Report: Grizzlies owner Robert Pera signaling intent to spend big

Grizzlies owner Robert Pera
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The Grizzlies exist in a blissful state.

They’re one of the NBA’s best teams with the league’s second-lowest payroll (ahead of only the tanking Thunder). Memphis has drafted well and ascended quickly with several key contributors still on their relatively cheap rookie-scale contracts.

The future could be blindingly bright. NBA salary-cap rules won’t break up this core. Teams can generally exceed the salary cap to keep their own players. If that player spent his last three seasons with the team (or moved only via trade), the team can typically pay any amount up to the max salary.

But there’s a catch: The team must still pay those contracts and, potentially, the resulting luxury tax.

If re-signing everyone, the Grizzlies could get quite expensive. Jaren Jackson Jr. already signed a four-year, $105 million contract extension that kicks in next season. Ja Morant is headed toward his own max, potentially super-max, extension. A solid supporting piece, Brandon Clarke will also be extension-eligible this offseason. Desmond Bane, who deserved All-Star consideration this year, will be up for an extension next year. If Ziaire Williams nears Memphis’ expectations, he’ll be due a large raise after that.

The Grizzlies could even open cap space this summer to sign a veteran before those young players’ raises kick in. Again, once players are on the team, there’s more latitude for keeping them than adding new players.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The team has been sending signals it intends to be aggressive in retaining and acquiring talent, league sources say.

In conversations internally and with executives on other teams, the Grizzlies have been consistent with their message: When the time is right, Pera will spend what it takes.

Along the way, he paid to upgrade the Grizzlies’ facilities, spending millions renovating the locker room and expanding the training and weight rooms, and he deepened the team’s front office, scouting and medical departments. He almost never involves himself directly in league business, league and team sources say.

“He watches from a distance, but he’s very involved day-to-day and knows everything that’s going on,” says [Elliott] Perry, who is the Grizzlies’ alternate governor on the NBA board of governors. “He has trust in the people he’s put in place, and he stays out of their way.”

What an about-face in reputation for Pera, who’d previously been seen as both too distant and overbearing. Money goes a long way. Pera’s net worth, as estimated by Forbes, now ranks third among NBA owners:

  • Clippers’ Steve Ballmer ($69 billion)
  • Cavaliers’ Dan Gilbert ($52 billion)
  • Grizzlies’ Robert Pera ($18 billion)

We’ll see how much Pera actually spends. Just because he has the means doesn’t mean he’ll use them on his NBA team, especially if it’d cut into his profits. Signaling intent to pay to keep everyone increases players’ trade values – even if the actual plan is to deal some to mitigate costs. It can be an effective time to bluff. The salary cap could skyrocket in coming years, leaving even max contracts signed prior to the spike as bargains.

The most infamous case of a small-market team heading toward this situation: The Oklahoma City Thunder, who kept Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka but traded James Harden and, relatedly, never fulfilled their championship promise.

Less noticed: The Thunder spent into the stratosphere in Westbrook’s later years in Oklahoma City (with Paul George and, later, Carmelo Anthony). Those teams never advanced past the first round. Big spending doesn’t assure winning.

But it certainly helps. Especially when it means retaining a group that’s already succeeding.

With this report, Memphis has even more reason to believe in its future.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.