How Zach Randolph's Deal Shapes the Memphis Grizzlies Offseason

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How Zach Randolph's Deal Shapes the Memphis Grizzlies Offseason
Uncredited/Associated Press

The Memphis Grizzlies pleased Zach Randolph and fans by locking in the fan favorite for three more years. But his 2014-15 price affects the scoring they can fit around a limited core.

While keeping him through age 35, which may be close to retirement age, is important for ensuring lineup quality and harmony in the fanbase, Randolph's decision to opt in crimps the talent that fills out the roster.

Before anything else, one must acknowledge that the Grizzlies had much to lose if they couldn't keep Randolph. As Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix tweeted, they would have faced ire from the fanbase:

That specter might have affected their approach to the top objective on their offseason checklist. 

 

Payroll Implications

Randolph's contract dictates how the Grizzlies approach free agency, as well as the potential moves that seem necessary considering how far they are from true contention.

Because the soon-to-be 33-year-old opted in for $16.9 million, including performance bonuses, general manager Chris Wallace is working with a payroll of $70 million with 12 players on next season's roster. That leaves about $7 million under the projected luxury tax threshold.

Writing for SB Nation, Mark Deeks stated how quickly that space could disappear, saying:

This figures to be quite a way under the luxury tax threshold currently projected to come in at $77 million, yet it is an amount that can quickly be gobbled up. All it takes is one mid-level signing and that flexibility is gone.

Later in the piece, Deeks warned of the damage of an imposing deal, saying, "The Grizzlies work on a budget, and it has strict limits that are lower than most. The Pacers paid the cost to not quite be the boss. Memphis must not do the same."

Alluding to how Paul George's extension hamstrung the Pacers, Deeks implied that the Grizzlies couldn't let Randolph have it all. The five-year member of their frontcourt had it both ways, exercising his option and getting a two-year extension.

 

Machinations of Adding Scoring

For Memphis, completing the team for next season means more than adding the requisite one or two players. It must improve the scoring of a squad that couldn't keep up with the Thunder in three of its four playoff losses while barely scraping it together in games it did win.

In the regular season, Memphis was only average, placing 15th in offensive rating at 106.3 points per 100 possessions according to Basketball Reference. 

Individual scoring isn't pronounced. Randolph and Mike Conley scored 17.4 and 17.2 points per game, respectively. As Randolph will cede scoring leadership to Conley, Marc Gasol won't lift his average much higher than his 14.4 points per game over the past three years.

Besides Mike Miller, which scorer are the Grizzlies best positioned to sign?

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Since the Grizzlies core has a low-scoring ceiling, Wallace must insert enough scoring pieces around them for a level that balances their defense in the playoffs.

As reported by The Commercial Appeal (subscription required), Mike Miller is a high-priority free agent for the Grizzlies.

That's a proper assessment considering Memphis' desperate need for three-point shooting. Miller, who was second in the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage, had 26.4 percent of its made three-pointers and was its only regular shooting better than 37 percent from long range.

Even though, as The Commercial Appeal notes (subscription required), Miller desires a return to the Grizzlies, they won't have it easy. 

The Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery tweeted that a few other teams are looking at the 34-year-old:

With that competition, the Grizzlies may need to use their $2.1 million biannual exception on Miller.

If that happens, the Grizzlies wouldn't be able to use the full $5.3 million mid-level exception on a serious bench scorer. That could limit their ability to grab the likes of Mo Williams or Caron Butler.

Besides free agency, the need to maximize payroll under the luxury-tax threshold may push them to use other tools to improve the roster.

They could either trade or waive Tayshaun Prince. Waiving him would activate the stretch provision, saving them $5 million for this season while costing them $2.5 million each of the next two years in spreading the contract over those seasons.

This seems a bit much for the small-market franchise, but might be worthwhile to remove a dead spot from the roster.

That's only a fallback if the Grizzlies are unable to trade him. Tillery tweeted that they tried trading him during the draft:

Alex Kennedy tweeted that the Grizzlies still have him on the block:

 

Conclusion

The Grizzlies hit a moment of truth in the 2013-14 season. As a team that had two core players in their primes—Conley and Gasol—and one—Randolph—on the backside of his career, they needed to overcome adversity and have things go right to attain playoff success.

When things didn't go right and they couldn't grind the Thunder down, the Grizzlies lost. 

Now, they must fit in pieces that allow them not only to grind, but also score enough to keep up. Randolph's option makes that difficult for 2014-15.

Memphis should prepare to use all of its tools to address its reality.

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