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Now What? – Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies have a franchise cornerstone in Ja Morant, a roster loaded with young talent, and they’re in good shape regarding the cap. Bobby Krivitsky examines where they have to improve and how they might do so.

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How much better can the Memphis Grizzlies realistically get next season?

They have a burgeoning star in Ja Morant. In his second year in the NBA, the former Rookie of the Year averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 assists and four rebounds per game. He helped guide the Grizzlies out of the play-in tournament, first fending off the San Antonio Spurs, then going into the Bay and scoring 35 points to go with six assists, six rebounds and four steals to stave off Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and company. 

And while Memphis got outmatched against the Utah Jazz, Morant helped lead his team to a Game 1 victory and followed it up with a 47-point, 7-assist performance in the following contest.

Dillon Brooks also used the postseason to solidify his importance to the growth of the franchise. As the defender primarily responsible for guarding DeMar DeRozan, the fourth-year wing helped frustrate the Spurs’ leading scorer, who made five of his 21 field goals, finishing with an inefficient 20 points. And in the final frame, Brooks scored eight straight points for the Grizzlies, helping them gain a lead they never relinquished.

In his first taste of the playoffs, Brooks averaged 25.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals while cashing in on 51.5 percent of the 19.4 shots he took per game, including connecting on 40 percent of the four three-point attempts he hoisted per contest. In that Game 1 win against the Jazz, he scored a game-high 31 points.

While Morant and Brooks used this season to reinforce what they mean to the Grizzlies, it’s unclear how much Jaren Jackson Jr. can contribute to elevating the franchise past the point of needing to fight through the play-in tournament. Perhaps, growing into a legitimate title contender at some point down the road.

That reality isn’t Jackson’s fault. The fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee when the 2019-20 campaign resumed in the Orlando bubble. The injury cost him all but 11 games this season. Understandably, he looked rusty upon returning to the lineup, particularly from long range. After making 39.4 percent of his 6.5 three-point attempts last season, he converted just 28.3 percent of 5.5 shots from beyond the arc this year.

Despite his struggles as a shooter, in those 11 games, Jackson still managed to produce 14.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per contest. And in a January interview with Marc Spears of The Undefeated, Jackson confirmed that he’s grown to seven feet tall. That boost could help him become an even more impactful rim protector. Hopefully, he utilizes this offseason to recapture his rhythm as a shooter and develop the rest of his game so he can re-establish himself as a part of the Grizzlies’ core moving forward. Trading him now, before he’s had that opportunity, and while his value is likely lower than it will be next season, seems premature. But if the 2021-22 campaign plays out in a more unfortunate fashion, it may nudge Memphis to move on from Jackson if it hasn’t done so already.

As for the rest of the Grizzlies’ roster, executive vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman has done a terrific job putting together a team loaded with quality young players such as Morant, Brooks, Jackson, Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Xavier Tillman. That’s why he received a long-term extension earlier this month.

This offseason, the most pressing decision the franchise has to make is whether to exercise Justise Winslow’s $13 million team option. The Grizzlies acquired the former 10th overall pick in hopes he would fill their need for a big wing defensively and give them another playmaker at the offensive end. However, injuries, starting with the back injury he suffered while with the Miami HEAT, have limited him to 27 underwhelming games with Memphis, including one appearance in the playoffs. Declining the option year would go a long way towards the Grizzlies having ample cap space this offseason, but they’d be looking to fill the same boxes he didn’t check off for them, and the free-agent market lacks enticing options. If they’re determined to acquire an upgrade, a trade makes the most sense. Otherwise, they can give Winslow one last chance in a season where the schedule is less condensed to see if he can address one of the team’s most notable holes.

In addition to finding more two-way production from a big wing, Memphis’ offense needs to become more dynamic. To their credit, the Grizzlies relentlessly attack the paint, crash the offensive glass and they feast off turnovers. But they took the seventh-fewest threes in the NBA this season, attempting just 31.4 per game. For context, the Oklahoma City Thunder launched 35.1, and they ranked 13th. The Jazz hoisted a league-best 43 per contest. They weren’t particularly efficient from long range, either, converting 11.2 of those attempts, which translates to a 35.6 percent success rate, figures that rank 24th and 20th, respectively.

It’s no secret that’s the weakest part of Morant’s game offensively. He attempted an average of 3.8 threes per game this season and made 30.3 percent of them. For him to unlock his full potential, he has to develop into a respectable long-range shooter. It’s one thing for defenses to prefer him to take a shot from beyond the arc, but it’s another for them to sag dramatically off him, compromising his ability to attack the rim.

It would also behoove Memphis to get to the free-throw line more often. Despite how often Morant and company put pressure on the rim, the Grizzlies took 21.3 free throws per game, tying the Orlando Magic for 17th. For his part, Morant averaged 5.9 in the regular season and raised that number to eight in the playoffs. However, despite tremendous body control, he takes a lot of hard falls around the basket, which is reminiscent of a young Dwyane Wade. Morant has a very effective floater he should start relying on even more, and an increased proficiency from beyond the arc could also help reduce the amount of punishment Morant takes on drives to the rim.

Defensively, Memphis is particularly effective at pressuring the ball. The Grizzlies tied the Philadelphia 76ers, generating the most steals per game this season (9.1). That, combined with how effective they were at limiting opponents’ second-chance opportunities, grabbing 35.3 defensive rebounds per game, the ninth-most in the NBA this season, went a long way towards Memphis holding teams to 110.5 points per 100 possessions, the seventh-best defensive rating in the league. However, the Grizzlies need to shore up their three-point defense. Opponents averaged a tick below 13 made threes per game against them, converting 36.7 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, both of which ranked 18th league-wide.

Internal improvement is likely to be the key to most of Memphis’ growth next season. But they have the 17th pick in the draft, and as stated earlier, with so much young talent on their roster, their exploration of the trade market could be how they address some of their weaknesses and fortify the supporting cast around Morant.

On the horizon, difficult decisions regarding rookie extensions, most notably, as it pertains to Jackson’s next contract, loom; additionally, key veterans such as Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Anderson are entering the final year of their contracts. A patient approach might be best, but there’s also no guarantee a players’ value will increase or even stay the same next season. That’s all the more reason for the Grizzlies to thoroughly examine the possibilities available to them on the trade market. 

Memphis doesn’t have a clear path to title contention but has a franchise cornerstone, a roster loaded with young talent and the Grizzlies are in good shape regarding the cap. They also have a lightly protected 2024 first-round pick the Warriors owe them, which could become a valuable asset that helps them ascend. Whether they accomplish that goal and how high they climb is a matter of how creative, diligent and lucky they are. Time will tell.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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