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Three questions the Memphis Grizzlies must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 43-39, lost to San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs

I know what you did last summer: Memphis moved on from the “grit n’ grind” era by letting Zach Randolph and Tony Allen leave via free agency. Vince Carter also left, and the Grizzlies got younger and looked to the future re-signing JaMychal Green (two-year deal) and took a gamble on a young player with potential who didn’t work out in Sacramento in Ben McLemore (who will be out with a broken foot until Christmas at least). The Grizzlies also drafted Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks, and added Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers.

THREE QUESTIONS THE GRIZZLIES MUST ANSWER:

1) Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are gone, did the Grizzlies lose their identity? Did they get worse? This season is going to be different in Memphis, the “grit n’ grind” era has come to an end with the Grindfather himself down in New Orleans (a team that could use some grit). Randolph rejuvenated his career in Memphis and was loved by fans. Memphis’ identity will change some this season.

The thing is, on the court those losses aren’t that serious. Randolph was a bench guy asked to put up shots, and at age 35 Allen could still defend some but opposing teams didn’t have to guard him on the other end of the floor. They were rightfully beloved, but be blunt their on-the-court skills can be replaced.

Memphis is going to be competitive and about at the same level if Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can stay healthy and continue to contribute. Those are both All-Star level players (although neither likely makes the team this season in the stacked West) — Gasol added an efficient 19.5 points per game last season and showed he could shoot threes, Conley averaged 20.5 points per game, shot 40 percent from three, and remained a quality defender. If the production from those two is about the same this team will be around the same number of wins and hang around in the fight for one of the bottom three playoff spots in the West.

Those two should get a little more help this season, too. Chandler Parsons should be able to give them more than 34 unimpressive games (see the next question). JaMychal Green is a year older and should take another step forward. James Ennis has been working hard this summer on his ball handling, midrange game, and being effective in the pick-and-roll. The Grizzlies will get more out of the backup point guard spot (will that be from Mario Chalmers is another question). The Grizzlies are not threatening the Warriors, but healthy this is still a playoff team.

2) Do the Grizzlies get anything out of Chandler Parsons? This feels like an annual question. Parsons, battling knee injuries again, played in just 34 games last season and didn’t look good when on the court — he wasn’t creating shots, and he wasn’t spacing the floor, shooting just 33 percent from three. He was signed to be the third guy to be in the core with Gasol and Conley, and to this point he has done little in Memphis save eat good barbecue.

This is really about his knees — if he can move freely, he can contribute. If his knees hamper how he moves, he will not. If he can contribute on offense, the Grizzlies look a lot more like a playoff team, even in the crowded West. If he can’t, the load on Gasol and Conley may be too much.

3) At what point — next summer? — do the Grizzlies decide it’s time to go full in for the rebuild? Right now, the Grizzlies are not changing their plans or goals — Gasol and Conley were untouchable when teams called about trades this summer.

But for how long? Gasol sounded this summer like a guy who doesn’t want to be on a team treading water in the West for much longer. Gasol has two seasons and a player option on his deal, Conley has three plus an option, and at some point Memphis may want to consider moving one or both of them in trades, while their value is high, to get assets back that help the eventual rebuild. Grizzlies ownership/management isn’t there yet, but if the team struggles this season will that change around the trade deadline? Will it change next summer? This era of Grizzlies basketball — the best era in its history, with a couple of trips to the conference finals — is starting to wind down. At some point, Memphis will want to make moves while their best players still have trade value.

But that time is not yet. Not this season.

Report: Lakers eager to use LeBron James at center flanked by top four young players

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Why did the Lakers, after securing LeBron James, sign Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson? Their explanation leaves plenty to be desired.

What will the Lakers do with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma now that none of those four are being traded for Kawhi Leonard? Their plan there is far more intriguing.

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a second Lakers executive said.

LeBron at center is a dangerous weapon. The Cavaliers showed it more during the 2017 playoffs – to positive effect.

But LeBron isn’t Draymond Green, who makes Golden State’s Death/Hamptons Five Lineup function. Green possesses a unique combination of rim protection and – through his ball-handling and especially passing – ability to get into offense quickly. LeBron isn’t as good at protecting the paint, and though he’s lethal in transition when he wants to be, he’ll be fighting years of slow-down habits.

I also wonder how much LeBron embraces the physical toll of playing center. The Lakers have only JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Mo Wagner at the position. Are they banking on LeBron playing there a significant amount during the regular season?

LeBron would likely accept the role more enthusiastically in the playoffs. But Ball, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma will be tested – at least initially – by the heightened level of play. I’d be wary of overly relying on that lineup.

But this is the best way for the Lakers to get talent on the floor and overcome spacing concerns. I’m absolutely excited to see it in action. Whatever concerns I have about it are only multiplied with other potential Lakers lineups.

Report: Nuggets lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. undergoes another back surgery

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Michael Porter Jr. underwent back surgery in November, missed nearly his entire freshman season at Missouri then slipped to No. 14 in the draft amid injury concerns.

The Nuggets have been noncommittal about their plans for Porter, but they’ve given an eyebrow-raising update.

Nuggets release:

Michael Porter Jr. has undergone surgery of the lumbar spine at The Carrell Clinic in Dallas, Tex. The Procedure was performed by Dr. Andrew Dossett. There is no timetable for his return to basketball participation.

Porter is a talented forward with the length and skill to make a major impact as a scorer.

But, as this latest surgery underscores, drafting him carried terrifying risk. Denver will have to bear that for a while.

Report: Dirk Nowitzki to re-sign with Mavericks for $5 million

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Dirk Nowitzki is set to play his 20th season – breaking Kobe Bryant’s record for most seasons with a single franchise and tying Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis for most seasons in the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s $5 million team option, but he was never signing elsewhere. He was either going to retire or play for Dallas.

Once he decided to return, the only question was money.

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s option to maximize their flexibility for upgrades, namely signing DeAndre Jordan. Once Yogi Ferrell agreed to an absurdly team-friendly contract, Dallas had enough cap space left to give Nowitzki his team-option amount. If necessary, he would have taken the $4,449,000 room exception.

Nowitzki has had a great career, and this could be his farewell tour. But he also remains a helpful rotation-level player. Though he’s a defensive liability, his outside shooting as a big goes a long way toward floor spacing.

Report: Mavericks re-signing Yogi Ferrell for less than qualifying-offer salary with second year unguaranteed

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The Mavericks expected Yogi Ferrell to accept his qualifying offer.

Turns out, they’ll keep him on an even more team-friendly deal than the one he could have unilaterally signed.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This is an awful deal for Ferrell.

As reported, he’ll earn between $2,548,077 and $2,760,417 next season. That range is less than his qualifying offer – which would have paid him a fully guaranteed $2,919,204 next season.

That reduction is acceptable if Ferrell got something in exchange – but he gave Dallas the concession by adding an unguaranteed second year. If he plays well, the Mavericks will keep him at a cheap salary. If he doesn’t, they’ll waive him for no cost. They have all the control.

The promise of the backup shooting guard job is probably just lip service. Teams don’t stick by that if the player struggles. If he produces, he would have gotten the job anyway.

Dallas has plenty of point guard types – Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, J.J Barea, Jalen Brunson and Ferrell. Rick Carlisle uses two of them simultaneously often enough that Ferrell should land in the rotation. But it’s far from a lock.

With this deal, Ferrell is taking all the risk and the Mavericks are getting all the upside.