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Grizzlies reload front line in trade

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The Grizzlies have agreed in principle to a three-team trade that will land them big man Marreese Speights. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Grizzlies fell into the “if everything goes right …” category before the season, but things have only gone wrong so far, especially on the front line. Darrell Arthur, one of the league’s most important bench players last year, is out for the season with an Achilles tear. Zach Randolph, the hub of Memphis’ offense, is reportedly out for eight weeks with a torn MCL (I’ll have more on his injury later), and you never want to rush a big guy back from a knee injury for the sake of an early season win — not even in this compressed season.

So the Grizz have agreed to acquire Philadelphia’s Marreese Speights, a big man with a reliable mid-range jumper and little else, in exchange for second-year guard Xavier Henry (heading to the Hornets, as this is a three-team deal), as first reported by ESPN.com and confirmed by SI.com’s Sam Amick. The Sixers will receive two second-round picks and a small trade exception, equal to Speights’ $2.7 million salary, in exchange for their troubles. They have a year to fill that exception in a future trade without sending any salary out, and though many such exceptions go unused, they can prove handy; Boston, for instance, dealt phantom assets for Keyon Dooling and absorbed Dooling’s salary via a trade exception created in last season’s Marquis Daniels salary dump.

Speights, a restricted free agent after this season, is the head-liner here, and a signal the Grizzlies are unsure whether the recently signed combination of Dante Cunningham and Hamed Haddadi is worthy of taking Arthur’s minutes. Cunningham is a decent mid-range shooter for his position and a willing defender, but at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, he’s often undersized. Speights is listed at 6-10 and 245 pounds, so he brings some legit front-line size along with his jumper. Haddadi has the size covered, and while he’s been a rebounding/shot-blocking machine in very limited minutes (including 31 useful playoff minutes last season), he just hasn’t been able to stay on the court.

Speights hasn’t really, either. He has never averaged more than 16 minutes per game, and he logged a career-low 11 minutes per game last season, as Philly coach Doug Collins grew tired of his chucking and (especially) shaky defensive positioning. Speights is an average defensive rebounder for a power forward and an above-average offensive rebounder, but he has never proven himself as a help defender or a big guy capable of containing the pick and roll.

He may get a chance in Memphis, because the Grizz need some shooting. Memphis is 23rd in points per possession, and has missed the shooting range Shane Battier (gone to Miami) and Mike Conley (just back from a brief ankle injury) bring to a team that starts a non-shooter (Tony Allen) at shooting guard. It hasn’t helped that Rudy Gay, who made a huge leap as a three-point shooter last season, has struggled badly from just about everywhere on the court. Any floor spacing would help, and Speights for his career has hit about 42.5 percent of his long two-point attempts – an above average mark for players of any position.

And he loves to shoot. He has jacked about 15 shots per 36 minutes over his career, a higher mark than any of his Sixer teammates last season, save the always-eager (and green-lit) Lou Williams. The downside of all those jumpers is that Speights rarely dishes assists and doesn’t take many foul shots, though his free throw numbers jumped up in 2009-10 before falling back last season.

In any case, he’s worth a flyer for the Grizzlies, who take on only about $500,000 in salary by flipping acquiring Speights for Henry, who wasn’t in their plans this season or going forward. As a side note, as Rafael Uehara of The Basketball Post pointed out on Twitter, the Henry trade means the Grizz have already dealt their last four first-round picks — Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll, Greivis Vasquez and now Henry. Of course, they have also gotten decent value from one second-rounder (Sam Young) and may get production from another this season (Josh Selby), and they flipped Vasquez to the Hornets last week for another first-round pick in Quincy Pondexter. Still, that’s a discouraging draft record, especially when you consider the most recent first-rounder still on the roster is O.J. Mayo, for whom Memphis traded Kevin Love on draft day in 2008.

Depending on the precise 2011-12 salaries of a few Grizz players, this deal may take the Grizz temporarily over the luxury-tax line, though they could get back under it by trimming their roster in the next few weeks.

For the Hornets, this is a risk-free chance at a 2010 lottery pick with just 527 NBA minutes under his belt. New Orleans has zero depth at shooting guard behind Eric Gordon and Marco Belinelli, and the latter hasn’t exactly lit up the NBA. Henry hasn’t either, and he showed very limited shooting range last season. But he also flashed potential as a good wing defender. Why not grab a lottery pick with (potentially) two years left on his rookie deal?

  • Published On 1:32pm, Jan 04, 2012
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