As I suggested in my last post on the Marreese Speights signing, retaining Speights did not close the door on the Grizzlies bringing back fellow frontcourt reserve Darrell Arthur. But it left the team with a choice: Retain Arthur or have access to the full mid-level exception (starting salary: $5 million) to address perimeter needs. The team's payroll status and the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement would not allow both.
And now the Grizzlies have made their choice — retaining Arthur with a three-year, roughly $9 million contract (with the third year a player option), as first reported by Chris Vernon.
Though the roster now has a pretty steep backcourt/frontcourt imbalance, movement in the market made this an easy choice: With Jason Terry, Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, and Nick Young off the board, and perhaps the only remaining, obtainable backcourt free agent potentially worth the team's full mid-level — Courtney Lee — being pursued by the Celtics, the Grizzlies would likely have been overspending with the full mid-level on any one player. And while the team could have split it between two lower-level targets, the ability to do so doesn't trump retaining Arthur for such potentially good value. At worst, the Grizzlies are well-equipped to balance the roster with in-season trades if desired.
Arthur has had some serious — if seemingly random — injury issues, but has shown the kind of upside that could make this contract a pretty big bargain.
Bringing back both Speights and Arthur also feels like a hedge — short- and long-term — against Zach Randolph returning from a serious knee injury at age 31. If the Grizzlies have apparently skirted the question of moving one of their big contracts this summer, they may not be able to do so a year from now. Having Arthur and Speights under contract will give them flexibility to consider not just Gay but also Randolph, several years older than the rest of the current core, in any future tax-oriented roster restructuring.
Where does the Arthur signing leave the Grizzlies as the free agency period officially begins on Wednesday? Including so-far-unsigned rookie Tony Wroten Jr. and using the best salary estimates available, the team has 12 players and a payroll right at the tax line.
Barring trades — an unlikely sign-and-trade involving O.J. Mayo, slightly more likely scenarios that could include a Jeremy Pargo or Dante Cunningham — the Grizzlies must add at least one more player and can add up to three, using the smaller “taxpayer mid-level” — or “mini-mid-level” (starting salary: $3 million) — as their primary means of roster improvement.
The bet here is that the Grizzlies target one perimeter rotation player with the mini-mid-level and then add a 14th player — perhaps Hamed Haddadi — with a minimum-type deal.
What remaining free agent options might fit the Grizzlies needs and price? Here's a subjective list of seven top contenders:
1. Jerryd Bayless (23 years old, 35% career three-point shooter) — Bayless was made an unrestricted free agent when the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry to play the point. He's not the playmaker the Grizzlies' backcourt needs, but he's a dynamic scorer with combo guard size (6'3”) and is an improving three-point shooter (42% last season). He's the player on this list most likely to command more than the Grizzlies have to spend, but would probably be a best-case scenario at this point.
2. Randy Foye (28, 37%) — With the Clippers bringing back Chauncey Billups and signing Jamal Crawford, Foye seems likely to move. Is Foye enough of a combo guard to check both boxes for the Grizzlies? Maybe not, but there's at least a bit of versatility there to add three-point shooting to the wing and also hedge against the development of the Pargo/Wroten/Selby triumvirate on the ball.
3. Jordan Farmar (25, 37%) — Rumored to by a buyout candidate after he's traded to the Hawks in the Joe Johnson deal. Also rumored to be strongly considering overseas offers. Shot a scalding 44% from three last season, but that's an outlier.
4. C.J. Watson (28, 37%) — The Bulls have a team option for him for next season, but after drafting Marquis Teague and signing Kirk Hinrich there's speculation they may let Watson go. More of a scoring point guard than a combo — Watson is too small at 6'2” to guard most wings — but he's been above 39% from three each of the last two seasons and seems to be in the mini-mid-level range.
5. Jodie Meeks (24, 37%) — Meeks has combo guard size but strictly two-guard game. Still, would add a proven spot-up shooter and can certainly be had for the mini-mid-level, if not less.
6. Alexey Shved (23, 49% in Euro last season) — A 6'5” Russian combo guard with whom the Grizzlies are rumored to be in contact. People who project Euroleague production to the NBA see Shved as someone capable of being a quality rotation player right now, although the projections were similar for Jeremy Pargo. Shved's combo size, ball-handling, and three-point shooting types as exactly what the Grizzlies need and, other than maybe Bayless, he's probably the highest-upside player on the list. But he's also the biggest gamble. With the roster already heavy with young project guards — Wroten, Selby — my sense is that the team prefers a more proven product in free agency. But the more proven names come off the board, the more viable Shved becomes.
7. Brandon Rush (26, 41%, restricted) — The Grizzlies could have gotten Rush from Indiana in an O.J. Mayo deal last summer, but he went to Golden State instead when the Grizzlies decided not to deal Mayo. Rush is a big-time three-point shooter and a decent defender, but doesn't have ball skills. A mini-mid-level deal would probably be matched, but the wings are pretty crowded in Golden State after the team added Harrison Barnes and Beyond the Arc fave Draymond Green on draft night.
8. Marco Belinelli (26, 39%) — A sure-thing shooter — last season's 38% from three was a career low — who seems primed to move since the Hornets now have four guards under contract ahead of him. Doesn't really fit the defensive mindset Lionel Hollins loves. He's similar to Meeks, but I would give Meeks the edge.