The biggest question surrounding the Memphis Grizzlies last summer was whether a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. and another season of player development was enough to push the roster to the top six in the Western Conference.
They answered that question in 2021-22, finishing with the second-best record in the NBA and a franchise-record 56 wins.
Now entering the offseason after a six-game loss to the Golden State Warriors in the conference semifinals, the next question is whether this Memphis roster is built for a long playoff run.
State of the team
Roster status: Built for sustainable success. The Grizzlies are ranked No. 1 in the latest edition of ESPN’s Future NBA Power Rankings for a reason; the league’s third-youngest team checks all the boxes for sustained success.
Memphis has three 2022 draft picks, including two in the top 20. They also have eight future first-rounders starting in 2023, including a lightly protected first from Golden State in 2024.
Besides Ja Morant‘s rookie max extension, the big offseason decisions surround the $29 million in expiring contracts of Dillon Brooks and Steven Adams, along with the futures of Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson — the Grizzlies could create up to $20 million in cap space, but at the expense of both.
Since taking over in 2019, Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman has built the roster in spite of cap space restrictions, relying on the draft and the trade market. Only Jones, John Konchar and Killian Tillie were signed as free agents. Anderson was signed in the 2018 offseason.
Brooks, meanwhile, is on an expiring $11.4 million contract and is coming off a forgettable series against Golden State. Prior to Game 5, Brooks shot 3-for-23 on jumpers (13%), the third-worst field goal percentage on jump shots in any playoff series since 2014, per ESPN Stats & Information research. He eventually redeemed himself, scoring 30 points in the Game 6 loss but on 28 shots.
Before testing positive for COVID-19, Adams was a non-factor in the first round against the Minnesota Timberwolves. After starting Game 1, he played a total of six minutes for the rest of the series. Adams did however grab 15 rebounds (six offensive) with 10 points in a Game 4 start against the Warriors.
The Grizzlies were 52-24 in the regular season when Adams started.
Morant will likely do something no Grizzlies rookie has ever done: agree to a five-year rookie max extension when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.
The richest contract in team history is a reward for a player who started the All-Star game, was named Most Improved Player, led the Grizzlies to a franchise-best 56 wins and who will eventually see his name as an All-NBA selection.
Morant averaged a franchise-record 27.4 points per game and became the sixth youngest player to average 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in a season at age 22 or younger, joining Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson, per ESPN Stats & Information.
But unlike Doncic, who was named back-to-back All-NBA (2020 and 2021), thus earning an additional $30 million in salary, Morant will have to earn All-NBA in 2023 to see his total contract increase from $186 to $222 million.
The lone negotiation in the contract will not be about money or the All-NBA escalator, but whether the final year has a player option.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, 13 players have signed five-year rookie max extensions, with only Doncic, Trae Young, Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell‘s including opt-outs in the final year.
One concern for Memphis is whether his body can continuously handle his attacking play style. Morant has missed 38 regular season games since entering the NBA in 2019, including three stretches of at least eight games with knee and ankle injuries. He injured his left knee in game three of the second-round and missed the remainder of the playoffs.
Morant became the first guard in the last 25 seasons to lead the league in overall paint points (948) and per game (16.6). He scored 20 paint points in 22 games this season, the most in a season by a guard over the last 25 years, per ESPN Stats & Information. The only other players to record as many such games over the last 25 seasons are Shaquille O’Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson.
The veteran’s Game 4 performance against Golden State and first-round showing against Minnesota proved why he is one of the top free agent point guards in the NBA. Jones is eligible to sign a four-year $55.8 million extension from now until June 30.
In the first round, Jones averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 assists, while shooting 46.3% from the field and 50% from 3. And replacing the injured Ja Morant in Game 4 of the West semifinals, Jones recorded 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Jones boasts a 7.0 assist to turnover ratio in 2021-22, the highest in a single season since individual turnovers were first tracked in 1977-78, per ESPN Stats & Information. The last player to accomplish that feat? Jones, in 2018-19.
Concerns over Morant’s durability is another reason why Jones should be a priority signing for Memphis. In 24 games as a starter in place of Morant, Jones averaged 12.7 points and 6.6 assists. The Grizzlies went 19-5 in those games.
The $12.4 million salary in the first season is slightly higher than the $10.3 million midlevel exception that non-cap space teams have available to offer. The salary ranks 26th among all point guards and behind only the New York Knicks‘ Derrick Rose among non-starters.
If an extension is not reached, Jones will enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. The Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs are contenders to land Jones due to their available cap space.
Because he has established Bird rights, the Grizzlies have a distinct advantage to sign him to a contract that exceeds the $10.3 million midlevel that most teams have to offer.
Offseason cap breakdown and depth chart
Memphis Grizzlies 2022-23 Salary Breakdown
The Grizzlies have $97.8 million in player salary but are projected to be over the cap when factoring in the free agent hold of Tyus Jones, Kyle Anderson and two first-round picks.
If Memphis stays over the cap, they will have a $10.3 million midlevel and $4.1 million biannual exception. They also have a $4.1 and $1.1 million trade exception.
Note: Guaranteed salary includes both first-round draft selections.
Resources to build the roster
The draft: two first-round picks and one second-round pick
Future assets: Eight first-rounders over the next seven years
Own free agents: Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson
Exceptions: $10.3 million (midlevel), $4.1 million (biannual) and $4.1 million (trade)
Cash: $6.3 million to send or receive via trade
Dates to watch
June 29: Two-way player Yves Pons is eligible to receive a $50,000 qualifying offer.
July 3: Expect the $2.3 million contract of John Konchar to become fully guaranteed. The guard averaged 17.9 minutes and 4.9 points in 72 games this season. There is $840,000 in his contract that is currently guaranteed.
The Grizzlies declined the fourth-year team option in the rookie scale contract of Jarrett Culver. Because the option was declined, the maximum that Memphis can sign Culver to in 2022 is $8.1 million. The former lottery pick played in 37 games this season, averaging 9.1 minutes and 3.5 points. His next contract is likely to come in at the veteran minimum exception.
The poison pill restrictions for Jaren Jackson Jr. will be lifted on July 1. For trade purposes from now until June 30, the outgoing salary in a trade is the fourth year of his contract and the incoming salary for the new team is the average of the extension and last year of the rookie scale contract. For example, if Jackson Jr. is traded, his outgoing salary is $9.1 million and incoming salary is $22.8 million.
Including Ja Morant, the Grizzlies have a total of seven players that are extension-eligible.
In only a year, Brandon Clarke went from averaging 4.7 minutes in the 2021 playoffs to becoming the Grizzlies most valuable player off the bench. In the series win against Minnesota, Clarke averaged 16.5 points in 29.4 minutes. Per ESPN Stats & Information, 16 of Clarke’s offensive rebounds this postseason have come in the fourth quarter, the most in the NBA. His 3.3 offensive rebounds ranked in the top five among all players in the postseason. The forward is rookie-extension eligible until the last day of the offseason.
Dillon Brooks is entering the final year of his contract and is eligible to sign a four-year and up to $61.3 million extension. The forward averaged a career high 18.4 points this season but missed 43 games because of a broken left hand and sprained left ankle. After averaging 16.5 points in the first-round, Brooks struggled against Golden State, averaging only four points per game and shooting 18.8% from the field.
De’Anthony Melton and John Konchar are eligible to sign a three-year $42.2 million extension starting in 2024-25, but only if the Grizzlies guaranteed their 2023-24 contract. Melton averaged 17.9 minutes in the playoffs, shooting 31.1% from the field and averaging 5.4 points. In the regular season, Melton averaged 10.8 points in 22.7 minutes. Konchar shot 41.3% from 3this season and averaged 4.9 points.
Xavier Tillman Sr. is eligible to sign either a four-year $58.3 million extension if the team option in 2023-24 is declined or a three-year $42.2 million extension. The former second-round pick averaged 4.8 points in 53 games this season.
Steven Adams is entering the last year of his contract and is eligible to sign a four-year $96.4 million extension. Adams started 75 games this season, averaging a career-high 10 rebounds.
The draft assets
Heading into the draft, the Grizzlies have
Their own first-rounder and the Utah Jazz’s first-rounder from the Mike Conley Jr. trade.
A second-rounder from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Golden State’s first-rounder in 2024 that is top-4 protected, top-1 protected in 2025 and unprotected in 2026 — all from the Andre Iguodala deal.
Here’s how ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have Memphis selecting in June:
No. 22 (via Utah): Blake Wesley | SG | Notre Dame
He has NBA-caliber burst off the bounce, proving comfortable rising up in mid-range spots. He’s looked far more competitive defensively as the year has gone on, using that quickness, length and solid instincts to add value both on and off the ball, making plays in the passing lanes, blowing up handoffs and proving more than capable of containing the ball in 1-on-1 situations. — Schmitz
No. 29 (own): Bryce McGowens | SG | Nebraska
Upping his offensive efficiency against sturdier defenses while playing with more urgency defensively are the immediate challenges for the 19-year-old. In eight games against teams with a winning record, McGowens is averaging 14.6 points, 0.9 assists and 1.1 turnovers on 40% from 2 and 17% from 3 in 35.5 minutes. In six games against teams with losing records, McGowens is averaging 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 turnovers while shooting 70% from 2 and 37% from 3 in 30.4 minutes. — Schmitz
No. 47 (via Cleveland): Josh Minott | PF | Memphis
Minott’s struggles getting on the floor behind 25-year-old second-team All-Conference player DeAndre Williams has kept his draft stock in check this season, as he only played 13 minutes in Memphis’ past two games. When given the opportunity, Minott has shown impressive flashes of talent with the footwork, body control, quickness getting off his feet and touch he demonstrates from the free-throw line and around the rim, along with how hard he plays on both ends of the floor. He’s a magnet for fouls attacking the rim, is highly switchable on the perimeter and is always around the ball as a cutter and offensive rebounder. — Givony