The Memphis Grizzlies made an early deal on Tuesday to clean up their payroll situation. Trading Marreese Speights thinned the Grizzlies’ bench a bit, but it accomplished an important objective for the trade season.
Now that the Grizzlies are under the luxury tax threshold, the options for improving the roster are fairly limited. They can make a move that sheds a little extra salary while improving on the edges.
In all likelihood, the Grizz won’t make any changes to the core in the lead-up to the trade deadline. While the Rudy Gay rumor mill swirled rapidly in the past couple weeks, he seems unlikely to leave before Feb. 21. According to The Commercial Appeal, the Grizz will look more closely at such deals this summer.
Memphis should have a short checklist as it tries to close out the year on reasonable fiscal grounds. Their standards for players obtained may be lowered due to how close they are to the luxury tax threshold.
Cheap acquisition to get them under luxury tax threshold
By trading Speights, Josh Selby, Wayne Ellington and a draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jon Leuer, the Grizzlies managed to get a nice player for a low price while ducking under the threshold. At that, they picked up a guy who John Hollinger had long admired, as Chris Vernon tweeted.
That was the biggest goal of this small-market franchise in the weeks before the trade deadline—making a deal to avoid to the luxury tax. They could have either parted with someone from the core, like Gay or Zach Randolph, or packaged Speights and a couple others.
This deal was a much easier and less painful route. Dealing Gay or Randolph would have required some midseason reconfiguration, but they avoided that by trading the ninth-, 10th- and 12th-ranked guys in minutes played.
Getting a player who could contribute was a bonus. Last season, when the Grizz traded Sam Young to ensure payroll positioning, all they could get was Ricky Sanchez, whose chances of making the NBA are slim.
Leuer will find himself sandwiched between Darrell Arthur and Hamed Haddadi in terms of big-man minutes.
Capable reserve point guard
The Grizzlies haven’t had much success with Jerryd Bayless, their offseason acquisition intended to fill the backcourt hole left by O.J. Mayo. He’s failed to contribute as a scorer and has been anything but efficient.
Bayless has been below replacement level as an offensive producer. He saw his offensive rating drop enormously from the previous two seasons, from 110 points per 100 possessions in 2011-12 to 94 per 100 this season.
The problem is that his last month of the season was always much better than the other months. That performance probably won’t happen on a Lionel Hollins-coached team.
Bayless had received a handful of starts toward the end of both seasons, giving him an opportunity to boost his numbers.
But that chance won’t come in Memphis. Conley may see his minutes taper off, but Hollins won’t start the former Toronto Raptor to further rest Conley.
In order to avoid any buildup to a false sense of satisfaction with Bayless, the Grizzlies can acquire a capable point guard who can shoot decently and doesn’t turn it over a ton.
One option is Delonte West, whom the Dallas Mavericks waived just before the season started. The Grizz were rumored by ESPN to be interested in him. He shoots well—44.8 percent on his career. He doesn’t turn it over too much—2.1 times per 36 minutes—and dishes out 3.6 assists per game.
Indeed, West is more of a combo guard. But his efficiency shows some promise.
Another possibility is Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings. After playing brilliantly at times in his rookie season, Thomas hasn't gained a strong foothold on the starting job. He's still a nice offensive producer, averaging 11.2 points in 23.4 minutes per game.
What should be the Grizzlies' No. 1 priority heading towards the trade deadline?
Thomas, who has one more year left on his contract, averages 4.8 assists and 2.7 turnovers per 36 minutes. His miniature $762,000 salary makes him an affordable choice.
Decent three-point shooter
Dealing Wayne Ellington wasn’t terrible in the grand scheme of things. However, it further limited the Grizzlies’ ability to affect a game beyond the arc. The deal sent away their only three-point specialist. Ellington was only one of five players who took more than two threes per game.
Also, he was one the only active Grizzly shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range.
Now, Mike Conley is the only active Memphis man shooting better than 36 percent. Conley is shooting more from long distance than ever before. Since he’s shooting more threes and no one else is doing well from that distance, opponents can crash on him on possible three-point shots.
In order to relieve pressure from Conley and allow some potential from that distance, the Grizz simply need to find someone who can shoot threes reasonably well.
Acquiring such a player will give the team some dimension, keeping it from becoming the type that largely forces the ball inside.
Conclusion: Grizzlies' moves not limited to trades
The Grizzlies are working with a narrow space in regards to payroll. Being so close to the luxury tax threshold, they'll likely be working on the premise of shedding a little extra salary while gaining a useful player.
Realistically, such a trade won't involve a starter. Dealing Gay or Randolph won't prove to be easy, and the Grizz will want a reasonable return.
Fans of the "grit 'n' grind" could see their favorite team focus more on free agents than trades due to the number of trade chips they have after dealing Speights, Ellington and Selby.