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VOL. 131 | NO. 86 | Friday, April 29, 2016

Roster Remix? Grizzlies May Finally Shake Things Up

By Don Wade

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As amazing as it was that the Memphis Grizzlies set an NBA record by using 28 players this past season, it’s almost more unbelievable that they had to sign eight different players to 11 separate 10-day contracts.

After an injury-ravaged season, the Memphis Grizzlies may finally be on the brink of a roster overhaul. If that path is chosen, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen (9), each in the last year of their contracts, may be trade options.

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Going forward, the Grizzlies have many roster decisions to make on players young and old. Their first aim is to re-sign free agent point guard Mike Conley (much more on that later). They ended the season with 15 players on the roster. Let’s take a look at those players and begin the full-on sports rite of rampant speculation that will keep Grizzlies fans occupied – and a little crazy – until the NBA Draft on June 23 and free agency for the 2016-17 season officially begins at 12:01 a.m., Eastern Time, on July 1.

G Jordan Adams and F/C Brandan Wright

If you’ve forgotten they are on team, that’s understandable. Adams was a first-round pick two years ago. He played 248 minutes as a rookie and 15 minutes over two games this season because of knee pain and knee surgery. He did not attend the media exit interviews and the whispered explanation was that he was doing off-site rehab. Something has gone wrong and Adams’ ability to ever contribute is in question. Under contract for next season, with a team option the following year.

Wright, 29, signed as a free agent (FA) with the Grizz last summer. Knee issues limited him to 12 games. He was to back up Marc Gasol and brings a more athletic frontcourt presence. If healthy, he’s appealing to keep because he has two more years of his contract for less than $12 million total. But that affordability also means he could be attractive to other teams and might have to be part of a trade to acquire offense for the wing (yes, it’s still a major problem after all these years).

C Chris Andersen, PG Jordan Farmar, G/F P.J. Hairston

Anderson and Farmar started in the playoffs out of pure desperation. Veterans with little NBA moxie left, they were break-glass-in-case-of-emergency players. The more the Grizzlies saw of Hairston, the less they seemed to like him. Shot 23.2 percent from deep for Memphis in 18 games, so what’s the point? None of these guys are under contract and only resurface as cheap insurance policies.

F JaMychal Green, F Jarell Martin, G Xavier Munford

Green led the injury-decimated Grizzlies with 78 games played. He proved a legitimate, athletic, frontcourt rotation player and averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds. Grizzlies hold a team option for $980,000 next year, and at that bargain price he would seem a lock to return.

Martin, who is 6-10 and weighs 239 pounds, was the 25th overall pick of the 2015 Draft. He had his season delayed by foot surgery and then subsequent foot pain after he first tried to return. Ultimately, he was a rotation player the last two months of the season and in 27 total games averaged 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds. Perhaps most impressive, he showed a willingness to scrap on both ends of the floor and flashed enough moves to inspire hope that he could be a contributor when the roster is healthy. He’s definitely worth a longer look.

Munford, 23, joined the Grizz on a 10-day deal and turned it into a non-guaranteed multi-year contract. In 14 games he averaged 5.7 points and 1.6 assists. Shot 39 percent from 3-point range in limited opportunities after shooting 41 percent from deep in 41 NBA Development League games this season. Right now more of a combo guard than a true point. More potential than Russ Smith had as a backup NBA point guard, but not ready to be No. 2 for a team with playoff aspirations.

G Lance Stephenson

More than once, coach Dave Joerger wondered where the Grizzlies would have been without Stephenson in the closing weeks of the season. He was the most dynamic offensive player (if also the most frustrating) and averaged 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 26 games after coming over from the Clippers in the Jeff Green trade.

The Grizzlies hold an option on “Born Ready” for next season at $9.4 million and that’s simply too much given the team’s other needs. Even the Grizzlies won’t know their true appetite for bringing him back on a more favorable deal until they’ve settled bigger issues. This was his sixth NBA season, but he’s still only 25.

F Matt Barnes, G/F Vince Carter

The elder statesmen at 36 and 39 years old, respectively, they became the temporary faces of the franchise and gamely insisted on finishing out the lopsided Game 4 playoff defeat to San Antonio on the court.

Barnes and Carter were forced to start at the end because of all the injuries and had to play heavier minutes than they should have. But they can still contribute as rotation pieces, too. Both are streaky shooters from 3-point range now, but they will defend as well as their bodies allow and they know how to play and were good leaders for the young players.

Carter has one year left on his contract at $4.2 million. He would be great to keep around when he’s done playing, too. Barnes has more NBA life left and is a FA who will especially listen to offers from any team out West so he can be closer to his kids. But he took to Memphis and Memphis took to him.

“I really feel like I found something here,” Barnes said.

G Tony Allen and F Zach Randolph

Allen has one year left on this contract at $5 million. Even at age 34 and with such limited offensive ability that teams choose to leave him standing alone on the perimeter, he could still be a bargain if he could stay healthy.

But he can’t. He missed at least back-to-back games four different times this season with hamstring and knee injuries. This was the third straight season he played less than 65 games.

At this stage, it’s likely the Grizzlies would be happy to include Allen in a significant trade that brings back more offense. And don’t be shocked if Z-Bo is also in that deal.

Yes, at some level it’s heresy to speak of trading such beloved players. But it’s time if the Grizzlies are to finally remake the roster and join the current NBA age of, if not small ball, smaller ball. Randolph is also 34 and while he had times that reminded he was an All-Star three seasons ago, opposing teams exploited his inability to keep up with stretch fours.

Randolph has one year left on his contract for $10 million and teams that need more inside presence might have interest. He rehabbed his reputation in Memphis and many times put the team on his broad shoulders. But the returns on investment have now entered the diminishing phase. His 15.3 points and 7.8 rebounds are a drop from his seven-year average in Memphis of 17.2 points 10.5 rebounds

The caveat, of course, is if the Grizzlies realize they can’t re-sign Conley they might be willing to ride out these contracts to the end. They also might decide it’s time to “blow up” the roster.

C Marc Gasol and PG Mike Conley

The Grizzlies locked down Gasol last summer. General manager Chris Wallace said the team would keep Gasol and Wallace has been just as confident about Conley.

While Conley has expressed much love for the city and is very tight with Gasol, he also made clear he will – unlike Gasol – go through the free agency process and let other teams make their best pitch.

“You can’t imagine leaving and then things happen, and you start thinking about the other end: `What would it be like if I did leave?’” he said. “You start weighing all the options. It’s a lot of wear and tear on your mind.

“With the amount of (cap) space available in free agency this season, we have an opportunity to go out and get a couple of guys that can keep us competitive.”

Translation: Conley will either have to see the Grizzlies succeed in signing a significant offensive free agent or acquiring one in a trade, or he is merely trying to force them to make bold moves and plans to return anyway.

For the longest time, it seemed certain that re-signing Gasol clinched getting Conley to return. But the Grizzlies have failed to truly address their most glaring needs for so long – more athleticism, more shooting – that Conley could be wavering.

Even Barnes wants to know the Grizzlies are going to accept and act upon the league’s current reality.

“I’ll pay close attention to the moves,” Barnes said. “I kinda know how the chips fall. You take care of the big pieces and then get the other guys plugged in. It’ll be an interesting offseason. The league is transitioning from what Grit n Grind used to be. It’s not really NBA basketball anymore, unfortunately.”

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