Zach Kleiman didn’t want to talk about Dillon Brooks on Sunday. Nobody likes to talk about breakups.
“I’ll hit on DB another day,” is the quote everybody latched onto.
It came after the Memphis Grizzlies‘ general manager spent a good chunk of time conceding “self-created distractions” hurt the franchise during the playoffs and throughout the season. It came after he talked of the team’s plans to take a different approach to trash talk moving forward.
Everybody in the room could read between the lines.
So what Kleiman would say about Brooks, when asked later why he wouldn’t speak about him, sounded a lot like goodbye.
“There’s so much really good stuff that Dillon has brought to the table for a long time. He’s been someone who has worked as hard as anyone on this group,” Kleiman said. “He set the tone for what we’ve been about defensively. He’s a really good person. I think a lot of the storylines that have come up just don’t get what Dillon is like if you sit down with him, have dinner with him and see what he’s like as a human being. But that’s all I got on Dillon for today, though.”
Brooks is not going to be back with the Grizzlies, and the way it’s playing out only further underscores how difficult Kleiman’s job will be this offseason.
Tuesday’s report from The Athletic, which claimed the Grizzlies told Brooks they aren’t going to re-sign him “under any circumstances” during their exit interview, wasn’t shocking. Except for the words used.
No, the Grizzlies did not leak this to the national media, even though they indeed have no plans to re-sign Brooks.
“Under any circumstances” makes no sense for them to put out there. A sign-and-trade with Brooks, however unlikely it may have already seemed, is (was?) an option for them to make the sort of move Kleiman intimated when he said the team intends to be “very aggressive” after a first-round flop against the Lakers.
“Under any circumstances” is, frankly, just not how this front office has operated over the past four years.
But “under any circumstances” exacerbates the issue facing Kleiman in the coming weeks and months.
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The entire NBA knows what the Grizzlies need. The entire NBA knows the Grizzlies don’t want Brooks anymore. The entire NBA knows the Grizzlies aren’t going to trade Ja Morant, Desmond Bane or Jaren Jackson Jr. to get what they want. The entire NBA knows everything else the Grizzlies could offer in a hypothetical trade isn’t exactly the crème de la crème of assets.
The entire NBA knew this at the trade deadline in February, too. It meant all those first-round draft picks Memphis stockpiled weren’t enough to pry away OG Anunoby or Mikal Bridges or any other wing who would fill Brooks’ spot in the starting lineup.
There’s reason to believe (or maybe just hope) the price won’t be as steep now. That perhaps the expiring contract of guard Tyus Jones, and/or some of the Grizzlies’ overabundance of young players, and/or a collection of first-round draft picks will get another team to bite.
A trade, though, is the path of least resistance (and greatest reward). The Grizzlies have only enough salary cap space to use their mid-level exception in free agency, which gives them about $11 million to work with. That is less than what Brooks earned this past season.
But this was part of the peril last year, when Memphis elected not to deal Brooks and play out the string of his affordable contract extension signed during the 2019-20 season. This is the consequence Kleiman must deal with after making the decision to bring even more youth on the roster last offseason. There just isn’t as much flexibility anymore.
Now, it might be easier to part with Brooks today simply because his problems shooting the ball became so bad it rendered him a complete liability against the Lakers. Add in his ridiculous comments about LeBron James, and his public chafing about being the fourth offensive option, and his departure felt inevitable by the time exit interview day ended.
But let’s not twist the Brooks’ narrative simply because it went off the rails of late.
He’s a former second-round pick who did his fair share of good for the Grizzlies. Who he was two years ago, a player who shot better than 35 percent from 3-point range, may well be someone the Grizzlies would have re-signed again. He was frequently referred to as this group’s “heart and soul” by coach Taylor Jenkins and the locker room always stuck up for him.
Heck, the awkward trade that didn’t happen in December 2018 because the Phoenix Suns thought the Grizzlies had agreed to trade Dillon Brooks and the Grizzlies thought they had agreed to trade MarShon Brooks helped pave the way for Kleiman to take over the front office.
It’s perhaps why he didn’t want to talk about the end Sunday.
He knows better than anyone, as flawed as Brooks may be, that finding someone else is often the toughest part of a breakup.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies breakup begins difficult offseason in Memphis