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NBA PM: Is This The Last Run For The Grizzlies?

Is this the last run for the Grizzlies as currently assembled? … The mechanics of camp cuts.

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The Last Run?:  When Robert Pera bought the Memphis Grizzlies, a dinner was organized to let Pera get to know the key parts of the team he just bought. When guard Mike Conley arrived for the dinner, he experienced an awkward moment. It wasn’t a team dinner; outside of Pera, the only others in attendance were teammate Marc Gasol and some senior Grizzlies staffers.

Today, that first meeting is telling. The Grizzlies are not getting any younger, and while Memphis has been as competitive as anyone in the West over the last few seasons, the clock is ticking on the Grizzlies as currently constructed.

Gasol signed a long-term deal to stay with Memphis this past summer, while Conley is due for his big, almost-unquestioned pay day this July. Beyond those two, just Zach Randolph has a meaningful contract beyond this year and it’s likely that if the Grizzlies can’t get to the promised land this season, a very different looking Grizzlies team is likely to be constructed going forward.

As things stand today, the Grizzlies have Gasol on the books next season at $21.165 million, Randolph at $10.361 million, Brandan Wright at $5.709 million, Tony Allen at $5.505 million and rookie Jarell Martin at $1.286 million. The Grizzlies have a $2 million guarantee on Vince Carter’s $4.264 million deal and a $1.465 million team option on Jordan Adams they will likely exercise. Conley has a cap hold valued at $14.382 million, which is substantially lower than his expected $24 million max salary.

A quick run of the math puts the Grizzlies at roughly $61.873 million in cap commitments and likely cap holds, giving them what could be as much as $28.127 million in free agent money to spend in July while still having the ability to exceed the cap with a monster deal for Conley.

This past summer, the San Antonio Spurs used similar cap mechanics to land LaMarcus Aldridge as a free agent. The Grizzlies are poised to be in a similar situation next summer, with the ability to clear a ton of cap room and take advantage of that flexibility.

From a leadership point of view, there is a belief that this could be Memphis’ year if they can stay healthy. That’s been an overarching concept throughout training camp. Head coach Dave Joerger revealed last week that he has been measured in how much work he’s put on his veteran team throughout training camp and that he planned to manage minutes and wear throughout the season, much like the Spurs have done over the years – possibly including giving guys a night off when the schedule gets tight.

When healthy, the Grizzlies have been one of the toughest teams in the NBA with a unique grit-and-grind style of play and a tremendous home court presence.

Time will tell if this Grizzlies team can reach its potential, but what is clear is that Gasol and Conley are the future in Memphis and if this season does not yield a championship run, the Grizz are well situated to re-load around them.

Worth A Listen:  In case you missed the latest episode of the Basketball Insiders podcast, our Eric Pincus and Larry Coon broke down the current landscape of the NBA and whether the league is heading toward a lockout in 2017.

The Basketball Insiders podcast drops new installments every Tuesday and Saturday (schedules permitting) and will feature a rotating cast of hosts. You can always find the podcast on the website, but you can also find it on iTunes, Soundcloud and your favorite podcasting app.

Timing Matters:  Over the last 48 hours there have been a flurry of moves as NBA teams attempted to trim down their rosters in order to reach the 15-man roster limit. There are a couple of things to know:

Not Paid for Training Camp

While there are some players who have contracts that stipulate payments before the season starts, the vast majority of NBA contracts do not start paying out until the second week of the NBA’s regular season.

Players are compensated roughly $2,000 per week to participate in training camp and preseason games, and that does not include what they are owed in their contracts.

A large number of camp players who were just released may only receive the approximately $8,000 paid for training camp, unless more was defined as guaranteed in their contract.

As we have covered before in this space, some teams have started using partial guarantees as a means to secure promising camp-type players and potentially hold onto them for the D-League.

In the case of the L.A. Lakers, their two camp cuts Robert Upshaw and Michael Frazier were given partial guarantees of $35,000 and $50,000 in order to land them in camp and hang onto them in the D-League.

While these deals are often written for the NBA minimum, the guaranteed portion is all that counts against the salary cap. The Lakers will carry a salary cap hit worth $35,000 on Upshaw and one worth $50,000 for Frazier for the balance of the season.

D-League Rights

A little talked about caveat about the D-League is that every player contract is between the player and the D-League, not the individual’s D-League team. Players sign with the league and their rights are allocated to the member teams. There are some rules about right allocation pertaining to training camp cuts.

For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ D-League team, the Canton Charge, will have the rights Quinn Cook if he opts to play in the D-League. He was a training camp cut of the Cavaliers and their D-League team would hold his rights. This is pretty standard for players that did not play in the D-League last year.

The Dallas Mavericks signed Jamil Wilson to a partially guaranteed deal and he too was released as a camp cut; however, because he finished the season in the D-League last year, his D-League rights still belong to the Bakersfield Jam as a “returning player.” What’s likely going to occur is that the Texas Legends will send a late D-League draft pick to Bakersfield in order to gain Wilson’s rights.

Each NBA team can assign up to four players cut from their camp roster as affiliate players. They can spread those affiliate player designations out however they like.

There were some D-League-rights-related moves this week, with Utah picking up Phil Pressey off of waivers specifically to obtain his D-League rights as an eventual camp cut.

While preserving D-League rights has become a big part of the preseason process, each player that is released by an NBA team is under no contractual obligation to play in the D-League and once they clear waivers they are free agents, eligible to sign with any NBA or overseas team they choose. The rights that teams hang onto is exclusive to the D-League, if that player chooses to play there.

While the Lakers did agree to pay Upshaw $35,000, he is under no obligation to do anything with the Lakers going forward. It’s completely his choice to stay in the Lakers’ program, which some players will do in an effort to keep the relationship going in the event that a roster spot opens up during the season.

Clearing Waivers

The waiver process is based on the current standings. In the offseason, the waiver order is based on how last year ended, so Minnesota has had the first right to claim waived players all summer. That will change once the new season gets underway.

The waiver process includes a $1,000 fee the waiving team pays to the NBA for administrative costs. Each team is then notified of the availability of a waived contract and, assuming a team has the cap space or a suitable cap exception to absorb the contract terms, they can make a waiver claim on that contract. If no claim is made in 48 hours, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent.

The timing of the waiver is important in camp cuts, as players must clear the waiver process by 5 p.m. ET today or they begin to count as a roster salary and are owed as though their contracts were retained.

The Lakers, for example, opted to hang onto Jabari Brown for a few extra days and will owe him $4,971 per day, minus whatever they paid him in training camp. The math on that is $9,972 for two additional days minus the $8,000 paid in camp, so gets Brown an additional $1,972. Given that the Lakers are way under the luxury tax, the additional cap hit is extremely nominal and it gave the Lakers a chance to explore other options and reward Brown for what was likely a very good camp showing.

While NBA teams will submit opening day rosters today, they are not prohibited from making changes. Given the number of interesting players that have hit the waiver wire in the last 24 hours, there is a strong chance a few teams make some moves in the opening week, especially as waived players start to clear the waiver process.

The NBA regular season gets underway on Tuesday.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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