By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
MEMPHIS – What’s next for the Memphis Grizzlies?
Who stays? Who goes?
How will the Grit’N’Grind era continue to evolve?
Those questions and more face the Grizzlies as they embark on an offseason destined for change after their seventh consecutive playoff trip ended in a six-game series loss to the Spurs in the opening round. There’s plenty of optimism moving forward. There’s also clearly something most fans, players, coaches and executives agree on: 43 wins, a No. 7 seed in the playoffs and a first-round exit aren’t good enough.
Over a stretch of 17 weekdays, we’ll dive into our ‘Offseason Outlook’ series that breaks down my personal analysis as to where each player on the Grizzlies’ roster stands, in addition to coach David Fizdale and general manager Chris Wallace, entering a potentially pivotal offseason.
General Manager: Chris Wallace
Measurables: 10th NBA Season with Grizzlies
2016-17 Highlights: Under Wallace, the Grizzlies advanced to the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, the NBA’s third-longest active streak behind the Spurs and Hawks. Memphis has posted winning records in seven of Wallace’s 10 years, four 50-win campaigns and a trip to the 2013 conference finals.
Status: Wallace, executive vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger and executive vice president of player personnel Ed Stefanski each signed a multiyear contract extension in December.
During an era when some NBA teams have lost marquee free agents, Wallace spearheaded the push to resign Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to max contracts the past two summers. Memphis also boasts the longest-tenured core four (Gasol, Conley, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen) of any current team.
This free-agency year is a little different because we’ve got four guys at one time (entering it) from the rotation. I don’t know if I’ve ever been with a team that dealt with that volume. It’s been one guy or another, or free-agency has been about maximizing cap room when you’ve had cap space, like we were able to come up with last year. But this year, it’s a different aspect of free agency.
Wallace, Hollinger and Stefanski signing lengthy extensions sends a message that there will be continuity and clarity among the front-office staff. That’s a solid sign going into what might be the most challenging and difficult offseason of Wallace’s decade with the franchise. Wallace was responsible for bringing Allen and Randolph to Memphis, moves that fortified the Grizzlies as a legit contender in the West. So there’s clearly an attachment there entering a summer when major free-agency decisions must be made on two franchise folk heroes. Wallace has a track record of knowing when to be aggressively bold and when to practice patience with roster decisions. He’s definitely in a delicate spot right now.
The Grizzlies have $92 million in salary commitments for next season, when the salary cap is expected to be set at $102 million and the luxury-tax limit is projected at $122 million. What this means is that Memphis has up to $30 million below the punitive tax to use if the priority is to bring back its own free agents in Allen, Randolph, JaMychal Green and Vince Carter. But Wallace also has the option of using $8 to $10 million in cap space, along with a mid-level exception starting at an $8 million salary should the Grizzlies focus on adding outside free agents. Translation: barring a trade, there’s not a ton of cash available to be a major factor in free agency if the Grizzlies want new pieces around Conley and Gasol.
The Grit’N’Grind era under Wallace delivered the Grizzlies to heights they hadn’t previously experienced. But the mantra is transitioning from a rugged style of play to more of a mindset as coach David Fizdale works to implement a faster system. He needs more applicable tools, and it’s on Wallace’s staff to secure them. Yet Memphis doesn’t have a first-round draft pick next month, and its recent ones are either no longer around (Jordan Adams) or have yielded mixed results so far (Jarell Martin, Wade Baldwin). Chandler Parsons’ first season in town sputtered after signing a $94 million contract in free agency. So with no picks entering next month’s draft, limited money to land outside help in free agency and a narrowing window to maximize the peak seasons of Conley and Gasol, it’s easy to see how Wallace has his work cut out.
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.