Who should the Grizzlies have drafted?

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Behind every disastrous NBA draft selection there’s usually some solid logic at work. Detroit already had Tayshaun Prince at small forward, and were such a good team that a long-term prospect made more sense than a guy who would provide an immediate impact. When Atlanta drafted Marvin Williams over Chris Paul, plenty of reputable experts thought that Marvin had more potential than CP3. Portland had Clyde Drexler at shooting guard when they passed on Michael Jordan. 

The Grizzlies’ recent demotion of #2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet to the D-League has led many to declare the pick a bust already. I think it’s a little too early to completely give up on Thabeet’s career, because he does have some serious size and athletic ability. However, with how ineffective Thabeet has been and how good some of his fellow rookies have been, now might be a good time to examine what some of Memphis’ other options may have been. 
James Harden:

This is a pick Memphis was almost certainly not going to make. Harden is a very talented young player. He’s been great off the bench for the upstart Thunder, and will only get better as he improves his ability to finish at the rim. However, two of Grizzlies’ best young players are O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. Mayo is a shooting guard and Gay is a small forward, which are Harden’s two natural positions. He’s perfect providing a rest for Kevin Durant and a change of pace from the offensively limited Thabo Sefolosha in Oklahoma City, but Memphis may have had trouble finding minutes for him.
Tyreke Evans: 

In my opinion, this pick would have been a home run for the Grizzlies. They may have been concerned about Evans’ ability to be a true point guard and play next to O.J. Mayo. Evans’ passing skills have been better than advertised in the NBA, and I’m a big fan of putting two combo guards next to each other. Mayo’s assist ratio isn’t great, but he has the ability to make plays from the shooting guard spot and could’ve complimented Evans’ scoring ability nicely. Also, Evans going into the paint and setting Mayo up with open looks could’ve made for an absolutely punishing backcourt tandem. 
Ricky Rubio:

Rubio is a pure point guard, a good defender, and would’ve had a Spanish teammate in Marc Gasol. However, there were some reports that Rubio would not have come to Memphis if the Grizzlies drafted him. Since he made good on his threats to the Timberwolves, it might be best to give the Grizzlies the benefit of the doubt for not drafting Rubio. Rubio could’ve been a good fit, but it may be a moot point. 
Jonny Flynn:

Flynn has been solid for the Timberwolves, but the Syracuse product has yet to blow the doors off the NBA. Mike Conley Jr. hasn’t been great so far in his NBA career. However, Greg Oden’s former running mate is still only 22 years old, and isn’t that far removed from being a #4 overall pick himself. The Grizzlies may have been hesitant to give up on Conley for anyone they weren’t in love with, especially after they traded Kyle Lowry at last year’s trade deadline. 
Stephen Curry:

Curry has show excellent playmaking and scoring skills in Golden State, and has been one of the few bright spots in Golden State’s miserable season. He has one of the NBA’s purest strokes, and shows an understanding of the game well beyond his years in the league. The Timberwolves may have been wary of pairing him with O.J. Mayo, another scoring guard who likes the ball in his hands. They apparently aren’t the only team with misgivings about pairing Mayo and Curry, as the Warriors apparently denied a trade that would have given them both O.J. Mayo and Thabeet for Monta Ellis. I’m not sure why teams think Curry couldn’t work next to Mayo (on a team, not a sandwich); if Curry can thrive next to the black hole that is Monta Ellis, he can play with anybody. 
High draft picks have been known to surprise fans after slow starts to their NBA career. But with how well some of the rookie guards have been playing, Memphis has to be seriously questioning whether going big was the right move on draft night. 

Austin Rivers: Everybody, ‘so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers,’ overlooking Wizards and Pacers

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We picked the Celtics, Raptors, 76ers and Bucks to be the top four teams in the Eastern Conference this year and ranked the Wizards and Pacers next. If that’s not the consensus, it’s close to it.

Wizards guard Austin Rivers, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

“I think we’re heavily slept-on,” he tells me. “Team’s been to the playoffs, what, the last five, four or five years? Then going into this year, you add me, Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and nobody seems to talk about us. So I just think we’re heavily slept-on, but that’s fine. At the end of the day, nothing really matters until the season starts and we set that tone for ourselves. I get the hype of a couple of the other teams, but I think we have a chance to compete with the best of the East.”

I tell him I recently spoke to Tyreke Evans, who said something similar about the Indiana Pacers. Rivers gets more animated.

“Yeah, I would say Indiana’s the other team that gets slept-on, too,” he says. “You look at Indiana, they took Cleveland to seven games and then damn near, arguably could have beaten them.”

Rivers rattles off Evans’ stats from last season, then continues: “That’s who they just added to the team? And nobody seems to talk about the Pacers because everybody’s so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers. And rightfully so: they’re both talented teams. But Indiana is just as good as both those teams. And I think we’re in the same situation.”

I agree the Wizards and Pacers had positive offseasons. But Indiana might have been punching slightly above its weight as a surprise team last year, and Washington’s problem has often been overconfidence.

In that regard, Rivers – acquired in an offseason trade from the Clippers – is already fitting right in. The brashness might be good for Rivers, but it’s not what the Wizards need.

Washington could have a good season. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are a strong starting point in the Eastern Conference, and Dwight Howard could help with the right attitude and health. Rivers is a quality reserve. But let’s pump the brakes on calling Jeff Green a key addition, though Rivers would be only one of many – including someone in his immediate family – to make that error.

Report: Klay Thompson doesn’t plan to give Warriors discount

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Klay Thompson, who will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, has said many times he plans to stay with the Warriors. He even discussed signing a contract extension, which would have capped his compensation far below what he could get in free agency.

But Thompson is apparently no longer interested in offering Golden State that savings.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Thompson has no plans to take a discount, and the Warriors don’t expect him to, league sources say.

Thompson’s max next summer projects be about about $221 million over five years if he makes an All-NBA team (or wins Defensive Player of the Year) this season or about $190 million over five years if he doesn’t.

That’s a steep bill, but the Warriors have little choice but to pay it. They’re in the midst of maybe the greatest run in NBA history, and they’re generating massive revenue. Cheapness would be a terrible reason to break up this team. Thompson is a key contributor, and at least his outside shooting should help the 28-year-old age well.

But costs will get steep in a hurry. If the Warriors re-sign Thompson and Kevin Durant next summer and Draymond Green the following summer to max – not even supermax – deals, keep Stephen Curry then fill the roster with 10 minimum-salary free agents, their projected payroll in 2020-21 would be… about $288 million, including about $115 million in luxury tax. That might be untenable, even for Golden State.

Perhaps, Durant will take one decision out of the Warriors’ hands. But if Durant stays and Thompson seeks every penny, Green could face a belt-tightening team in 2020 free agency.

Spurs waive Manu Ginobili, will likely continue paying him into retirement

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The Spurs are still paying Tim Duncan, who retired in 2016.

It seems they’ll also give Manu Ginobili, who retired this summer, a similar golden parachute.

Duncan will earn $1,881,250 this season, the final installment of his three years of post-retirement income. When he retired, Duncan had one season remaining on his contract with a $6,393,750 salary. San Antonio didn’t have to pay him that money. Duncan wasn’t coming to work anymore. But the Spurs graciously allowed the all-time great to receive all but $750,000 of his remaining salary and stretched the payments over three years. That money still counted against the cap and was paid despite San Antonio trying to clear cap space in both 2016 and 2017.

The Spurs waived Ginobili yesterday, and no word has emerged on a buyout amount. He was due $2.5 million this season.

Based on the process and Duncan precedent, it seems highly likely Ginobili will continue to draw paychecks from San Antonio.

The Spurs would do well to pay Ginobili all his money this season, whether it’s the full $2.5 million or a negotiated reduced amount. They’re already over the cap and still below the luxury-tax line, so there’s minimal flexibility harm. The only other option – stretching Ginobili’s payments into equal thirds over the next three seasons – could interfere with roster building in future years.

Of course, the other option was getting Ginobili removed from the books entirely. But it seems that route has passed with waiving him.

San Antonio wants to treat its legends well, and that means paying them more than necessary – even with that money counting toward the cap as the Spurs transition into their next era.

Clippers biding their time until star hunt

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Lob City is the proudest era in Clippers history. Really, it’s the franchise’s only proud era since moving to California. After reaching the playoffs just four times in the first 33 years post-Buffalo, the Clippers qualified all six years Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan played together. In that span, only the Spurs and Thunder won more games.

And now it’s over.

The Clippers moved the final remaining link from their 2012-2017 teams by trading Wesley Johnson yesterday. That’s historic turnover, as the roster is completely remade just two years later. Since the early 1950s, only the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely changed their rosters within two seasons.

L.A.’s flux comes with big eyes. The Clippers are trying to lure star free agents, which means closely monitoring situations elsewhere. Entering the season with the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard reportedly favors the Clippers. Jimmy Butler is unhappy with the Timberwolves – ideal for the Clippers, who want to avoid another pleasing team landing his Bird Rights. Though Kevin Durant rumors are focused on the Knicks, talk of him leaving the Warriors could mean L.A. is at least in the mix.

The Clippers project to be able to unilaterally open about $63 million in cap space without stretching players next summer.

Creating so much flexibility required stinginess this summer. The only free agents signed to multi-year guarantees were Montrezl Harrell (two years, $12 million) and Avery Bradley ($12 million this season, just $2 million of $12.96 million guaranteed next season).

The Clippers also gave multi-year deals to their first-round picks, No. 11 pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and No. 13 pick Jerome Robinson. I’m much more bullish on Gilgeous-Alexander. Those two rookies could be important in building back up, because for the second straight summer, the Clippers lost their best player.

After Paul engineered his way to the Rockets last summer – with Griffin traded to the Pistons between – Jordan left for the Mavericks this summer. His fit in L.A. had become awkward, and though he was willing to take a one-year deal (at least with Dallas), everyone seemed ready to move on. This seemingly wasn’t about maintaining flexibility. It was about turning the page.

The Clippers will miss Jordan on the court next season. They replaced him with Marcin Gortat, acquired in a trade for Austin Rivers, but that’s a downgrade.

Gortat (like Rivers) is on an expiring contract. So are Luc Mbah a Moute – a Lob City contributor returning after a stint in Houston – and Mike Scott, who each signed one year, $4,320,500 deals for half the mid-level exception.

The Clippers look deep and feisty after all this tinkering around Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari. They probably won’t make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, but they should remain competitive enough to stay on the radar of free agents.

Remember, though, the Clippers entered the summer coming off a winning season and with plenty of 2019 cap space. They were always setting up to make a big splash next summer. They just took a small step back this summer, which will be no problem if they make their desired leap in a year.

Offseason grade: C-