The Memphis Grizzlies are the first team out of the NBA playoffs, as their season concluded with a 116-95 setback at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon. The Grizzlies being swept by the Spurs in the series is a fitting end for a team that struggled down the stretch due to injuries, falling from the fifth seed to the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Memphis lost 10 of its last 11 to finish 11-20 post-All-Star break.
Memphis (42-40) finished with a winning record and reached the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season despite using an NBA-record 28 players. The Grizzlies, who lost over 256 player-games to injury and illness, became the first team to use at least 24 different players to make the playoffs, according to ESPN. Memphis was without both its top two scorers, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, since early March.
While being swept out of the playoffs is never a positive occurrence, the Griz can take solace in the fact that can now start planning for the future, which is good news. Memphis has a lot of decisions to make this summer, as the Grizzlies have as many as 10 potential free agents, including Conley and Lance Stephenson.
Memphis’ biggest decision will be deciding what direction the franchise wants to go. The Grizzlies were one of the oldest teams in the league this year, having six rotational players being at least 30-years-old. The Griz have to essentially decide if they want to start the rebuilding process now or remain true to their core players, who have led the team to unprecedented success in franchise history. Memphis should have at least $31 million of cap space this summer.
The Griz have apparently made it a priority to keep Conley this summer and are confident that he will re-sign, as ESPN Radio’s Chris Vernon recently tweeted.
Conley is expected to garner a lot of attention from teams this summer as he is considered to be the top point guard available on the open market. The 28-year old had a difficult year this past season, missing the final 20 games with an Achilles injury. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 assists, and 2.9 rebounds while shooting a career-worst 42.2 percent from the field.
Conley, who only committed 1.5 turnovers a contest, is said to be interested in returning to Memphis but told the Commercial Appeal that he is looking forward to being a free agent for the first time in his career.
“This summer will be a fun one for me. Free agency is new for me. We’ll see how it goes.”
The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are two of the teams that are expected to pursue the nine-year veteran, per Hooprumors. Milwaukee, Indiana, and Houston are also believed to be potential suitors, as all three teams have issues at point guard and will have the ability to offer Conley a maximum contract.
Memphis holds Conley’s Bird rights, which gives them the upper hand. The Grizzlies are the only team that can offer him a five-year contract and go over the salary cap to sign him.
While pursuing and offering Conley a max contract is seemingly a foregone conclusion, the Griz do have several more difficult decisions. Some of these decisions include what to do with Stephenson, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen.
It will be particularly interesting to see what the Grizzlies do with Stephenson, who has a team option for next year (worth $9.4 million). The 25-year-old thrived after coming over from the Los Angeles Clippers midway through the season and had a good postseason. Memphis could pick up Stephenson’s contract, sign him to an extension, trade him, or release him.
Stephenson scored a playoff career-high 26 points, on 11-of-19 shooting, along with three assists in the Game 4 loss to Spurs. He finished the four-game series, averaging 13.0 points while shooting 52.3 percent from the floor. Stephenson, who is a solid perimeter defender, averaged 14.2 points along 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 26 games with the Grizzlies.
Carter plans on playing one more year, but it may not be with Memphis. The Grizzlies hold a team option, worth $4.2 million, on the 39-year-old for next year. Carter has struggled the last two years, averaging 6.6 points while shooting just 38.8 percent from the field in 60 games this past season.
Randolph and Allen are both in their mid-30s and are on the downward spiral of their career. They also are both entering their final year of their contracts. Memphis could trade one or both players and should attempt to.
Randolph, who is slated to make $10.3 million, is still a solid low-post scorer but is not the double-double machine that he has previously been. This past year was the first time he didn’t average a double-double for the season since 2005-06. Randolph will be 35 this summer.
Allen struggled in the series against San Antonio, averaging 7.5 points while shooting 30.3 percent from the field. The 34-year-old has battled injuries throughout his six-year tenure with the Grizzlies and played in just 64 games this past season. If the Griz are confident Allen can still be a quality defender, he may return, as he will only make $5.5 million this upcoming season.
There is also concern that Gasol will not be the franchise player that he was before breaking his foot. The 31-year-old averaged 16.6 points and 7.0 caroms in 52 games this season. He is expected to be back at the start of the 2016-17 season.
Chris Anderson, Matt Barnes, Mario Chalmers, Bryce Cotton, Xavier Munford, and Jordan Farmar will also be free agents. Barnes and Anderson probably won’t be back. Chalmers and Farmar could return if the price is right. Cotton is a restricted free agent while Munford has a team option. JaMychal Green’s contract for next season is non-guaranteed.
[Photo by Mark Humphrey/AP Images]