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VOL. 132 | NO. 120 | Friday, June 16, 2017

For Grizzlies, a New Chapter About to Begin

By Don Wade

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The June 22nd NBA Draft will tip off without the Memphis Grizzlies. At least that’s the case almost one week out. The Grizzlies have no picks.

What they do have, in abundance, are free agents.

Tony Allen, 35, and Zach Randolph, who turns 36 in July, are unrestricted free agents. JaMychal Green, like Randolph a power forward, turns 27 this month and is a restricted free agent; meaning, the Grizzlies will have a chance to match any offer. And Vince Carter, at 40 the league’s oldest player, is also a free agent and may want a two-year contract.

So the Grizzlies have a lot of decisions in front of them. They also have a lot of salary tied up in the other half of the Core Four – center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley – and last season’s damaged-goods free agent bust, Chandler Parsons.

Just after the San Antonio Spurs had dismissed the Grizzlies from the first round of the playoffs, general manager Chris Wallace was asked if controlling owner Robert Pera would consider going into the luxury tax to keep players.

“Well, those are internal discussions,” Wallace said. “I won’t go into that.”

Translation: No, Pera won’t go into tax territory to keep players, no matter how beloved, on the wrong side of 35.

Which doesn’t mean it’s inevitable that Allen’s and Randolph’s days as Grizzlies are guaranteed done. But it does mean that it’s a very real possibility. No matter the public relations hit.

“We understand the fans have great affection for those guys,” Wallace said. “That’s been expressed to me many times over the years and I have a lot of affection for those guys.”

Good feelings, of course, don’t score points, knock down 3-pointers, or win games. Much less championships.

The Grizzlies made clear their preferred long-term intentions when they signed Parsons to that four-year $94 million contract that now has the look of a golden anchor pulling the Grizzlies’ payroll flexibility under water.

Allen, for his part, has said: “I ain’t trying to break the bank.”

Coach David Fizdale got Randolph to accept playing off the bench with the idea he could re-make himself into a top-tier sixth man going into his free agent year. Does that mean Fizdale knew the franchise likely wouldn’t bring Z-Bo back? It does have that look.

Logically, Green is the better and obviously younger option. But maybe Green also believes the Grizzlies’ potential has a hard ceiling. He might have better choices.

Carter’s value goes beyond his on-court numbers, but if you’re a team on a budget should you really be investing anything in a 40-year-old wing player?

So perhaps the Grizzlies are about to shake some things up even beyond what we can presently imagine. Big man Brandan Wright’s playing time diminished and he could be a chip for trying to get a second-round pick.

“You don’t know what opportunities will come your way at the 11th hour,” Wallace said. “You gotta know every class, regardless of how much you participate in that particular draft because you have so many opportunities going forward with free agency and trades.

“Tony Allen is a great example. I was with the team that drafted him in Boston. Now you have information about a player you can tap into down the road.”

Seven years ago this summer, Wallace signed Allen as a free agent. Not long after, Allen was speaking Grit & Grind into the Memphis nomenclature and the team was off on a seven-year playoff run.

Good times. But also, old times.

One way or another, a worn page is about to be turned.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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