Saturday, August 9, 2008

Pacifiying the Fan Base

Out of nowhere Friday, the Memphis Grizzlies signed the most dynamic player on the free agent market to a 5 year/$58 million offer sheet that was immediately matched by his hometown Atlanta Hawks. Josh Smith was the prototype for the power forward position in the offense that Iavaroni wants to run.

The funny thing is that I don't think I read a single account by a Grizzlies fan that actually thought that Atlanta would not match that offer sheet because it was reasonable. So why would Chris Wallace and Michael Heisley even waste their time with the offer? Why wouldn't they do like Philly and trade some of their young talent to clear out cap space to make an offer to Smith that Atlanta would not match? IMO it is because Memphis finally has a GM that knows what he is doing.

The Memphis Grizzlies are on The Three Year Plan (3YP) for better or worse. The first year of this plan is going to be real painful. I am not sure most fans have a realistic concept of the type of frustration they will experience this season. As such, the pressure to "do something" will be hard and heavy once the 2009 NBA trade deadline approaches and the Grizzlies are in dead last in the Western Conference. So Wallace (and Heisley) need to buy time. And that is just what the Josh Smith offer sheet did for them.

Why waste their time with the offer to Josh Smith? Why not? Josh Smith would have been a great fit for the Grizzlies long term and his talent would have mitigated the lost draft position that they would have missed on with the better record. He actually would have allowed the Grizzlies to potentially complete their future starting lineup a year in advance and thus accelerating the 3YP into a two year plan.

Why not make moves to sign Josh Smith to an offer sheet that Atlanta would not match? Although I have previously advocated making an inflated offer to Josh Smith because I think his future production will justify the salary, the Grizzlies just could not do so with their current roster. If the Grizzlies pay Josh Smith based on what they project his production to be in the future, what do they do next summer when Rudy Gay comes up for an extension? The Josh Smith offer sheet establishes the Grizzlies as a market level contract giver. Giving Smith an inflated deal would have painted them in the corner of giving Gay a near maximum extension even if he just reproduced this past season's production. That is a bad precedent to set.

So in the end the Josh Smith saga was a one day break from the offseason hibernation that the organization is experiencing. It came out of nowhere but it does reveal the motivations behind the 3YP. The Grizzlies are on the lookout for an impact player at power forward. Also, there will likely be no rumors of what the Grizzlies plan on doing until it is essentially a done deal. Sucks for us bloggers and message board folks but is good business for the Grizzlies.


Jacob said...

And now it allows you to be in position for the Blake Griffin sweepstakes, who will be a beast at the 4, and on his rookie contract when Gay comes up for extension. It's a big gamble to be horrible this year for the Grizz, because the draft is pretty heavy in small forwards, which is obviously covered...unless they want to continue being cheap for a while and draft one of those small forwards and ship out Gay for a rookie-contract power forward and a draft pick, which might not be bad long-term.

Anonymous said...

Time for some Carlos Boozer action. He is much more of an inside player than Josh Smith, and he is everything that we need. Since this is a guard-heavy draft, we could sign Carlos Boozer, and then either draft BJ Mullens or trade the pick for a young, very talented center.

Ugo Valenti said...

If Memphis really (really) wants to achieve something in three years, it is very difficult to reach it through lottery picks: the picks usually need at least three years to develope, so no future pick should be very helpful (and this is taking into account that the pick would develope into a very good player).

From the rest of core young players from the actual roster, I think it is safe to say that only 1 or (best case scenario) 2 of them really develope into borderline allstars, the rest developing into fringe or regular players.

So this means that Memphis, in a best case scenario, would have two very good players: no team with only one or two borderline all stars can make it past the second round of playoffs, so I'm not buying too much on the philosophy behind the three year plan.

Signing Josh Smith (or someone else at a similar level) would have helped the Grizzlies move in the right direction, adding another quality player: at least three of them are needed to reach a playoff spot, and even on that case the West is not an easy place (think Denver - Golden State, with much better players than Memphis).

In any case, signing a good free agent will not be easy for Memphis if they don't act this year: in the future there will be some more teams with cap space, and the true all-stars will probably resign with their teams (I don't see Boozer leaving Utah for Memphis, for instance).