During the first week of NBA free agency, the Memphis Grizzlies agreed to resign both Tony Allen and Jon Leuer. One of these two players is awfully close to being an offensive liability, while the other played quite sparingly during the half season that he spent in a Grizzlies uniform. Yet both signings were extremely important.
If the Grizzlies had failed to reach a deal with Tony Allen, the beloved Grindfather, Fedexforum would likely have been subject to riots. Allen, who Jason Levien consistently said was the team’s number one offseason priority, makes up for his lack of perimeter shooting with the most hard-nosed defense in the NBA. Allen is the heart and soul of the Grizzlies; even when he takes a seat on the bench, he transforms into a cheerleader of sorts.
This city has adopted clear fan-favorites over the years, Shane Battier and Hamed Haddadi immediately come to mind, but Memphians literally cling to Allen — perhaps the most influential Grizzly to ever don Beale Street Blue. Tony Allen is a community leader, giving back while always being a recognizable face for the franchise.
Even Levien contributed to the Tony Allen lore when he called rookie Jamaal Franklin “the Grindson”.
It is entirely unprecedented for a team to pay a player who struggles shooting the ball $5 million a year. However, it is equally as unprecedented for the face of a franchise to only require a contract worth $5 million a year. Team management knew that the city would never forgive them if Allen were allowed to walk, and with fan support at perhaps an all-time high Levien and Robert Pera did the smart thing.
Several teams were interested in talking to Allen this offseason, including big-market teams such as the New York Knicks. The Knicks, unlike Memphis, would have had the ability to feasibly pay the luxury tax throughout Allen’s deal. This forced the Grizzlies to offer the guard more than the admittedly pretty cheap contract he was on for his first three seasons in Memphis: roughly $3 million per year. However, the Grizzlies did still get Tony Allen at a steal of a deal, while managing to stay under the luxury tax threshold.
Keeping Allen does nothing to solve the Grizzlies’ lack of perimeter shooters, but the team might find a solution in-house. At the end of the season, former coach Lionel Hollins said that Quincy Pondexter would challenge Allen for the starting shooting guard position this upcoming season…but does Dave Joeger intend to give Pondexter an opportunity as well?
Pondexter proved an efficient three point shooter in the playoffs, and moving him to a starting role would help the team’s perimeter play. However, Joeger will almost definitely keep Allen in the starting lineup while utilizing Pondexter to back up Tayshaun Prince at small forward and Allen.
Presumably, Jerryd Bayless will couple with Pondexter to continue providing an outside scoring punch off the bench. Bayless will primarily back up Allen, but he could play point as well from time to time, much like last season. Unless the team intends to sign a sharpshooter at a cheap rate, it appears that management is committing to keeping a similar rotation and playing style as employed this past season.
The Grizzlies also re-signed Jon Leuer, a much less frequently talked about move. The lack of attention given to the deal could perhaps be due to the excitement surrounding the Tony Allen deal, but is more likely due to Leuer’s minimal role on the team. Acquired in the salary dump move that sent Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby to Cleveland, Leuer only spent about half the season in Memphis.
Unfortunately for the forward, he finds himself on a team with two of the best big men in the league in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. And with the trade for center Kosta Koufos and management’s commitment to Ed Davis, the minutes for Leuer could be quite slim again this season. Management thinks highly of Leuer, though, and believes he has the talent and skill set to contribute to the team.
With a contract paying Leuer $1 million per year, the Grizzlies keep necessary depth in the post at an affordable rate. Fans may remember past big men who played sparse minutes, 7’2” Hamed Haddadi and 7’3” Hasheem Thabeet, and wonder what a player expected to play that role can contribute.
However, Leuer has a skill set far more developed and varied than either of those two. At 6’10”, Leuer is a mobile player who can move around the paint quickly and has the ability to back up both the power forward and center positions. Fans should expect to see the Wisconsin alum play a few more minutes this season, but it is unclear just how big of a role new coach Dave Joerger will assign Leuer.
Why would Joerger give more playing time to Leuer this season? It is no secret that Joerger connects better with team management and thus likely shares Levien’s admiration for Leuer. So would Joerger look harder for situations where he could insert Leuer into the lineup? That’s not clear, because management believes that Ed Davis will develop into a star and would probably prefer to see him play as many minutes as possible at the power forward position.
Since Joerger seems to share management’s viewpoint for the most part, I expect he will comply with their desire and play Davis a large chunk of minutes off the bench, leaving Leuer in mostly an injury-replacement or spot minutes role. But Leuer has proven to be a spark in his short stints on the floor, so don’t expect Joerger to give Davis playing time if he fails to be the mobile, energetic forward off the bench that the Grizzlies believe he can be.
An interesting dynamic in the Koufos, Davis, and Leuer debate is that both Koufos and Davis had established themselves with their teams before the Grizzlies acquired them. Koufos started 81 games that he played for the Denver Nuggets last season, while Davis started 24 of his 45 games with the Toronto Raptors. Meanwhile, Jon Leuer has only started 12 total games in the last two seasons.
Obviously, those numbers should turn some heads away from Leuer and towards Koufos and Davis. It is fairly clear that right now Kosta Koufos is the best of the reserve big men, but Davis may have the most potential.
Frankly, no one really knows how good Leuer is, as he has never had much of an opportunity to play extended minutes consistently. The most likely scenario is that Koufos backs up Gasol, Davis spells Randolph, and Leuer fills in when necessary. The Grizzlies’ three year commitment to Leuer should lead to some productive competition among the back-up big men on the team.