9:53am: The Grizzlies have made it official, announcing Zeller’s signing in a press release.
8:44am: The Grizzlies are signing veteran center Tyler Zeller for the rest of the season, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). The release of shooting guard Dusty Hannahs created the roster spot necessary to add Zeller.
Zeller, 29, has logged 408 career NBA games over the course of seven seasons, but has spent most of the 2018/19 campaign as a free agent. After being waived by the Bucks in the preseason, the big man’s only NBA action this season came in March when he signed a 10-day contract with Atlanta and appeared briefly in two games for the Hawks.
The Grizzlies had signed Hannahs via a hardship exception and continue to qualify for that exception because they have four players who have missed at least three consecutive games and remain sidelined. As such, Zeller will become Memphis’ 16th man. And, as Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian observes (via Twitter), once Zeller plays, the Grizzlies will tie an NBA record by using their 28th player this season.
While the decision to replace a young developmental player with a veteran for the final few days of the season may appear odd for a lottery-bound team, both of the Grizzlies’ centers are currently on the shelf — Jonas Valanciunas is out for the season with an ankle injury, while Joakim Noah continues to be listed as day-to-day with a knee injury.
Plus, despite their place in the standings, the Grizzlies are still very focused on winning games to finish the season. The team would like to make sure its top-eight protected 2018 first-round pick conveys to Boston this year so it doesn’t carry over to the 2020 draft. Currently, the Grizzlies are tied for sixth in the reverse standings at 31-47, but the Mavericks (31-47), Wizards (32-47), and Pelicans (32-47) are bunched up with them, creating a path out of the lottery’s top eight if they can finish strong.
Assuming it’s finalized today, Zeller’s rest-of-season contract will carry a modest cap hit of $51,725, keeping Memphis out of tax territory.