Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Moving Forward with the Forwards

(Photo by Getty Images)

Matt over at Hardwood Paroxysm emailed me last week to ask me a simple question that has been bandied about on the message boards for quite some time. That question was this: Why not take a stab at Josh Smith? He didn't use my response in his post about the matter, which is great for me, because now I can use it here.

The Grizzlies should probably at least make a cursory call in to his agent for two reasons:

1) To drive up the price that the Hawks eventually sign him for. Nothing better than making other teams overpay for their own free agents.
2) To make the Grizzlies fanbase believe that they might have intended to spend some of their cap space this offseason, even though they have said repeatedly that they were targeting the 2009 offseason to spend it.

Now, as far as them making a legitimate play for him -- this is problematic. Since he's a restricted free agent, the Grizzlies would have had to offer him more than what the Hawks were willing to match in order to actually acquire him. Because they signed Marc Gasol already, the Grizzlies only have about $10 million in cap space for the first year of that contract, which Atlanta would almost surely match.

I don't believe that Josh Smith (or any of this year's young free agents) are max-level players, but that's the kind of contract offer it would probably take to pry any of them away from their current teams. While I'm not convinced that the trio of Antoine Walker, Hakim Warrick and Darrell Arthur will be enough to cover the Grizzlies at the PF position this year, I don't see any reason why they should overpay for Smith either, given that this team is still 2 years away from making any real noise no matter who they choose to go out and sign this offseason.

Besides, there is another possibility that most people haven't discussed. What if Smith (and Igoudala, Okafor, Deng, et al.) decide to just sign the qualifying offer and test the market next summer as unrestricted free agents? Then the market truly sets their real value, rather than having to haggle with an agent, only to see their current team match that offer, leaving you with nothing to show after putting your cap space on hold for a week. This is why the Grizzlies didn't sign Andres Nocioni or Anderson Varejao to offer sheets last year, despite serious interest in them, and instead went after Darko Milicic for a reasonable sum.

Restricted free agency is almost always a fool's gambit. You either overpay, get suckered into a bad deal via trade (Kenyon Martin to the Nuggets, Joe Johnson to the Hawks) or simply waste your time (Corey Maggette retained by Clippers after signing offer sheet with Jazz). The NBA has designed it to favor the "home team" and they certainly succeeded in that regard.

On top of that, even though the Grizzlies would be more exciting and talented if they were able to sign Smith, would they be able to compete with the Lakers, Hornets and Trail Blazers over the next few years with that core group?

Now, as I stated in the email entry above, I'm not sure that I buy into the idea of entering the season with a trio of Warrick, Walker and Arthur, but I know that I don't want Josh Smith as our starting PF for the next 4-5 seasons. I'm a big fan of Smith's style of play...as a SF. That's his natural position, after all. Last time I checked, we already had a decent small forward by the name of Rudy Gay. He needs a backup, but I don't think that's what the fans have in mind when they suggest signing Smith.

I know that a lot of Grizzlies fans (all 11 of us) get a little upset when they consider the ramifications of letting everyone know that we have no intention of making a major free agent signing this offseason, despite the fact that we are the only team with any significant cap space. It sends out a message that seems to plainly say, "we're not going to try to compete this season". I mean, that's what all the media pundits are reporting across the board anyways. I've seen that phrase, or some version of it, on no less than 5 different major media websites in the past week. But just because the Grizzlies aren't throwing cash around simply because they have it, doesn't mean that they aren't being competitive. I'm not saying that I'm on board with what the Three Year Plan represents initially, but given that this is the stated direction of the front office, we might as well accept that and look at moves that fit in with that direction.

Here is my suggestion -- and one that I believe we will be able to see in action over the next two seasons. Why don't we see what we have first? As I noted yesterday, we have two young players at 4 of the 5 positions, with SF being the only one that is without competition for the next season. Conley vs. Lowry, Mayo vs. Crittenton, Warrick vs. Arthur and Gasol vs. Milicic. What if Darrell Arthur -- a consensus Top 15 pick on nearly every reputable mock draft in existence -- turns out to be worthy of that designation, rather than displaying the talent level of where he was actually selected near the end of the 1st round? In other words, what if Arthur proves to be talented enough to be the starting PF as early as next season? Wouldn't that negate the need to go out and sign a player like Josh Smith this offseason? That should be a very realistic possibility, given that he was ranked #14 overall on the Grizzlies draft board and the #4 PF by DraftExpress.

Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

In this piece on SI.com, Chris Mannix makes it clear that the Grizzlies front office has very high hopes for Arthur and loves the fact that he has come in with a tremendous chip on his shoulder due to the way that his draft stock plummeted needlessly, taking him from the back end of the lottery to the very end of the 1st round. After all, If D.A. can come in and use that motivation as a positive force (like Paul Pierce did regarding his draft position), then the rest of the league probably won't be laughing at the Memphis Grizzlies much longer. Check back tomorrow for what that future might look like.

BallHype: hype it up!


Anonymous said...

I hope the Griz are lucky enough to get the numer 1 pick in the draft this year (yeah right). Then we could choose between BJ Mullens and Blake Griffin. If we got Mullens we could sign Carlos Boozer with our immense cap space next year and there is a contending team for ya right there. Give that team a year to get in the playoffs and get a feel for it, and then the year after that they will be contending for a championship- three years from now. It fits perfectly in the Heisley plan.

sir penn said...

Excellent post Joshua. I agree 100% with you say. Josh Smith is a natural small forward not a power forward. Since he is restricted, any offer we will be marched by the Hawks. We would only be wasting our time to sign summer. Next summer??? maybe. But he's not a max money guy.

grizguru said...

I agree with your analysis. Josh Smith is very talented but Arthur may develop into someone just as good. We should see how he does this year first. We already have Rudy at the 3 and now Mayo at the 2 so most of the lineup is already set. With Gasol signing and Darko on contract for two more years the center position is pretty much set too. The only question is the PG position. Conley, Lowery and Critt are all young and have potential.
Next summer there will be more free agents who may fit in better.
Maybe what they can do is trade one of their PGs for a future 1st rounder, then sign PJ Tucker and wait until next year do see how it
shapes up.

Anonymous said...

If the Nets can get a lottery protected first rounder for Marcus Williams, the Griz can get an unprotected first rounder for Lowry or Crittenton.

Young, Brown, Gentlemen said...

From what you've seen so far, do you really think that kyle lowry will turn into a better player than javaris crittenton.

not only does javaris have the past scoring numbers to prove he should be able to play (averaging at least 20 points at every level, just like Rudy), but he's got 5 inches on lowry who is smaller than conley even, and may be playing with a chip on his shoulder.

lowry just never stood out to me like the future point guard of any squad, why would we give him away?