MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies enter an opportunistic May – the first full month of their offseason – with significant traction toward addressing some of the biggest questions looming over the franchise.
They’ve already resolved the ownership issue, with Robert Pera maintaining controlling interest in the franchise and a commitment to keeping the Grizzlies in Memphis.
They’ve already conducted exit interviews, with key players, veterans and young prospects set to distance themselves from a 22-60 season and embark on a summer of healing, conditioning, development and improvement in hopes of a return to playoff contention next season.
And they’re also solidifying a front-office plan that included formalizing a multi-year contract this week to remove the interim tag and name J.B. Bickerstaff head coach. Now, the Grizzlies are just days away from learning their fate in the May 15 draft lottery, where they are assured of a top-five pick in the June 21 NBA Draft as well as the No. 32 overall pick in the second round.
Expect the Grizzlies to be active in league-wide trade discussions surrounding the draft and July free agency, with key decisions looming on several of their own players.
So after covering the coaching situation, returning roster veterans and young/developing assets the past few weeks in Grind City Media’s ‘Offseason Outlook,’ we continue with my personal analysis this week of the Grizzlies’ pending free agents and veterans set to enter expiring contracts.
Player: Ben McLemore, 25
Measurables: 6-5, 195 – 5th NBA Season
2017-18 Stats: 7.5ppg, 2.5rpg, 0.9apg in 19.5mpg, scored in double figures 20 times in 56 appearances.
Status: Due $5.4 million for 2018-19 salary in final season of a two-year deal under midlevel exception.
McLemore averaged 10.8 points and shot 47.6-percent from the field in his 17 starts this season, and also shot 40.3-percent from three-point range in 22 games after the February All-Star break.
Theoretically, McLemore’s combination of experience, athleticism and deep-shooting range was supposed to make him an ideal complementary piece the Grizzlies were hoping to add around Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, and also replace Tony Allen. Although it proved to be a disappointing season for McLemore in the first year of a two-year deal, those attributes are still there. The final weeks of the season were nothing more than a chance for young players to develop, and for McLemore to knock off some of the rust while also regaining confidence. He scored at least 13 points in four of his final five games, and sprinkled in some encouraging moments over the final two months of the season. The Grizzlies still have another season to kick the tires on McLemore and see if there’s anything salvageable.
Numbers don’t always tell the entire story, but in some cases they are extremely difficult to completely dismiss. Case in point: The Grizzlies were 7-49 in the 56 games McLemore played this season. And they were 15-11 in the ones he missed. That’s not a typo. But it does equate to essentially a throwaway season for McLemore, who broke his foot in an offseason workout in Los Angeles just days after signing his free-agency deal with Memphis, and then missed the initial weeks of the season to rehab. It was a struggle from there trying to play catch-up. By the time McLemore got his feet under him, the coach who had the most confidence in his potential impact (David Fizdale) was dismissed. McLemore spent the rest of the season freelancing on both ends of the court in his erratic minutes.
McLemore will soon be playing for his sixth coach in as many NBA seasons. There were a number of reasons his first season in Memphis didn’t pan out. But he’s running out of chances and believers. Perhaps that’s why he recently penned a heartfelt letter from his social media account. “I’m five seasons in and my best basketball is still ahead of me,” McLemore vowed. “I never take the negativity to heart because I know what I’m capable of. To all those that would rather see me fail, I apologize in advance because that won’t happen – 2018-19 will be my strongest season yet.” If the Grizzlies can move off the final year of McLemore’s deal, they should to alleviate a numbers crunch. And if Tyreke Evans returns in free agency to a big guard rotation set to include Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks, Dillon Brooks and likely Andrew Harrison, there’s only so much opportunity left for atonement.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.