Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Grizzlies Star Center Marc Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies are playing themselves into Marc Gasol trade speculation.
Injuries have not helped matters, but a tougher schedule is the primary culprit. After starting the year 15-9, the Grizzlies have fallen out of playoff contention with the league's second-worst offense and a defense that's hemorrhaging wide-open threes.
Nuclear scenarios are beginning to make the rounds. Memphis is 14th in the Western Conference, and the schedule doesn't get immediately easier. As ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote: "If the hole gets much deeper as the deadline approaches, you at least have to investigate some unpleasant things."
Shopping Gasol is among, if not at the fore, of those awkward reflections.
There is a "growing belief around the league" that the 33-year-old will decline this summer's player option and enter free agency, the New York Times' Marc Stein stated last week. Now, ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that "For first time, Memphis will begin listening to trade offers on franchise stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley."
Although the Conley news is a bomb in and of itself, we're concerned with Gasol here. Standing pat could still be in Memphis' best interest. The market for big men isn't especially robust, and Gasol's value will be complicated by his age, contract status and declining defensive impact. The Grizzlies aren't netting a king's ransom of picks and prospects. Appreciable salary-cap relief will even be hard to come by.
Not that they'll want for suitors. If they're dead set on getting something—anything—without positioning themselves to start over, they'll have options at their disposal.
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Richaun Holmes, DeAndre Jordan, 2019 first-round pick (from Milwaukee, via Phoenix; protection for Nos. 1 to 3 and 17 to 30)
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Marc Gasol, Josh Jackson
Phoenix Suns Receive: Dennis Smith Jr.
Two things need to be clear before delving into the first of two Marc Gasol-to-Dallas hypotheticals. First up: Head coach Rick Carlisle is mostly married to rim-runners at the center position. Plugging Gasol into the middle would be more than workable, but a deviation all the same.
Equally important: The Mavericks probably only consider taking him on if he's planning to opt out this summer. Their cap space—which could creep past the $50 million marker—is too precious for them to burn on an aging big.
Gasol doesn't have to be viewed as a rental. They will have his Bird rights. But throwing away roughly half of their projected spending power on him, when he turns 34 in February, is a little too risky. The chance to negotiate a longer contract for sub-superstar money would be more valuable.
Dennis Smith Jr.'s inclusion shouldn't be a deal-breaker. The Mavericks are ramping up their efforts to trade him, according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon and Adrian Wojnarowski. Changing him out for a wing prospect with a similarly compromised stock makes some sense.
Josh Jackson doesn't finish well around the rim and is turnover-prone when charged with making plays off the dribble. His jumper remains a liability. But he's shooting 36.1 percent from deep over his past 15 games and is among Phoenix's hardest-working defenders. Kyler Anderson and Robert Covington are the only non-bigs matching his steal and block rates in as many minutes.
The Suns have "no interest" in Smith as of now, according to Arizona Sports' John Gambadoro, but even with De'Anthony Melton having his moments as a playmaker and Devin Booker playing well as the lead ball-handler, they need a point guard.
Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr. and T.J. Warren make Jackson borderline expendable, and Richaun Holmes isn't a huge loss with free agency on the horizon. Surrendering the Bucks' first-round pick is hard to do. At the same time, it won't convey this year and the looser protection in 2020 (top seven) doesn't mean a whole lot unless Milwaukee unexpectedly craters.
Phoenix could try subbing in Kelly Oubre Jr., but he cannot be traded in combination with another player after coming over from Washington. Would Memphis take the first and DeAndre Jordan alone? Does Dallas accept Oubre instead of Jackson with him entering restricted free agency?
It shouldn't take much to sell the Grizzlies on the original framework. Jordan is past his prime, and his value inflated by high-percentage dunks and rebounding totals. But he comes off the books after this season, and Holmes is a legit bounce-house worth evaluating beside Jaren Jackson Jr. Plus, snagging any sort of first-rounder for Gasol is a win.
Dallas Mavericks (Alternative)
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Trey Burke, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., 2020 second-round pick (from Charlotte, via New York), 2021 second-round pick (via Dallas)
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Marc Gasol, Omri Casspi OR Shelvin Mack
New York Knicks Receive: DeAndre Jordan
Another Mavericks scenario is necessary. For starters, the league is light on teams that might be open to swinging trades for expensive bigs. Mostly, Phoenix's apparent disinterest in Dennis Smith Jr. begs for alternatives.
This deal is a smaller swing for Dallas without cheating Memphis out of a defensible return. The Mavericks lose Dorian Finney-Smith, a tantalizing defender and wing rebounder with limited offensive tools, but get to keep Dennis Smith Jr. for another deal. (A Smith-for-Jonathan Isaac swap would be fun).
Giving up Finney-Smith is a minor blow. The Mavericks aren't drowning in wings. But they don't have to trade Wesley Matthews—waits for Dallas fans to grown—and Finney-Smith's restricted free agency could be pricey with so many teams expected to have cap space and the demand for switchy defenders at an all-time high. Dallas is not selling low.
Tim Hardaway Jr.'s contract is tough for most teams to swallow. The Grizzlies aren't one of them. They need another scoring option, particularly if they're cutting ties with Gasol. Hardaway's price point isn't ideal, but despite what his sub-40-percent shooting implies, he's generating offense at a manageable clip.
Among every player attempting at least three pull-up threes per game, his 38.6 percent mark ranks fourth, trailing only Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Khris Middleton. The Grizzlies can eat the $37.1 million he's owed over the next two seasons (2020-21 player option) knowing that it won't consign them to tax territory, and that they're likely not signing a better player, even if they carve out the necessary wiggle room.
Memphis doesn't need to consider Hardaway an asset on his own. Picking up a wing, another probing point guard (Trey Burke) and that Charlotte pick amounts to a worthwhile buffer if the front office isn't looking to hit reset.
New York has the least to think about of the trio. Hardaway's contract is not good. Moving it without including two seconds, a first-rounder or Frank Ntilikina is a victory. DeAndre Jordan serves no purpose for the Knicks. He becomes a buyout candidate unless they plan on playing Kristaps Porzingis this season—they'd like to, per the New York Post's Marc Berman—and want to see what that partnership looks like. Even then, a Porzingis-Noah Vonleh duo is more intriguing.
The Grizzlies could try scooping up Emmanuel Mudiay instead of Burke. He's the superior option by a fair margin right now, and it'd make giving up Shelvin Mack a lot easier. New York shouldn't flinch if Memphis pushes. Offloading Hardaway cuts $18.2 million from this summer's bottom line and opens up more than enough room to sign Kevin Durant (player option).
Los Angeles Clippers
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Marcin Gortat, Jerome Robinson, Milos Teodosic, 2019 second-round pick
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: Marc Gasol, Shelvin Mack
Marc Gasol is good fit for the Clippers if he's determined to explore free agency this summer. They aspire to sign Kevin Durant and/or Kawhi Leonard (player option), so they cannot afford to saddle themselves with extra money beyond this season, but they also need a frontcourt upgrade.
Head coach Doc Rivers is reluctant to play Boban Marjanovic for long spurts, and the Mike Scott experiment has flopped after brief success. Marcin Gortat is unspectacular. Danilo Gallinari may be the best option at the 5 after Montrezl Harrell.
Gasol jibes with the Clippers' immediate playoff chase and offseason ambitions, if he's declining his player option. He isn't a defensive panacea, but he's disciplined on the less glamorous end. He helps tone down Los Angeles' foul fests and (might) dissuade some shots at the rim, which would be a nice complement to the team's three-point prevention.
Luxury-tax concerns for both sides make fashioning a deal difficult. The Clippers have short of $4 million in breathing rom. This package stays within that range and saves the Grizzlies about $3 million.
Trading Jerome Robinson, a lottery prospect, when he has fewer than 10 appearances under is belt could be. But the Clippers aren't giving up much else, and their backcourt depth has displaced both him and Milos Teodosic from the short-term picture. Moving Robinson also saves the Clippers $3.6 million in space next summer, assuming Gasol opts out, and every dollar counts if they're trying to dredge up two max slots.
Memphis is taking a placeholder package. Teodosic's vision helps with Mack headed to L.A. here and both Kyle Anderson (left ankle) and Dillon Brooks (season-ending right toe surgery) nursing injuries. But neither the straight-out-of-Miami-Vice point guard nor Gortat is someone the Grizzlies will be itching to keep beyond this year.
They could try getting the Clippers to build something around Avery Bradley. Rivers is loyal to him—too loyal—but he has not been good. Both sides will have to get creative if that's the play.
Bradley, Gortat and Robinson vault the Grizzlies into the tax. Removing Robinson works, but Bradley and a second-round pick are shaky headliners. The Clippers could throw in another second or offer Bradley, Boban and Robinson. Tobias Harris would be crushed, but it gets the job done.
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Hassan Whiteside, 2022 second-round pick
Miami Heat Receive: Omri Casspi, Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons
A lot is happening here. Maybe too much.
Absorbing James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside isn't a small undertaking. They're owed a combined $42.4 million next year—Whiteside has a $27.1 million player option—and Johnson has a $16 million option for 2020-21 that he's almost certainly picking up.
Getting Chandler Parsons off the books softens the gut punch. He's owed $25.1 million next season, and the Grizzlies are looking to move him without including a first-round pick, per Wojnarowski. They'll have to sponge up some comparably bad salary to make that happen.
Johnson and Whiteside are, in theory, at least playable. The Grizzlies can ride out Whiteside's deal if they were planning to pay Gasol through next season, and Johnson, in addition to being a serviceable playmaking big, will be off the books by the time Jaren Jackson Jr. is sniffing the front end of his prime.
Wayne Ellington, who must consent to any trade, and Rodney McGruder enable Memphis to potentially stay afloat in the West. Both bring shooting, while McGruder works his butt off on defense and can run some pick-and-roll. His restricted free agency looms, but he comes with full Bird rights.
The Heat are not making out like bandits. Shelling out for Parsons isn't nothing. Though, if we're being honest, head coach Erik Spoelstra might glean some value from him as a frontcourt floor-spacer.
Shipping out McGruder stings, but the Heat aren't locks to pay him this summer. With Ellington out of the rotation, using both guards to clean up their books and upgrade the center rotation is a sound dice roll. They should actually cross their fingers that Gasol opts in. They aren't party-crashing free agency before 2020. A shorter-term marriage that's longer than a rental works in their favor.
Miami tacks on almost $2 million as part of this trade, which adds to its tax bill. Salary-dumping someone else, finding a third team to take Omri Casspi or convincing the Grizzlies to waive a player would make this a lateral expense.
San Antonio Spurs
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Dante Cunningham, Bryn Forbes, Pau Gasol, 2019 second-round pick (must create roster spot)
San Antonio Spurs Receive: Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol were traded for each other once before, in 2008. It might as well happen again. Putting them on the same team would be cooler, but whatever.
This deal comes with all sorts of conditions. The Grizzlies have to create a roster spot to complete the three-for-one. The Spurs, meanwhile, crawl into the luxury tax by acquiring Gasol. They'd need to broker a Quincy Pondexter-and-cash dump before the end of the year—or another salary-shedding transaction—to duck back beneath it.
Neither stipulation should kill talks.
Bryn Forbes is a genuinely interesting return on Gasol. He's shown more off-the-bounce flair in an expanded role. He's shooting 47.5 percent on drives and posting an effective field-goal percentage of 51.8 on pull-up jumpers—the seventh-highest mark among 61 players who've attempted at least 150 such looks, behind only Stephen Curry, James Harden, Tobias Harris, Kyrie Irving, JJ Redick and Kemba Walker.
Already not one for making midseason trades, the Spurs would be breaking character by selling off a standout contributor on a cost-controlled salary through 2019-20. But Derrick White's rise renders Forbes dispensable, and San Antonio is getting out from under Pau's $6.7 million partial guarantee for next season.
The Spurs are among teams with "significant interest" in soon-to-be restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. Marc is not a substitute for him. But San Antonio isn't scheduled to have cap space before 2020.
Most teams wouldn't play Marc and LaMarcus Aldridge together. The Spurs aren't most teams. Pau has started next to Aldridge when healthy. Marc is an equally smooth fit, if not a cleaner complement. And should he opt out this summer, the Spurs don't need to keep him unless the price is right. They have Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl, and ditching Pau's partial guarantee gives them a semi-plausible path to creating actual cap space.
Forbes is the sole big-picture keeper for the Grizzlies. Still, Pau is worth a look for the rest of the season. A stress fracture in his right foot has limited him to just 15 appearances, but his basketball IQ remains intact. If things don't work out, the Grizzlies can waive him for $6.7 million over the summer or guarantee his $16 million salary in hopes of using it as a trade magnet.