Grizzlies

Savvy Jones Fits Best in Memphis

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Having a starting-caliber player coming off the bench is usually a rarity in professional sports.

It is slightly more common in the NBA, but these players are usually primed as the sixth man and give instant offense from the time they walk on the court. Interestingly enough, many of these players go on to start for their current team or secure a starting role elsewhere.

The Memphis Grizzlies have seemingly found themselves in a similar situation.

Tyus Jones was a savvy pickup for the Grizzlies in 2019. In just their first full offseason after a top-to-bottom organizational shake up, Zach Kleiman and company were already showing the ability to make smart team-building moves by adding a player that was both efficient on the court as well as a great mentor and locker-room piece.

This proved to be essential to the growth of Ja Morant, as it allowed him a smooth transition from a 30-game collegiate season to a 82-game NBA regular season.

In year one, Jones typically checked in around the six-minute mark of the first and third quarters which allowed Morant to get a lot more rest to end both the second and fourth quarters. This set the stage for “4th Quarter Ja” as he remained top 10 in the entire NBA in fourth-quarter scoring throughout his rookie campaign.

This is an insane stat for a rookie.

In Year 3, however, Jones proved without a doubt that he could be a starter on a playoff-caliber team. He would go on to only lose just four of 24 games while starting due to a nagging knee injury that sidelined Morant multiple times throughout the season. The ex-Timberwolf never played outside of himself, and kept his assist-to-turnover ratio at the top of the league even though his minutes increased.

He would proceed to start the last three playoff games in the second round against the Golden State Warriors with Morant sidelined due to a bone bruise. Again, Tyus showed a sense of poise, maturity and leadership that allowed the Grizzlies to compete and almost win two of the three games he started.

Standing At The Crossroads

This leads us to where we are now; the 2022 offseason. Jones’ contract is now complete, and he is set to test the waters as an unrestricted free agent.

This puts both the Grizzlies and Jones in a difficult spot.

On one hand, both Jones and the organization would agree the Grizzlies are better with him. When Ja checks out and Tyus checks in, it’s almost the same feeling a parent may get when they drop the kids off with their grandparents. You trust that they are in just as good hands as they are when they are with you.

He also is a great fit for this team off the court and in the locker room, so it would be unfortunate if he was not back next year and going forward as the Memphis Grizzlies shift their focus towards competing for championships.

The NBA is a business, however, and you simply can not pay everyone top dollar thanks to the NBA’s salary cap.

The other side to the business are the players that have worked their entire lives to provide for their families. It’s very rare for anyone to take less money to stay in a more favorable situation.

So with that, let’s take a deep dive into the potential pros and cons of both the Memphis Grizzlies and Tyus Jones agreeing on a new contract or deciding to explore different options.

To Stay or Not To Stay

The Memphis Grizzlies have both statistical data and hours of game film to back up the notion that they are a better team with Jones on it. Re-signing him will allow the Grizzlies to continue to have that security blanket they have been accustomed to the past few years in the event Ja has to miss time.

The Grizzlies have had one of the most successful benches in the NBA during Jones’ tenure. Having to replace him could have a real impact to their efficiency.

If Tyus and the Grizzlies mutually agree to move on, it would open up about $8-15 million in cap space the Grizzlies would have committed to him had he re-signed. And with three draft picks and cap space, a backup point guard should be very easy to obtain this offseason.

As it currently stands, the Grizzlies have pick Nos. 22, 29 and 47. The likes of Kennedy Chandler, Ty Ty Washington, and Andrew Nembhard are some names to watch out for if the Grizzlies choose to go the draft route to replace the backup point guard spot.

There are also many veteran point guards to be had on veteran-minimum contracts that would allow the Grizzlies to keep some sort of flexibility to address other needs. Names to watch for would be Austin Rivers, Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo.

And let’s not rule out the trade market as the possibilities are endless there.

The reality is this team is only going to go as far as the generational talent in Ja Morant will take them. Having a formidable backup PG of Jones’ stature to fill in those minutes sounds great on paper, but the bigger needs for this team to take the next step would be shot creating, shooting and rebounding. Tying up $12+ million on your backup point guard takes away the ability to do so.

For Jones, a major benefit of staying in Memphis is him being sure of his role on a perennial contender. With the Grizzlies pretty much set on their core going forward, Jones wouldn’t have to question his minutes, role or commitment from the team as he would if they were to explore elsewhere.

That sense of comfortability goes a long way in a player making a long-term decision, and in Jones’ case, he has that already in Memphis.

If he had even the smallest concern of this going into last season, the playoffs would solidify this. In two very different size matchups for the Grizz, Jones logged an average of 21.8 minutes per game in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. This alone shows the confidence they have in Jones to get the job done and he has delivered for them.

But if a starting role and a larger payday is what Jones is seeking — which he deserves — he would obviously have to explore other opportunities with Ja almost certainly about to get the Grizzlies’ first supermax contract in franchise history. Paying the point-guard position $50+ million/year just isn’t feasible in today’s NBA.

The issue for Tyus at this point would be sacrificing leaving a comfortable and winning situation to possibly step into a rebuilding situation again for a starting role. Organizations looking to fill a starting point-guard void would seemingly be teams like the Knicks, Wizards and Clippers.

But the question then turns to how impactful is a winning environment to his decision, as the Knicks and Wizards both missed the playoffs this past season.

Would Jones be able to secure a $12-15 million-per-year contract with either of these teams? Possibly.

The Knicks and Wizards would seem to be the most likely since neither have more than one max player on their rosters. Adding another max player in the offseason, however, could change that as well for those teams and possibly only leave around $9-12 million per year on the table for Jones.

Other Scenarios in Play

Will playoff teams like the Pelicans, Jazz or Heat look to bolster their point-guard depth while keeping costs low to use those funds elsewhere? With not a lot of free-agent options, and multiple high-salaried players looking to change their situations, the offseason trade market could lead to a lot of unexpected shuffling. This would likely open even more options for Jones if he and the Grizzlies agree to a sign-and-trade scenario.

As much as both sides feel a need to do what’s best for them, there is a third option. Jones and the Grizzlies could mutually agree for him to come back on a one-year deal where Jones makes more money this coming season and is able to have more suitors in 2023.

This allows the team for the most part to stay intact, Jones gets a bigger payday, and both sides keep future flexibility to where if they want to do something in the future together they can, or they mutually agree to move forward.

The biggest factor on what the Grizzlies and Tyus Jones decide to do moving forward will be the franchise’s draft and potential offseason trade plans. And as we’ve learned the past few years, this new Grizzlies’ front office will hold on to their cards until the very last second.

With the track record they have had, however, the Memphis Grizzlies fanbase has come to trust whatever moves the front office decides to make as being best for the franchise.

And hopefully both parties will be satisfied no matter the outcome.

About Chris Ingram

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