By Lee Eric Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
After the NBA Finals are over, this is the part of the NBA year they call the offseason. But even though nothing’s happening on the court, teams are still competing — trying to acquire talent, either through the draft, trades or free agency.
The Grizzlies have another draft in the books, reeling in two apparently very good players in Wade Baldwin IV and Deyonta Davis in last week’s draft. But seriously, weren’t we saying the same things about Jamaal Franklin and Jarnell Stokes a few seasons ago? No disrespect to those guys, or the rookies, it’s just that until the Grizzlies demonstrate they can develop a guy they drafted, let’s not talk about it.
Which brings us to the last guy the Grizzlies drafted a guy who turned into something: Mike Conley. By the time you read this, the Grizzlies will be and other teams are going to pitch Conley on why he should stay. Many other teams will try to convince Conley he should leave the only franchise he’s ever played for.
But will it be enough? Grizz fans, we have reached a point in our fandom when, as much as we want things to stay the same (Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen), we also want things to be significantly, if not drastically different. We want a shakeup.
You want to keep the defensive minded, tough, hardworking Grizzlies that you’ve come to love. But you also want them to score more, to run up and down the court and make three pointers. You want at least a glimmer of hope that they can be considered among the West’s elite, a top four seed in the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
Of course, we won’t see that fruit until it gets cold again in November. But this summer is when that seed will be planted. So here’s my wishlist for this offseason. I didn’t factor in salary cap limitations or trades, and once free agency settles down a bit, I’ll take a look at trade possibilities.
This wish list is simply based on free agents — as in, if the player and team agreed to terms, these would be some things I wouldn’t mind seeing in the fall. It’s outrageous and maybe completely ludicrous. But why not swing for the fences?
Wish 1: Resign Mike Conley. It seems a foregone conclusion that Conley will suit up on Beale in the fall. The only question is how much will he be paid. Some of his contract will almost certainly be a “make-up” from his last contract, a five-year, $45 million contract which was panned at first, but turned out to be a great deal on a near All-Star point guard.
In earlier columns, I have considered Mike Conley the most expendable of the Core Four. Before you come after me with pitchforks, let me explain.
I think Conley is a great player and person. My argument was that Gasol is a piece you build around going forward. Zach and Tony are the “spirit animals” that give the team its identity. But there are other VERY good PGs the Grizzlies could trade for without taking a huge step back. If you could swap Conley for Derrick Rose or Jeff Teague (both traded last week), would you do it?
That said, Conley-to-Gasol has the potential to be this generation’s Stockton-to-Malone. If those two guys play their whole careers in Memphis, they would finish as legends. I’m okay with that.
Wish #2: Keep Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson. I’m sure Coach Dave Joerger had his reasons, but I really expected to see more of Allen and Barnes on the court together last season — racheting up the defense to maniacal levels. I still hope to see that, even though Barnes is an unrestricted free agent and understandably wants to be closer to his kids in California. Here’s hoping he and the team can work it out.
Lance Stephenson may be the best slasher/scorer the Grizzlies have had on the wing since Michael Dickerson. Yes, I realize I just ignored Rudy Gay. And if you don’t know who Michael Dickerson is, that gives you an idea how long it’s been since the Memphis has had a perimeter guy who can go get a basket, get a foul or both. I suppose it’s up to Lance to opt-out of the final year of his contract, but here’s hoping he doesn’t.
Wish #3: Pursue Nic Batum and/or Harrison Barnes. In his exit interview, Conley mentioned Batum as a player who could help in Memphis. He’s a good defender, can knock down a jumper, but is crafty enough to get to the basket. It remains to be seen if he’ll seek to stay in Charlotte, who traded for him last summer. If he were to sign in Memphis, he would figure to start at either SG or SF. Unless Harrison Barnes was signed, that is.
Reading all the free agent chatter, I ran across a piece comparing Barnes career with Golden State to Harden’s career in Oklahoma City. Which is to say, at best, Barnes — who is a very good player — is the fourth option on a team that boasts a two-time MVP (Steph Curry), Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. On a different team, would Barnes morph into a true star like Harden did? Could that team be Memphis?
Wish #4: Pursue Jeremy Lin. Having toiled in the D-League, becoming a sensation in New York and then bouncing from the Rockets to the Lakers to the Hornets, I think it’s safe to say that Lin is not a true superstar. But in my mind, he is a very capable role player. He can get hot and score in bunches. He can run an offense, allowing Conley to play off the ball. He can hit a three-pointer. He’s humble and hardworking, which would make him a fan favorite in Memphis. And then there’s the hair.
Until someone unseats them from the starting lineup, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be Memphis’ “Bruise Brothers.” I love Zach’s game, think he’s got plenty left in the tank. But in my opinion, his highest and best use in the coming years will be for instant offense off the bench, where he can maintain his double-double production against the opposing team’s second string.
The problem with that scenario is that the team needs someone who is a clear upgrade – ideally an athletic power forward who can knock down a three-pointer, defend and rebound. News flash: Everyone is looking for one of those.
JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin have both shown growth and potential. Rookie Deyonta Davis is also promising. And there is no scenario where any of those guys beats out Randolph as a starter. So if I’m wishing for help down low in the paint . . .
Wish #4: Pursue Ryan Anderson. Anderson was good for 17 points and six board in New Orleans last season — production comparable to Zach Randolph. You’d like more rebounds, but on the other hand, Anderson is also a reliable three-point threat. Do you empty the cash register for him if that’s what it takes? I don’t know about that. But should you go after him? Absolutely.
Wish #5: Pursue Joakim Noah. Part of the fun of being a Memphis Grizzlies fan is watching how all the colorful personalities fit together. In addition to his wild hair and basketball IQ, Noah and Gasol together would give Memphis the two best-passing big men in the game — while shoring up interior defense and rebounding. On a team that will need to move the ball around to get open shots, a Noah-Gasol tandem would give Memphis more playmaking.
Wish #6: Pursue Dwight Howard. Disclosure: I liked this idea better before I realized Noah was a free agent, but hear me out. The simple thought was this: If the rest of the league is doubling down on offense and shooting (Golden State, Houston), then maybe the Memphis counter would be doubling down on defense.
In theory, a Gasol-Howard frontcourt would shut down the paint, wipe the glass, and allow the perimeter defenders like Conley, Allen and Matt Barnes to be more aggressive. That is, until opposing teams start making Gasol or Howard defend stretch-fours out at the three point line. Neither Gasol nor Howard would be great defenders in such situations.
Besides, who knows where Howard’s head is, or how much he’ll think he’s worth. But Memphis has become a place to resurrect careers, and D12 is certainly in need of that. If he didn’t ask for a max contract and was committed to defending and rebounding, why not take shot at Howard?
In any case, the dominoes will start falling this weekend — starting with Kevin Durant. And honestly, much like draft night, this free agency season will have twists and turns, trades and more.
Like I said, just because there’s nothing’s happening on the court, there’s still a game to watch. Here’s hoping that the Grizzlies win the summer. Until then . . .