Memphis was the Western Conference’s #5 seed this past year. They weren’t expected to make it out of the first round, and they got to the conference finals. That is the furthest they had ever advanced in their franchise history. So was it a fluke or are they on the verge of something bigger?
The short answers: Yes and maybe.
It was probably lucky for them that Russell Westbrook got hurt. They were really good this year though, winning 56 games. That was the 6th best record in the league. OKC won 60, the Spurs 58, Nuggets 57, and Clippers 56. So there wasn’t much of a difference from the 2nd best record to the 6th. So can they pass those teams next season? Like I said, maybe.
Memphis made the Rudy Gay trade to avoid becoming a luxury tax paying team ($70 million or more). Their guaranteed payroll heading to the offseason is at $57.8 million, but one would think it will jump to around $65 assuming they keep Jerryd Bayless and Austin Daye. The latter is more likely to be released if it is necessary to keep Tony Allen, who is a free agent. That is the first big question.
Do you keep Allen (who made $3.3 million last year)? What is a fair price for a defensive specialist? And do you really want to come back with the same team and just hope you get better if you are the Grizzlies? Certainly a fair, and tough to answer question.
If they want to tweak the roster they certainly could attempt to trade Arthur, Pondexter, Davis, or Wroten. All have very affordable contracts. But if they really want to change it up, they’ll entertain trades for Zach Randolph. He is due $17.8 million next year will be 32 years old with a couple of years left on his deal. He proved quite valuable to the Grizzlies concepts and is a borderline All-Star player. Problem is he is getting older and isn’t getting more athletic and is coming off a horrendous series against the Spurs.
Memphis could give the combo of Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur a shot to shine at the power forward position. In trading Z-Bo they could get back his replacement, or upgrade on the wing. The Grizzlies clearly lack offense with Prince and Allen on the floor, and defense with Pondexter and Bayless on the floor. They could get a player perhaps who gives them both in return.
Maybe a deal with the Bulls along the lines of Boozer and Deng for Randolph, Prince, and Pondexter. Teams like Dallas and Atlanta could absorb salary if you wanted to trim your payroll with a deal as well.
The other decision is what do you pay Lionel Hollins to stay on as head coach. Whatever the Grizz define as fair is fine with me, but if the Clippers want to back up a Brinks truck to get him, so be it. There won’t be a shortage of qualified candidates that would be eager to take over a winning team.
If I were Memphis, I’d fish around and find out what a Z-Bo deal could get me, and if nothing pops up then just bring back the same team (including Tony Allen as long as the price is under $5 million annually) and hope that rookie Tony Wroten grows into the backup PG spot, and that players like Conley, Gasol, Pondexter and Bayless continue to improve.