The Grizzlies Failure at the Deadline

The Grizzlies failed at the trade deadline. Again. Last year they decided receiving nothing in exchange for Tyreke Evans was a better idea than receiving something for the pending free agent, where he could, ya know, leave the team for nothing in return.

This year Memphis was sitting on ~$15.7 million of expiring salary, made up of two quality rotation contributors.

JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple have skillsets that could have helped any team looking to chase playoff seeding or playoff victories. Green is a stretch big with enough mobility to switch on the perimeter. Temple is a high level perimeter defender that is a career 35.6% three-point shooter. Temple is hitting 38.4% of his catch and shoot threes this season on 3.5 attempts per game.

Had the Grizzlies been willing to take back some unwanted salary in the process, the team easily could have obtained a first round pick. Instead they shipped out the duo in what looks like a move to duck the luxury tax.

In context with the Marc Gasol trade, this move makes little sense, other than to dodge the tax. Memphis bailed on a trade with the Hornets that would have netted a protected future first round pick to move Gasol. The team would have had to take back unsavory money, but the combined $26.3 million player options of Jonas Valanciunas and C.J. Miles aren’t anything to brag about.

Instead the Grizzlies pivoted to the Raptors deal. In a vacuum that’s fine. There was an intent. Stay competitive this season in hopes they can convey the pick they owe to Boston in 2019. Fair enough. But the follow up Green/Temple trade significantly weakens the team’s performance level for the remainder of the season. The two moves simply don’t reconcile.

Except from the view of cost savings.

Avery Bradley

There is no way to spin this: Avery Bradley is having a poor season.

For the year Bradley, is shooting 33.7% from three to go along with 41.5% on two-point attempts. His overall field goal percentage is 38.3%, which has his eFG% at 45.2% He is hitting 80% of his free throws, but has attempted just 25 all season. As a result, his true shooting percentage is a horrendous 46.4%.

Bradley isn’t even averaging double figures *per 36 minutes.* He is sitting at 9.8 points/36 as of this writing. Among shooting guards this season, Bradley is 97th in RPM, and 122nd in PIPM. He sits 64th in DRPM and 94th in D-PIPM at the position.

And this issue isn’t new for Bradley. The previous 95 games of Bradley’s career suggest he isn’t the same player outside of the Boston cocoon.

The two most important categories for Bradley, perimeter shooting and defense, can both bounce back. Despite his 33.7% mark from distance this year, Bradley is a career 36.4% shooter from beyond the arc. His C- grade in perimeter defense this season is no doubt disappointing, but it is a full letter below his career mark of a B-, and, perhaps more encouragingly, he did manage a B grade in the category last year, his first season outside of Boston.

Even still, the trade is a downgrade. The Grizzlies shipped out two solid contributors for someone in the middle of a (very) down year. So why do it? To avoid the tax.In the Gasol trade, the Grizzlies shipped out $24.1 million in salary, and took in $27.4 million. In this deal, Memphis shipped out the ~$15.7 million and took back Bradley’s $12 million salary.

So, in the Gasol trade the Grizzlies increased salary by $3.3 million and in the Bradley trade they decreased salary by $3.7 million. Memphis now sits $3.7 million below the luxury tax.

[Insert Thinking Face emoji here]

Just.. Why?

Because Chris Wallace is terrible, but we can get into that another time. Memphis was holding two valuable assets: quality contributors on expiring contracts. Somehow the Grizzlies walked away with a roster downgrade and no draft picks to show for it.

The team at least controls Bradley’s destiny after this season, as he has a $2 million partial guaranteed for his $12 million 2019-20 salary. If he flashes improvement for the remainder of the year the team can retain him. Alternatively, if Memphis wants to decrease costs as much as possible they can waive him and save the $10 million.

The Grizzlies clearly wanted to remain competitive, as signaled by the Gasol trade. They could have taken Bismack Biyombo’s bad money and netted a first round pick. Instead they chose impact contributors and a free look at a former first round point guard. Again, fair enough.

But dumping Green and Temple for nothing makes no sense coupled with the Gasol trade. If Memphis wanted to remain competitive this season AND net a first rounder, there was a deal out there to make that happen.

In previewing the trade deadline, I posited that the Nets could be interested in taking on Green and Temple for their playoff push. Brooklyn has a top-12 protected first round pick they might have been willing to part with if Memphis took on Allen Crabbe’s contract, which affords Crabbe an $18.5 million player option for next season.

Turns out, that exact trade was discussed by both parties. Per Zach Lowe:

“The Nets and Grizzlies briefly discussed a swap of Allen Crabbe — earning [$18.5] million next season — and Denver’s first-rounder for the Garrett Temple/JaMychal Green pairing, sources say.”

So how did Bradley come about?

“Memphis, facing tax concerns, instead flipped those two for Avery Bradley’s semi-expiring deal — and no picks.”

Crabbe could have helped this year. He is a 39.7% career three-point shooter that is, get this, shooting 39.7% from distance this year. Memphis was already short on viable perimeter shooters, and two of their best options now play for the Clippers.

Seriously Though, Why?

The Grizzlies made a conscious decision to try to remain as competitive as possible. It’s one thing to avoid the tax if you’re tearing it down. Memphis wants the pick they owe to Boston to go this year. The team also needs future assets to build around beacon of hope Jaren Jackson Jr. Instead, they sent two key rotation players to the west coast for nothing. Not a better player, or a young promising player, or a nice-to-have future first rounder.

Just a slumping player that has dealt with injuries throughout his career and doesn’t appear to be the same player outside of Boston that he was while in Boston.

There were other ways to get under the tax. For instance, they could have tried going back to Charlotte and offering to send Green and Temple for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and some form of draft compensation. Charlotte would have remained under the tax for this season while avoiding the possibility that MKG picks up his $13 million option on their payroll this summer. The Grizzlies would have dropped $2.7 million under the tax, upgraded their defense, and gotten a draft pick.

Maybe that conversation happened and went no where, but it’s just an example. If staying under the tax was a mandate from ownership, there must have been a potential move that could have netted a draft pick. If they had been allowed to go into the tax for just this season, there shouldn’t be an issue avoiding it next year, as the Grizzlies and Chandler Parsons seem destined for a waive and stretch.

Or, imagine this, they use the protected Denver first from the floated Crabbe trade to help get Parson’s off their books instead of locking in three years of dead money.

What a concept.

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