As of this writing, the NBA’s Feb. 6 trade deadline is just two weeks away.
Two weeks of rampant speculation about where the Grizzlies will send Andre Iguodala, who is basically being paid $17 million to stay away from the team.
I made that sound worse than it is. By all accounts, Iguodala’s absence was what everyone wanted. The Grizzlies wanted to develop young talent and Iguodala’s minutes would have been limited. Iguodala, near the end of his career, wanted either a buyout or trade to an obvious championship contender, presumably in Los Angeles. There’s no bad blood there.
And the Grizzlies have remained resolute about what they would want in return for Iguodala: some mix of draft picks and young talent. But after Tradepocalypse 2019, the landscape was shuffled. Championship contenders like the Lakers or Clipper either don’t have the assets Memphis would want, or won’t give up what Memphis would ask for.
Meanwhile, all the Grizzlies have done is gel into a fun, fast-paced, dynamic team with all signs pointing to the 2020s being the Decade of Ja. That this transformation has happened so quickly has made it impossible to ignore what now should be an obvious question:
Should the Grizzlies trade Iguodala at all? Should they trade anyone at all?
The answer is not so obvious. The going logic is that you trade Iguodala to get more assets to build with, instead of him walking away at season’s end. Back when we were all expecting this rebuild to take at least four years, the logic was that Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and their expiring contracts would be trade fodder for this season – to accrue still more assets.
But chemistry is a finicky thing. Many a talented team has been derailed by bad team chemistry, and even more have fallen short of their potential because of mediocre team chemistry. Sometimes, players have value beyond the on-court production ¬– “good locker room guys” help hold teams together.
So when the Grizzlies have THIS much chemistry, THIS soon, with THIS roster showing nothing but upside halfway through the first season of this rebuild . . . why would you mess with that?
I’m betting the Grizzlies front office won’t. While Ja Morant is the on-court rookie prodigy, there are prodigies up and down the organization, including Taylor Jenkins and Zach Kleiman. If Kleiman and his team was smart enough to put this roster together, I have to believe his team is smart enough not to disrupt it by adding or subtracting players just as they’re rolling.
But the Grizzlies sudden rise also brings with it unexpected pressing questions. Namely: Can you pay to keep the team together?
As mentioned, Crowder ($7.8 million) and Hill ($13.3 million) are unrestricted free agents. Dillon Brooks is also at the end of his rookie deal. As is midseason reserve star De’Anthony Melton. Bruno Caboclo too. In other words, at least four rotation players – including two starters and two key reserves – will be on the market next offseason.
Brooks, who has morphed into a reliable defender and scorer, is certainly looking to cash in somewhere after making $1.6 million this season. Crowder is likely to have his choice of championship contenders looking for his tough, rugged 3-and-D production as a role player. If only the Grizzlies had some cap room. . .
Cap room they will have, if they keep Iguodala and allow his $17 million contract to expire. Add in the expiring contracts of Avery Bradley ($2 million), Dwight Howard ($3 million) and Josh Jackson ($7 million), and it’s no wonder that the team’s guaranteed payroll would drop from $125 million this season to just $48 million in July. It’s kind of genius that they’ll get that much cap relief from guys who never put on a jersey this season.
That would give Memphis plenty of financial flexibility to keep Crowder, Brooks, Hill and Melton, if they choose to – to keep the team together. Of those four, I think Crowder and Brooks are more essential, but if any of them are not in Memphis next season, it won’t be because the Grizzlies couldn’t afford to keep them.
Which brings us back to Iguodala. If it makes sense to keep him, does it make sense to play him? Could you invite him to join the roster for a playoff push? I’m known for my sunny optimism, but it’s hard for me to see a downside there, either.
Can you imagine adding a former Finals MVP championship savvy, solid defense and cerebral play to this mix? I know I’m a hypocrite given everything I just wrote about chemistry, but in Iguodala’s case I think it’s win-win.
I think all the young cubs, especially Morant and Jackson, would devour Iguodala’s veteran savvy, and specifically his insights into what it takes to win multiple championships. It would give Taylor Jenkins a puncher’s chance of pulling off an upset in a presumed first round playoff series.
As for Iguodala, who could retire a happy and wealthy man at any point, were he to join the team, it could show he still has game, and that he’s able to both produce and accept a reduced role – both critical if he hopes to play in the NBA again.
In any case, here we are: Not even a full season into the rebuild and having to entertain serious questions about how to keep the team together in the offseason. I guess everything else about this team has happened quickly; why not this?