As the Western Conference continues to load up for next season, the Memphis Grizzlies are quietly doing some business.
The Grizzlies partnered with the New Orleans Pelicans in a deal to acquire center Steven Adams and the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. They also traded for Jarrett Culver, a 22-year-old former sixth overall pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and flipped Juancho Hernangomez for defensive specialist Kris Dunn.
These moves helped the Grizzlies get better, but is that enough? Their 38-34 record last season placed them ninth in the West, and after beating the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament, they fell to the top-seeded Utah Jazz in five games.
While Memphis assesses its options and looks for ways to improve around star Ja Morant, the franchise has put itself in a position to land Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal. Reeling in the 28-year-old, through trade or free agency, gives the Grizzlies another star alongside Morant and makes them possible contenders in the West.
Bradley Beal is the biggest star who’s realistically available
Beal has gone from John Wall’s sidekick to a standalone star capable of huge scoring efforts. The former Florida Gator has increased his points per game average in each of the last three seasons, headlined by a career-best 31.3 in 2020-21. The three-time All-Star also set career highs in field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage, finishing at 48.5 and 88.9 percent, respectively.
While Beal’s numbers have been strong, the Wizards have failed to capitalize. Washington went 34-38 last season, making the playoffs after a late-season surge but falling in five games to the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the first playoff appearance for Beal and the Wizards in three seasons.
Rampant trade speculation, along with Washington dealing Russell Westbrook after only one season, could mean the talented shooting guard is nearing the end of his D.C. tenure. Even if he’s not traded, the 28-year-old can still opt out after the season and become an unrestricted free agent. By doing so, he would have a projected starting maximum salary of $41.7 million in the 2022-23 season, more than a $4 million raise over what he would make by staying with Washington.
Not only is Beal widely expected to opt out, but the market surrounding him makes the nine-year vet look even more desirable. Wall and Westbrook, as well as Brooklyn Nets teammates James Harden and Kyrie Irving, all have player options after this season. However, Wall and Westbrook won’t opt out of making $40+ million, while Harden and Irving are expected to stay in Brooklyn alongside Kevin Durant.
That leaves Beal, and Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, as the two players who would realistically hit the open market and earn max contracts.
The Memphis Grizzlies have the players, and the money, to go after Bradley Beal
With a young, talented roster, as well as more cap space than most teams in the NBA, the Grizzlies are set up well to make a play for Beal either this season or next summer.
Should they want to make a trade now, Memphis has a few options. Dillon Brooks, 25, is a player Washington could want. The fourth-year guard averaged a career-high 17.2 points last season in just under 30 minutes. Kyle Anderson is another, as the 27-year-old is also coming off of a career year with 12.4 points per game.
The Grizzlies also have draft capital to offer the Wizards. Assuming the Jazz make the playoffs, their pick will transfer, giving Memphis three first-round picks in 2022 (Memphis also owns the Pelicans’ first-round pick they acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers). In addition, the Grizzlies have two first-round picks in 2024; their own plus the Warriors’ first-round pick from the 2019 Andre Iguodala trade.
Memphis also has the option to wait until next summer before pursuing Beal. Although they’re not exactly a team who spends big on the free-agent market, the Grizzlies could have a league-high $66.4 million in projected practical cap space according to Spotrac. That figure does assume, however, that all veteran club options are declined and non-guaranteed players are released; unlikely if Memphis extends Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and possibly Brandon Clarke.
Even with extensions, the Grizzlies could keep that trio intact, sign Beal, and still come well underneath the $145 million luxury tax threshold.
Pairing Beal and Morant would give the Grizzlies an elite guard combo
Beal is used to playing with a ball-dominant point guard. He spent most of his career with Wall and last season with Westbrook, so playing alongside another in Memphis wouldn’t be much different for him.
His scoring ability also takes pressure off of Morant. The 2019 second overall pick has averaged 18.4 points and 7.3 assists in two seasons. Paired with Beal, Ja could continue to grow without having the full weight of the franchise on his shoulders.
As far as guard duos in the West go, there wouldn’t be many better than Morant and Beal. The defending conference champion Phoenix Suns may be atop the list with Chris Paul and Devin Booker, followed closely by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers. There’s also Utah’s Mike Conley Jr. and Donovan Mitchell pairing, while Golden State could get the Splash Brothers reunion of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Out of that group, you could definitely make a case for Morant and Beal becoming the best. The sharp-shooting Beal was one of two players (Curry is the other) to average 30 or more points last season. Meanwhile, Morant is the youngest out of everyone mentioned, with a ceiling he’s still far from reaching.
It’s almost inevitable Beal leaves D.C. either this year or next summer. Either way, the Grizzlies should do whatever they can to become his next team.