9.1 points and shot 38.4% from beyond the arc in 5.4 attempts per his nightly average of 20.1 minutes per game.
At $7.8 million for an expiring contract, Crowder may end up being a more valuable trade deadline asset rather than Grizzly player. The 29 year old wing had his third best scoring season with 11.9 points per game off of 40% shooting from the field with a very average 33% success rate from behind the three point line off of a staggering 6.5 attempts per game. Crowder primarily came off the bench for the Jazz, but, with Kyle Anderson still recovering from his shoulder injury, he could potentially be one of Jenkins’s season-opening five starters.

Grayson Allen, while a sharpshooter across his four years at Duke, was tripped up a bit as he adjusted to the NBA while dealing with random on and off injuries throughout his rookie season. In the 38 games he was able to play, he shot a poor 37.6% over the course of the season from the floor accompanied by 32.3% from three. Toward the end of the season, Allen found himself with the ball in his hands and his feet on the court more often to garner a career high 40 points in Utah’s regular season finale. Many Grizzlies fans may be willing to overlook his less than stellar rookie season if he continues to grow and gain the long shot he had at Duke back.

Those guys and the two first round picks may have been sent over to Memphis in the trade, but, by sending Conley out, the front office made themselves another important asset: a trade exception total of $29.1 million. This would allow the Grizzlies to pick up either a bad contract for draft compensation or a good player via a trade, and the incoming salary wouldn’t affect the cap within that $29.1 million.

The question for the Grizzlies regarding the draft had nothing to do with their Ja pick. It was Number 23 that came from Utah. What was the front office going to do with it? Trade it? If not, then who would they draft or who would fall? Numerous think pieces were written over the course of the next day about trade possibilities and the players who might be available in that realm of the first round.

Before Boston picked Romeo Langford to top off the lottery picks, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Oklahoma City was looking to shift back later in the first round than their then twenty-first pick. To sneak up a bit more, the Grizzlies traded Number 23 from the Jazz to the Thunder along with Memphis’ own 2024 second rounder to draft Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke.

Instantly, the pick was raved by reporters and media members who said that the bouncy 6’8” defensive big man was a much better prospect than his draft slot suggested. Soon after hearing his named called and shaking Adam Silver’s hand, Clarke spoke to onsite media.

“We are definitely going to be a force that will be tough to guard,” he told WMC Action News 5’s Sudu Upadhyay on the prospect of joining Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson, Jr. “I can say there might be some really great highlights coming up soon.”

Clarke, after averaging 8.6 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 1.2 steals, and 16.9 points on a 69.3% field goal percentage in his 37 games as a Gonzaga Bulldog, finished his season with more blocks(117) than missed shots (107). This is especially impressive at his 6’8” size and wingspan and very indicative of his skill and athleticism.

Everyone is saying the same thing: he will fit great alongside Jaren Jackson, Jr., down low and that the on court opportunities between Morant, Clarke, and Jackson could be endless.

When you look at the young players at the core of the roster-Morant, Jackson, Clarke, Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Ivan Rabb, Bruno Coboclo, and Jevon Carter- it is exciting to see the possibilities play out in your mind when you consider the players that the Grizzlies have yet to resign, sign, or acquire.

Jonas Valanciunas may have opted out of his $17.6 million player option for stability in contract length, but, for those on the Keep JV in Memphis train, feel free to keep hanging around. There’s a few reasons. One being the fact that when it was reported that Valanciunas would opt out, his and the team’s hopes for a fresh deal were right there.

The second is that as Valanciunas goes into free agency, should he resign with Memphis, then the Grizzlies would be able to take advantage of his bird rights which would allow the Grizzlies to go over the salary cap to get a deal done. For more detail on what “Bird Rights” are here’s an article that may help clear some air: here.

The Grizzlies also have other players on contracts for next season outside of the players listed above within the young core and the players acquired from Utah in CJ Miles, Avery Bradley, and Chandler Parsons.

Parsons, despite being banished for most of last season, is still a Grizzly and still contributed toward the end after getting back into a groove of things in an off-the-bench role.

Miles, 32, will cost the Grizzlies a decent $8.7 million via his player option that he has chosen to take advantage of. In his fourteenth year in the league, he only played 13 games as a Grizzly after the Gasol trade before a foot injury kept him out the rest of the way. A career sharpshooter, Miles made 1.8 threes out of 5.1 attempts for a 36.4 shooting percentage behind the line in the Beale Street Blue.

It’s safe to say that fans have been silently pushing the Bradley to Memphis move for a while in thanks to his highly heralded defense, but when Bradley finally arrived in Memphis, I was disappointed and said the move was, “Two years too late.” Boy, did I eat my words. In his Memphis home debut against the Spurs, he scored a career high 33 points (15-21 FG/3-5 3PT) and nearly led the Grizz to a victory as they fell by 1 point. He continued to go on and have statistical averages similar to those of his last year in Boston. Bradley, like Korver, has a partial guarantee of $2 million that becomes fully guaranteed on July 3 at $12.9 million.

Three young players will also have guarantees to wait out. Ivan Rabb’s contract will become fully guaranteed on July 15 at $1.6 million, but, if the Grizzlies were to waive him beforehand, he’d have the partial guarantee of $371K. Dillon Brooks and Bruno Coboclo are in the same boat considering both of their contracts are completely non-guaranteed for this season. Brooks will become fully guaranteed on July 5 if not waived also at $1.6 million. Coboclo can get all $1.9 million of his contract if he’s still a Grizzly after July 10.

There are also two restricted free agents in Delon Wright and Tyler Dorsey that the Grizzlies will have the right to match any contract offer that these two players receive. Dorsey had a great year for the Grizzlies showing a knack for getting to the basket and shooting the ball well. He ended up helping the Hustle secure their first franchise playoff bid. Ultimately, I wouldn’t expect the Grizzlies to retain him considering their depth in the backcourt, but if they were to choose to keep Dorsey I could see them doing so over Grayson Allen or maybe even Jevon Carter. It really would depend on how the newly structured front office evaluates their roster.

I spoke about Delon’s free agency in my last article here:

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Kleiman’s regime, who have preached that the long game was most important for the franchise, couldn’t, or wisely wouldn’t, promise fans a quick return to the playoffs in their first media availabilities.

“The organization has made a significant commitment to Taylor, a long-term commitment,” Kleiman emphasized during Taylor Jenkins’s introductory press conference with his declaration that the organization was “confident” that they had found the collaborative “partner” in the young first-year head coach.

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There seems to be a growing trend from Kleiman: proving oneself and quieting the doubters. He’s said the right things, he’s hired a young guy who is in similar shoes, gave Grizz fans the refreshing feeling of a good NBA Draft night, and continued to help build toward his future that he keeps referring by trading a former franchise cornerstone for a good return.

As Jenkins begins to build his coaching staff, this will be an interesting free agency for the Grizzlies. The team that’s currently in place has the potential to win some ball games. Factor in a lot of the learning curves; then, a 35 plus win season is pretty feasible.

What will the mission statement be for the front office? Go out and bring in guys to help win games? Go out and bring in vets to help coach the young guns up? Both? Or maybe, Kleiman is eyeing the chance to get the Grizzlies another high lottery pick by losing enough for the Grizzlies to keep the pick, top 6 protected, that is owed to Boston and cough it up next year?

It is hard to put a gauge on his plans and motivations when the sample size of what he’s done is so small. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It kinda calls back to the refreshing feeling of a draft well done. A little bit of unpredictability is refreshing. Especially after so many years of eye-rolling at certain decisions and soundbites because the same thing, whatever it may be, happens every time.

Free agency begins on June 30, 2019 at 6 pm eastern time.

GrizzEric Lentz