- Zach Randolph ($9,638,555)
- Mike Conley ($9,388,426)
- Courtney Lee ($5,675,000)
- Tony Allen ($5,168,539)
- Vince Carter ($4,088,019)
- Jordan Adams ($1,404,600)
- Jarnell Stokes ($845,059)
- (Fab Melo $437,080)1
- (Jamaal Franklin $163,297)2
- Jeff Green ($9,200,000 — Player)6
Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds
- Nick Calathes ($1,147,276) — $1,147,276 qualifying offer7
Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds
- Marc Gasol ($18,960,000)8
- (Steven Hunter $7,022,400)9
- Kosta Koufos ($5,700,000)9
- No. 25 pick ($1,025,700)9
- (Gilbert Arenas $947,276)9
- (Keyon Dooling $947,276)9
- (Leon Powe $947,276)9
- (Marcus Williams $947,276)9
- 1st Round (25th overall)
- Guaranteed Salary: $37,881,575
- Non-Guaranteed Salary: $3,822,583
- Options: $9,200,000
- Cap Holds: $37,644,480
- Total: $88,548,638
Five straight years, the Grizzlies have taken their core of Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to the playoffs, and five straight years, they’ve failed to break through to the Finals, much less win a title. A loss to the 67-win Warriors in this year’s playoffs wasn’t at all unexpected, but it was nonetheless tough to take after Memphis broke out to a 2-1 series lead. It’s worth wondering if this team, as constructed, can ever reach the pinnacle. The Grizzlies appear prepared to give it another try, to foist a maximum-salary contract on the 30-year-old Gasol with the faith that his improvement this season wasn’t the last step forward he’ll take as a player before he begins an inevitable age-induced series of steps back. Gasol, whose heart is in Memphis but who wants to win, has to decide this summer if he, too, believes that it’s possible with this Grizzlies team.
The former Defensive Player of the Year has given precious few hints about the path he’ll choose, but signals from elsewhere suggest Gasol’s favored path leads right back where he’s been. The Spurs worry Memphis the most among Gasol’s many fans among NBA front offices, but they’re poised to pursue LaMarcus Aldridge, seen as more obtainable, before they go after Gasol, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com recently reported. The Knicks became pessimistic early in the season about their chances to land Gasol, as Marc Berman of the New York Post heard then, and more recently Beno Udrih, whom the Grizzlies claimed off waivers from the Knicks last year, said he doesn’t think the Knicks have a chance. Indeed, most of Gasol’s teammates think he’ll be back, according to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com, and GM Chris Wallace does, too, as he told WHBQ-AM.
If somehow they turn out to be wrong, it would be a mighty blow to the franchise but not necessarily a devastating one. Memphis would likely be able to clear enough cap room for a max offer to at least the marquee free agents eligible for the 30% max, if not those in line for 35% or more. The Grizzlies could pitch Aldridge on the idea of having a team where he’d be an unquestioned lead dog. They could point to Gasol’s offensive strides and tell DeAndre Jordan that he can make the same sort of improvements under coach Dave Joerger and his staff. They could rectify perhaps the franchise’s most egregious mistake, trading Kevin Love on draft night in 2008, and tell him, if he opts out this summer, that he can compete for titles in Memphis just as he could in Cleveland but without the pressure of “fit in or fit out” admonitions from LeBron James.
Still, it appears the most likely scenario involves the Grizzlies luring none other than their own star to sign a 30% max deal, probably for the full five seasons. Unless Gasol engineers a short-term deal, Memphis would luck out and avoid him catching the first wave of the rising salary cap when it rolls in next season. The Grizzlies as it is are without any eight-figure salaries on the books for next season, and while a max deal for Gasol and an opt-in from Jeff Green would keep Memphis from opening cap room this summer, the team would be primed to go into the summer of 2016 with plenty of flexibility. That’s when Conley comes up for a new deal to replace the bargain contract that’s allowed the Grizzlies to make other moves to stay on the fringes of the title picture the past few seasons. Re-signing Conley would take the higher max that Gasol appears to be missing out on, and while whatever deal Gasol might sign this summer wouldn’t look like quite as much of a bargain come 2016/17 as Conley has been, the Grizzlies would benefit nonetheless.
For now, Memphis is waiting on Gasol and Green. It appears the thinking for now is that Green will opt in, as Stein wrote, but that’s far from certain. If Green opts out and Gasol re-signs, Memphis could open roughly $7MM in cap space, based on the projected $67.1MM cap and an estimated $19MM max for Gasol. That would involve stripping away a host of supporting characters, including Kosta Koufos, and unloading the 25th overall pick or using it on a draft-and-stash prospect. There would be ways for the Grizzlies to use that space to shore up some of their deficiencies. DeMarre Carroll would fit right in defensively and give the team a legitimate three-point threat. The same could be said of Danny Green, while Arron Afflalo, should he opt out of his deal with the Blazers, is a proven scorer who could add another dimension to the Grizzlies offense. Still, it would take a lot of contingencies to break in the right direction for any of them to end up in Memphis.
It seems more likely that Memphis stays above the cap and has the $5.464MM mid-level as its primary financial tool for an upgrade. Koufos has expressed a desire for more playing time, making him a threat to bolt, so the Grizzlies may well find themselves debating the merits of an upgrade on the wing or at backup center. The team’s level of faith that Jordan Adams, last year’s first-round pick, can make a contribution next season would play into that. Memphis knows what it has in Jon Leuer, who’s been on the fringe of the rotation the past two seasons, so that might be comfort enough for the club to go after the likes of Marco Belinelli, Mike Dunleavy, or Jared Dudley with the mid-level. The Grizzlies could probably split the mid-level and still come away with Gerald Green, Rodney Stuckey, Luke Babbitt or Wesley Johnson, though each of them comes with the risk of being just another wing player who doesn’t give Memphis enough of what it needs.
Indeed, these Grizzlies have always lacked a dynamic threat on the wing who can both attack the basket and shoot from the outside while playing capable defense. Such talents aren’t easy to find for a team without eight-figure cap flexibility, but the test for Wallace is to find one on the cheap, develop one from within or, as he and former CEO Jason Levien have tried to do since the Rudy Gay trade, cobble together the right mix of flawed but talented role players. That’s not easy, but Wallace would surely be glad to attack that deficiency rather than worry about how to replace his star center.
The emergence of the Grizzlies as one of the league’s most respected defensive forces over the past several years mirrored Gasol’s development into the same, and that’s no coincidence. This summer will go a long way toward determining whether that’s as far as they both can go, or if there’s another growth spurt left for both sides.
1 — The Grizzlies waived Melo in August 2013 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next three seasons.
2 — The Grizzlies waived Franklin in August 2014 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next five seasons.
3 — Udrih’s salary is partially guaranteed for $923,000.
4 — Green’s salary is partially guaranteed for $150,000.
5 — Smith’s salary becomes partially guaranteed for $150K if he remains under contract through July 15th and fully guaranteed if he remains under contract through July 25th.
6 — The cap hold for Green would be $13,800,000 if he opts out.
7 — The cap hold for Calathes would be $947,276 if the Grizzlies elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
8 — The cap hold for Gasol will be the lesser of $23,744,532 and the NBA’s maximum salary for a player with his seven years of experience. That maximum will almost certainly be less than $23,744,532, so the number listed above is an estimate of the max.
9 — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation why these players technically remain on the books.
The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.