February 8, 2020, 3:06 am
The Grizzlies have done an excellent job stocking the cupboard for their future over the last year or so, and that continued at the trade deadline.
The team’s success likely took a total sell-off off the table, as there is value in getting Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke, among others, playoff reps, even if there are long odds of advancing past the first round.
Though Memphis’ forward steps changed the calculus, it was clear that Andre Iguodala would be on the move. While most of the conversation was about the Grizzlies holding out for a first-round pick from a Western Conference contender, they opted instead to work on a larger deal, sending Iguodala and two rotation players to the Miami Heat while receiving no draft compensation.
In the end, it became a three-team deal, with the Grizzlies sending Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill for Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and James Johnson. Johnson was then traded to Minnesota in exchange for Gorgui Dieng.
There are many angles to this trade for Memphis, but its evaluation will be determined almost entirely by Winslow.
It’s been four-plus injury-prone seasons in the league now, with every productive stretch ultimately derailed by another injury. Winslow is currently sidelined by a bone bruise in his lower back, with little word on when he’ll be ready to play again.
The Heat could never find a true position for him, either. Winslow’s ability to guard all five positions (four for sure and another in a pinch in certain matchups) had him bouncing around a lot throughout his time in Miami. Because Winslow could slot into any defensive lineup and play as a secondary facilitator, he got a little lost in no man’s land.
The one time that Winslow has looked truly comfortable came last season when he became the team’s starting point guard. That is off the table in Memphis, where Ja Morant has the keys to the franchise. That doesn’t mean that Winslow won’t be a frequently used secondary playmaker, but he will have to accept that most of his minutes will come off the ball – the presence of Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton blocks his path to direct work as the backup point guard, in theory.
Still, Winslow is just 23 years old. He can play multiple positions. He can defend any position. He’s an adept passer. There have been signs of an improving shot (.375 from deep on nearly four threes per game last year) despite his seeming unwillingness to take jumpers. The bumps in his development are not unforgivable, and his biggest problem has been health – he’s played just 241 games through his first four and a half seasons.
Winslow is slated to make $13 million next season and the Grizzlies have a team option on him for that amount for the 2021-22 season. If he can stay on the court, he fits nicely with the Grizzlies’ timeline and could fill a number of roles, though the most likely figure to be starting small forward or super-sub sixth man. All told, that’s a nice get for a player who was never going to suit up in Memphis.
In losing Crowder and Hill, the Grizzlies drop two of their rotation forwards, veteran presences who fit nicely with a hard-working Memphis ethos. All well and good, but both players are far from irreplaceable.
The Grizzlies can plug Kyle Anderson in as the starting small forward. They probably should, given the investment that Memphis made in him two summers ago. He’s a defensive upgrade and although he can’t shoot, he’ll also burn fewer possessions on shots than the .293-from-deep Crowder. Spacing may suffer but Crowder isn’t effective enough to think that opponents will really adjust their philosophies.
Last summer’s trade with the Suns has already been a huge win thanks to the play of Melton, but this deal also opens up an opportunity for Josh Jackson to reestablish his NBA standing. He’s put in work at the G League level, only recently getting recalled, and perhaps that experience was humbling enough to get his head on straight. Both players offer higher upside than Crowder or Hill.
The Grizzlies received two players that had fallen out of favor in Miami, and both have seen their reputations get dinged in recent years. Waiters was suspended three times this season alone, and the Grizzlies will waive him and just move on with his dead money on the cap. It’s not the most optimal allocation of resources but Memphis has a good thing going and won’t risk disrupting the team’s chemistry. Johnson was suspended for showing up to camp out of shape and has been termed “difficult” in the past, although not to the extent that Waiters has. He’s also shown enough of an interesting skillset for teams to keep being interested, just not at his current price.
In rerouting Johnson to Minnesota, the Grizzlies round out their frontcourt group with Dieng, a quality veteran who is well-liked by teammates and coaches. He is looking at scraps behind Jonas Valanciunas, Clarke and Jackson and might not play every night, but he is a sound defender and a quasi-capable 3-point shooter. Dieng can spare Clarke from getting bullied by massive opponents and offers utility in certain bench groups, especially given his familiarity with Jones.
The big drawback from this deal is that Memphis took on a ton of money, and when that gets added to Dillion Brooks’ three-year, $35 million extension, they’re now operating as an above-cap team this summer. Next year will be the last of Dieng’s four-year, $62.8 million contract, which could be of interest to teams trying to create cap space for the summer of 2021. Waiters’ dead money will come off the cap then as well, though that’s not tradeable like Dieng.
It’s interesting that the Grizzlies decided to punt on their swaths of cap space for the upcoming summer, but it makes sense that the team would choose that path given their trajectory. It’s unlikely that Memphis would play big spender this offseason, especially given the quality of the free agent class. It does rob the Grizzlies of the ability to absorb unwanted contracts and pick up other assets, like they did to acquire Iguodala and a first-round pick that kicked this whole thing off anyway. Still, adding Winslow to this young core should be worth more than future picks, and combining three players who were highly unlikely to be on the roster past this season to make it happen is worth forgoing the uncertainty of the next transaction web.
To put it another way, Winslow at $13 million a season (plus the room erased by Brooks’ extension) is a better value than whatever Memphis was likely to find in free agency. A healthy and effective Winslow gets Memphis into the playoff conversation for years to come – they’re already in the mix now – and that’s worth more than whatever future late first-rounder they would’ve received from a team like the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, et al. If including Crowder pushed this deal across the finish line, who cares? Again, adding Winslow is presumably better than whatever Memphis would’ve gotten from separate Iguodala and Crowder deals. Waiters and Dieng’s deals are expiring next year, with cap space restored for the summer of 2021.
Really, the only thing that Memphis is truly out on is 2020 free agency. Given Winslow’s potential fit and the likelihood of the Grizzlies doling out a max contract this summer, that’s a worthwhile tradeoff to make.