Offseason In Review: Memphis Grizzlies

November 26 2013 at 9:58pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

  • Acquired Kosta Koufos from the Nuggets in exchange for Darrell Arthur and the No. 55 pick in 2013.
  • Acquired the rights to Nick Calathes from the Mavericks in exchange for a fully unprotected 2016 second-round pick. The Mavs had already acquired that 2016 second-rounder, but it had previously been top-55 protected. Calathes was subsequently signed for two years, $1.31MM via the minimum salary exception (second year is non-guaranteed).
  • Acquired Fab Melo and $1.66MM in cash from the Celtics in exchange for Donte Greene. Melo was subsequently waived.
  • Acquired a 2014 second-round pick (31-50 and 56-60 protected) from the Sixers in exchange for Tony Wroten.

Waiver Claims

Draft Picks

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

  • None

Rarely is there so much turmoil for a team that just had its best regular season and playoffs in franchise history. For the first time, the Grizzlies won 56 games and made the Western Conference Finals, but the front office chain of command isn’t clear. Chris Wallace has the title of GM, but his powers appear greatly reduced from what they had been under former owner Michael Heisley. CEO Jason Levien, vice president of basketball ops John Hollinger and even new owner Robert Pera all appear to have some say-so in the day-to-day decisions that shape the roster, along with Wallace. Whoever’s in charge clearly wasn’t a fan of Lionel Hollins, whom the team decided not to re-sign in spite of his success. Hollins clashed with the team’s new analytics-heavy approach, and the Grizzlies found one of his assistants, Dave Joerger, more willing to apply advanced statistics on the floor. Joerger’s installation as head coach is probably the most significant change to a veteran roster that has a shot at the championship, but still must exceed expectations to make it happen.

The key task the Grizzlies had to complete this summer to remain in the championship race was bringing back free agent Tony Allen, an All-NBA defender each of the past three seasons. At least a half-dozen other teams were after the 31-year-old, but it seemed his heart was in Memphis all along. The Grizzlies nonetheless wound up paying market price, if not a little more, for a swingman who excels on defense while creating spacing problems on offense with his lack of long-range shooting. He’ll be 35 by the time the fully guaranteed four-year deal is up, so it’s worth wondering if age will cause him to lose his ability to keep up with opponents by the back end of the contract. The move also used up most of the flexibility the team had beneath the luxury tax line, the space the team tried so hard to create with the Rudy Gay trade and other moves in 2012/13. Allen is nonetheless an elite defender, the likes of whom the team would struggle to replace, and a contract with an average annual salary of $5MM — slightly less than the full value of the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception — isn’t too much to pay.

Memphis snagged another sought-after free agent when it picked up Mike Miller after he cleared amnesty waivers from the Heat. As with Allen, half-dozen other teams were also linked to Miller, but all it took was a guaranteed one-year deal for the minimum salary to bring the 33-year-old aboard. Concerns about his health likely prevented any team from making an offer for more than one guaranteed season, since his long list of ailments nearly provoked him to retire in 2012. A report suggested he was considering fusion surgery on his back this summer, though that might have been a ruse to dissuade the Cavaliers from claiming him off waivers and keeping him from free agency, as our Luke Adams suggested. Injuries nonetheless kept Miller off the court for most of his tenure with the Heat, though he surfaced at the most opportune moments. The Grizzlies have been giving him heavy minutes so far, hoping his three-point stroke will offset the spacing issues the Allen signing perpetuated. It’s unclear how long he’ll hold up, but if he can sustain his contribution, he’ll be a serious bargain.

Conversely, an injury to Marc Gasol has magnified the benefit of another of the Grizzlies’ offseason moves. While Gasol recovers, Memphis has Kosta Koufos to insert as the starting center, reprising the role he played for the Nuggets last year before Denver traded him for Darrell Arthur and a late second-round pick. The trade made financial sense for the Grizzlies as well, since Koufos is slightly cheaper than Arthur, and only $500K of his $3MM salary for 2014/15 is guaranteed. Arthur has a player option on his deal for next season. The trade seemed driven by Denver’s front office, which sought to clear the way for JaVale McGee to see starter’s minutes. Memphis has been the beneficiary, acquiring a 24-year-old seven-footer who’s averaged double-digit rebounds per 36 minutes in each of the past three seasons.

Memphis invested in another young player with its extension for Quincy Pondexter. The 25-year-old showed enough improvement last season to apparently convince the Grizzlies that he may be an eventual replacement for Tayshaun Prince at small forward, or at least a capable rotation-level player. His 39.5% three-point accuracy in 2012/13, a rate that jumped to 45.3% in the playoffs, might be the key metric. He’s off to a slow start from behind the arc this season, but if he can regain his form from last spring, he’ll be well-worth the sub-$4MM salaries he’ll see over the course of his new deal. Teams and former first-round picks don’t often agree to extensions for such small amounts, but Koufos is another example of a player who did, and his deal has proven team-friendly. Locking up promising non-stars for the long-term could emerge as a cost-effective strategy for the small-market Grizzlies.

The team made another move for its future with its acquisition of Nick Calathes, a 2009 second-round pick and former University of Florida standout who had been playing overseas. The cost was another late second-round pick, so the Grizzlies clearly believe Calathes will outperform most players taken long after many draft-watchers have lost interest. He’ll slot in as a third-string point guard behind Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless, and his development will likely determine whether the team re-signs Bayless, its putative sixth man, next summer.

The Grizzlies poked around at the fringes of the market this summer, claiming Josh Akognon off waivers from the Mavs and waiving him before opening night. They also traded Donte Greene for Fab Melo in what amounted to a money-grab, waiving the former Syracuse center just two weeks after acquiring him. Memphis took on Melo’s slightly larger cap hit, which is guaranteed money that remains on the team’s books, but acquired enough cash to cover his salary and then some. The result was slightly less room underneath the tax line this season, but a little extra money for a skinflint franchise bent on making the most of its limited resources.

The team’s creativity surfaced again in its use of the mid-level exception, usually a tool for signing veterans. The Grizzlies instead committed a part of it to second-round pick Jamaal Franklin, allowing themselves to lock him up for three years and have full Bird rights when he’s eligible for restricted free agency. Most over-the-cap teams are limited to the minimum-salary exception for their second-rounders, leading to the sort of inflated offer sheet that former Bull Omer Asik signed with the Rockets via the Gilbert Arenas provision.

The new Grizzlies regime is carefully studying every move it makes, a hands-on approach that cost it a proven coach. The team’s strategy is not for everyone, but traditional methods can only take a small-market team so far. What’s happening in Memphis will probably have ripple effects across the league. If Joerger loses the locker room and the team’s careful penny-pinching doesn’t move it any closer to a title, the analytics movement will take a hit. If Memphis can take the next step despite not having a superstar, the NBA will be full of number-crunching copycats.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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