NBA Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

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Last season: Memphis had hoped to turn a magical second-round playoff run (which included pushing OKC to seven games) into momentum for the next season. They were still good — 41-25, which earned them the four seed — but when Zach Randolph went out with knee issues the Grizzlies were not the same. He came back in time for the playoffs but was still not 100 percent and it showed. Memphis had their chances in the first round against the Clippers — they blew a 21-point lead in Game 1 and had Game 7 at home — but were bounced earlier than they planned.

Key Departures: O.J. Mayo never really found a fit in Memphis so now he’s going to try and find a home in Dallas. It’s a loss in that it saps Memphis of bench strength that they got nothing back for in return. Zip. That was the only real name loss, although Dante Cunningham had potential that may blossom elsewhere now.

Key Additions: They brought in Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington and Tony Wroten. We will see if any of these guys actually turn out to be key, but they are going to get the chance. With Mayo gone there is plenty of room and opportunity for someone to step up off the bench and grab minutes and a role.

Three keys to the Grizzlies season:

1) Are Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph healthy and ready to lead the offense? If you’re an optimistic Grizzlies fan, your mantra is that we have yet to really see the Grizzlies running on all cylinders. Rudy Gay missed the playoffs two years ago, Zach Randolph wasn’t right last year. Once we get everyone together…

But will they? And really, just how good can they be, particularly on offense. The Grizzlies are fun because they are a throwback team — Marc Gasol is an old-school bruiser on both ends but with a mid-range shot you have to respect (but he’s so old-school you almost expect a two-hand set shot). Randolph is as gifted a back-to-the-basket scorer from the block as there is in the league. Rudy Gay can slash into the lane with the best of them (although he too often settles for contested midrange jumpers). The question is can they all co-exist? As part of that, who is spacing the floor with shooting? Not Mayo anymore. Solid point guard Mike Conley hit a solid 37.7 percent from three last season and he was the best shooter from three on the team. They didn’t add a shooter this summer. Memphis both avoids and can’t hit the three, so despite all their talent you can defend them. You can pack it in.

Gay and Randolph have to be very efficient for the Grizzlies to score enough to be a real threat. And they have to stay healthy. Can they do that?

2) They need to get some good bench play from someone. Anyone. The Memphis can roll out five quality players to finish games — Conley, Tony Allen, Gay, Randolph and Gasol. But after that the drop off is pretty severe and they need someone to step up. Josh Selby will get his chances, as will Bayless. Are you counting on Flip Murray and Wayne Ellington to give you quality minutes every night? The bench is an issue for the Grizzlies.

3) Are there going to be changes when Robert Pera takes over as owner? The sale seems to be dragging out a bit, but Robert Pera (with minority investors like Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning) should take over the team at some point this season. That doesn’t mean the team is moving — the lease is rock solid for another nine years — but it does lead to questions about direction of the franchise on the court.

Pera may bring in new people on the basketball side that will chart a new course. Or, he may make more gradual changes. But we don’t really know what those changes will be or what that means for the Grizzlies roster as it exists now. We don’t know, but the sale could be the first step in a roster shakeup.

What Grizzlies fans should fear: That you’ve seen the best of what this Grizzlies roster can do. And this fear feels pretty close to reality. Back when the Thunder beat the Grizzlies in Game 7 of the second round two years ago it felt like those teams could be on similar trajectories, but while the Thunder continue to take off like a rocket ship the Grizzlies regressed. And when you look at this current roster it’s hard to see them being much more than they were last year. Meanwhile the Thunder and Lakers keep getting a lot better, and you can likely throw the Clippers in that same category (not contenders, but getting better than Memphis). Unless there are changes, they heyday of this Grizzlies roster could be in the rear-view mirror. And it feels like that is the case.

How it likely works out: This season is going to look a lot like last season — is a good team and will win a lot of games with a front line only the Lakers can really match. They will play good defense and most nights get enough offense. Gay will show flashes but never really explode like you’d hope. They make the playoffs for sure, but dreams of a title should be dashed quickly, likely even before the second round.

Prediction: I’ll say 48-34, with a 4-6 seed in the West and a real dogfight of a first round matchup against someone like Denver or San Antonio or the Clippers. If they are healthy and get a favorable matchup they can advance to the second round, where they will test whoever they face but it won’t be enough. Most likely this is a one-round and out team with dreams of the second round now. At least until the team is sold then who knows where things go.

Atlanta Hawks reportedly trade two second round picks for cash

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The Atlanta Hawks came into this year’s NBA Draft with six picks: No. 8 and No. 10 in the lottery, No. 17 (acquired recently as part of the Allen Crabbe/Taurean Prince trade), plus three second rounders (35, 41, 44). While the Hawks are a young team looking for players to develop on the Trae Young and John Collins timeline, they were never going to use all six of those picks for players they wanted.

So they have sold off two of those picks for cash.

First, the No. 44 pick to the Miami Heat, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Now the No. 41 has been traded to Golden State, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Players picked in the 41-44 range in recent drafts include Pat Connaughton, Tyler Dorsey, Damyean Dotson, and Bruce Brown. Some guys there never stick or make a roster, but sometimes teams can hit on a role player in that range.

Atlanta has been active trying to package a couple of their first-round picks to move up in the draft, something that could come together on a very active draft night. This is shaping up to be one of the most trade-heavy, chaotic drafts in years and Atlanta could be right in the middle of it.

Report: Boston trying to trade Aron Baynes, something good for both sides

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Just a little over a week ago, Aron Baynes opted into the final year of his contract with the Celtics, worth $5.4 million. He did so in part because he believed himself and Al Horford would split time at the five on a team contending in the East.

Horford is all but gone, likely following Kyrie Irving out the door in Boston. Anthony Davis isn’t coming (obviously). Title contention next season appears off the table for the Celtics.

The Celtics are now reportedly looking for potential trades for the Baynes, the defensive-minded big man, something Adrian Wojnarowski reported. Baynes is reportedly good with the move.

If you want to take that a step further, if Boston trades Baynes into cap space — meaning the Celtics don’t take a player and salary back, just a pick — then renounces all its free agents, they could have enough money to sign a 7-9 year max player, such as Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler, something noted by Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. Not the Celtics will go that route, they probably can’t land one of those guys at this point, but it’s an option.

With Danny Ainge’s best-laid plans in tatters (pairing Irving and Davis), the Celtics are looking to regroup. They still have a good team with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward (who is probably better next season, two years removed from his injury), Marcus Smart, and others. With player development and shrewd moves to get an elite player or two, they can return to contention in a couple of years. How exactly that comes together remains to be seen, but it is possible. It just requires patience.

Aron Baynes isn’t going to be sticking around to see that.

Report: Lakers reportedly never asked Anthony Davis about waiving trade kicker

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The Lakers reportedly didn’t address the trade date with the Pelicans before agreeing to deal for Anthony Davis. That oversight cost the Lakers leverage in negotiating parameters that’d open max cap space.

So, the Lakers are scrambling now.

Different proposals for revising the deal include Davis waiving his $4,063,953 trade bonus. At last check, he intended to receive the full the amount, though maybe he’s willing to leave money on the table to help his new team.

But the Lakers apparently haven’t even asked him yet.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The Lakers could have asked Davis to waive the kicker as part of the deal. Per league sources, they never broached it.

To give the Lakers (far too much) benefit of the doubt, maybe they’re waiting to see which free agents they can attract before asking Davis about the trade bonus. The Lakers might think they have a better chance of getting Davis to waive the bonus if they can present a compelling plan of how the extra money would be used.

More likely, it seems Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka just isn’t covering all the bases he should.

There are still ways for the Lakers open max cap space and get Davis more, if not all, of his bonus. Essentially, the Lakers must send out more money in the trade so they can take in more money, including Davis’ trade bonus. They could guarantee more of Jemerrio Jones‘ salary and/or sign-and-trade Alex Caruso in a revised version of the deal.

But Jones and Caruso would have negative value in those scenarios. So, the Lakers would have to attach sweeteners to whichever team took them.

That might be a justifiable cost of forming a team with LeBron James, Davis and a third star. It’s also a cost that should have been more thoughtfully considered before agreeing to terms with New Orleans.

To get under luxury tax, Thunder reportedly would trade Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, No. 21 pick

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As you read this, without their roster completely filled up yet, the Oklahoma City Thunder are more than $6 million over next season’s luxury tax line of $132 million. That’s just the guaranteed money. By the time you factor in non-guarantees and the cost of the No. 21 pick, the team will be more than $19 million into the luxury tax.

That price may be a little steep for Thunder ownership, according to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated.

It would be impossible for the Thunder to avoid the luxury tax without doing serious damage to their chances to chase a ring next season — and in a Western Conference that doesn’t have a dominant Golden State team on top, the Thunder believe they have a shot. This is likely more about reducing the tax hit than avoiding it.

The Thunder will pay $38.5 million next season to Russell Westbrook and $33 million to Paul George, and obviously those two are untouchable.

Adams will make $25.8 million next season and $27.5 million the one after that, however, trading him would do serious damage to OKC’s fourth-ranked defense last season. Adams is an integral part of the Thunder identity on and off the court, and trading him is highly unlikely. Dennis Schroeder will make $15.5 million each of the next two seasons, and he provided a lot of value for the Thunder off the bench.

Andre Roberson seems a more likely candidate. He missed all of last season due to a ruptured left patellar tendon (although they did miss him(. He’s set to make $10.7 million and if a team can be convinced the defensive specialist is back and healthy there would be teams interested. The challenge for the Thunder is constructing a trade that does not bring back salary.

Nothing may happen around the draft, but keep an eye on Thunder this summer as they try to save a little cash without damaging their playoff dreams.