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NBA Daily: Fixing The Memphis Grizzlies

With injuries to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. where should the Grizzlies go from here?

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Less than 10 games into the new season, the Memphis Grizzlies were weakened mightily with the loss of star sophomore Ja Morant. This gives us the perfect chance to add the Grizzlies to our yearly Fixing series early on in the season. 

Morant, of course, went down in just the third game of the season on Dec. 28 against the Brooklyn Nets. Morant was off to a hot start in his first two games, even dropping 44 points and 9 assists against the San Antonio Spurs. Morant should only be out for three-to-five weeks with a sprained left ankle depending on how quickly he can bounce back. 

Memphis also started the season without their second-leading scorer from the 2019-20 season, Jaren Jackson Jr. He suffered a torn meniscus in the Orlando bubble and has no timetable for return. Jackson Jr. was the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and, after putting up 17.4 points per game pre-injury, he’s a huge part of the future.

Outside of their two untouchable picks, the Memphis roster could use some work if they wish to become contenders. In this article, the current squad will be examined with tips and things to look for them to do in free agency and the draft in the offseason.

What’s Working?

The two aforementioned players, Morant and Jackson Jr. are in the team’s plans and have given them no reason to not be. Second-year player Brandon Clarke has also been a good piece for the team as his play coming off the bench set the team up for a play-in game for the eighth seed this past season.

Dillon Brooks has carried the offense since the injury to Morant, posting 17.4 points per game through the first 10 contests, but there are major questions about his efficiency. According to Basketball-Reference, the league average PER is 15, Brooks is currently at 12.8. Brooks is mainly valued as a 3-and-D player, so this may not be cause for major concern as but it is something to keep an eye on moving forward. 

Jonas Valančiūnas anchors the floor at the center position, consistently averaging a double-double since being acquired by Memphis in the Marc Gasol trade.

The bench has been led this year by young guards Grayson Allen and rookie Desmond Bane. Allen is a ferocious defender that is always applying pressure on opposing guards when he is on the floor, so he should continue to be in the mix. Bane has looked like a very savvy for the team at No. 30 overall. He has posted 8.9 points per game on 46.4 percent from the floor, 47.5 percent from deep and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line. 

There is more potential within the product already seen on the floor for Memphis, but these are the players who have been making the largest impact and figure to remain on the roster into next season.

What’s Not Working?

In a stacked Western Conference, there is work to be done to this roster if the team wishes to have perennial playoff expectations. 

Currently, Memphis ranks 27th in the NBA in offensive rating (103.9), per NBA Advanced Stats. The Oklahoma City Thunder (103.5), New York Knicks (103.3) and Cleveland Cavaliers (100.6) are the only three teams trailing the Grizzlies in this category. Naturally, this is due to a lack of scoring outside of both Morant and Jackson Jr. 

One glaring flaw in their scoring is three-point shooting. Without good three-point shooters in the game, the floor shrinks and makes it easier on the opposing defense. Rotation players like Kyle Anderson (30.4 percent), Grayson Allen (28.6 percent), Brandon Clarke (26.1 percent) and Tyus Jones (23.1 percent) are having bad seasons from deep. There’s still time for them to get their shots going – but if this continues to be a problem, then changes should be expected. 

Memphis currently ranks 29th in the NBA in shots from 20-to-24 feet out, allowing opposing offenses to shoot at 45.1 percent on them, per NBA Advanced Stats. The only team behind them is the Chicago Bulls, who let teams shoot 49.4 percent. The three-ball is an integral part of the game today and the Grizzlies really need to figure out what they have to do to improve their three-point defense. Additionally, they have struggled mightily switching on off-ball screens and rotating on defense.

If the Grizzlies wish to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference this season they have to figure these things out.

Focus Area: Draft 

As things stand right now, Memphis would be picking in the lottery if the pick falls between 1-7. If not, they would have to be in playoff contention as the pick relays to Utah if the number lands between 8-14. 

The upcoming draft class is one that is stacked with talent and players that could fill the holes on the blossoming roster. Memphis should be looking for players in this draft who can slide in at shooting guard or small forward as these are the only two starting spots not set in stone. Morant is a ball-dominant point guard who always has the ball, so they’ll need someone that can create shots off the ball and keep the offense moving.

Jalen Green is a great fit at the shooting guard position if the Grizzlies are in a position to draft him. As a very explosive guard, Green can get to the basket at will and use his body to finish through contact. 

Other good fits could be Jonathan Kuminga (G League), Ziare Williams (Stanford), Moses Moody (Arkansas) or Greg Brown (Texas). These players are all good fits for the team as they can play the shooting guard or small forward position seamlessly – Moody specifically would be a great fit as he has hit a 40 percent clip so far this season, per Basketball-Reference.

Focus Area: Free Agency

According to Spotrac, Memphis should expect to have around $30 million in cap space entering free agency next season. Additionally, this projected cap does not include the $13 million that is projected to go to Justise Winslow if the team decides to retain him. 

The Grizzlies really need to use this free agency to acquire more bench scoring and players that can stretch the floor. If they were to acquire more shooting around Morant and Jackson Jr. the floor would open up and make it easier on them offensively. Morant has displayed excellent passing vision with the ball, and adding more consistent shooting would elevate the pace and production of this offense.

The upcoming free-agent class is stacked with stars. Memphis should be more of a desirable destination with their own young stars making names for themselves around the league. Only time can tell if the Grizzlies can improve on their surprise 2020 efforts, especially without Morant or Jackson Jr. in the near future, but this is a franchise on the rise – if they’re not already here, it shouldn’t be much longer.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.

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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years

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According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).

Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.

On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.

The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.

However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.

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