First-round picks snazzy additions to Grizzlies’ slow build

Grizzlies rookie Ziaire Williams
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
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NBC Sports’ 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.

The Grizzlies are way ahead of schedule. Predicted to finish last in the West in 2019-20, they made the play-in. Predicted to finish 11th in the West last season, they made the playoffs.

Which created a rare opportunity for a team already so good.

Every member of Memphis’ postseason rotation was already contracted through the upcoming season – most of them on cheap deals typical of young players. Weighted by playing time in the playoffs, the average Grizzly had a 2021-22 salary barely above $9 million. That was lowest among 2021 playoff teams:

Taking advantage of their salary-cap flexibility, the Grizzlies took Steven Adams‘ and Eric Bledsoe‘s unwanted contracts from the Pelicans/sent Jonas Valanciunas to New Orleans in exchange for moving up in the draft (from No. 17 to No. 10 in the first round, from No. 51 to No. 40 in the second round) and getting the Lakers’ top-10-protected 2022 first-rounder. Memphis then packaged the No. 40 pick and a couple future second-rounders to get another first-round pick from the Jazz this year.

The Grizzlies left the draft with No. 10 pick Ziaire Williams and No. 30 pick Santi Aldama. Two first-rounders, including one in the lottery – not bad for a playoff team.

Williams was a highly touted recruit, and his length, fluidity and ball skills can dazzle. He also really struggled at Stanford last season. Maybe that was a product of a uniquely challenging year. If he clicks, he could fit nicely as the core piece Memphis sought between Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. in Justise Winslow (whose team option got declined this summer).

Aldama is an even stranger prospect. The Spaniard spent the last two seasons at Loyola (Maryland) in the Patriot League.

Though a downgrade from Valanciunas in skill, Adams could hold up better defensively the playoffs. Adams could also give Jackson more room to spread his wings while providing the strength the slender Jackson lacks.

Memphis is really making every effort to build around its young core.

To increase cap space next summer, the Grizzlies got off Bledsoe’s $3.9 million 2022-23 salary guarantee by flipping him to the Clippers for the expiring contracts of Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu.

Other spinoff deals were more curious. Memphis sent Beverley to the Timberwolves for Juancho Hernangomez and Jarrett Culver then Hernangomez to the Celtics for Kris Dunn and Carsen Edwards.

Only Culver – who looked lousy in Minnesota – remains with the Grizzlies. Rondo (buyout), Dunn, Edwards and Oturu all got waived, Memphis incurring one-year cap hits on their guaranteed salaries. At least the Grizzlies got a second-rounder from Boston.

Taking and waiving Marc Gasol netted another second-rounder from the Lakers. That was a nice sentimental move for Memphis, given how he began his career. Gasol’s Grit & Grind era was the best in franchise history.

So far.

Before Jackson and Morant get too expensive, the Grizzlies are trying to position this next generation for maximum success. Players like Williams and Aldama could eventually swing fortunes. As could the acquired future picks. It’ll take years to see who pans out.

As much as Morant and Co. are pushing the envelope, Memphis isn’t rushing its ascension.

Offseason grade: C+