Grizzlies Sign Restricted Free Agent Dante Cunningham to Offer Sheet

The Commercial Appeal reported this afternoon that the Grizzlies officially tendered a three-year offer sheet to Charlotte’s restricted free agent Dante Cunningham. The contract is reported to be a two-year deal with a team option for the third year. The deal would also keep Memphis under the $70 million luxury tax threshold.

Cunningham played his first season in the league with Portland  after being taken as the 33rd overall pick in the 2009 draft coming out of Villanova. He was traded to Charlotte during the 2010-11 season. In two years, he has averaged five points and three rebounds per game while logging just under 17 minutes per outing. Cunningham has a mid-range game that is comparable to Darrell Arthur’s, which is why the team became interested.

As Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer pointed out today on Twitter, Cunningham also has the ability to log minutes at the small forward position and provide a longer player to back up Rudy Gay, which is something head coach Lionel Hollins has advocated.

If Charlotte decides to keep Cunningham, Memphis will have to look elsewhere. Let’s look at some of the other options the Grizzlies are pondering to bolster their frontcourt.

  • Tillery also reported that Memphis is looking at a possible trade with the 76ers for Marresse Speights. He was the 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft and has averaged seven points and nearly four rebounds during his time in Philadelphia. Speights also stands at 6-10, while Cunningham is 6-8. Speights would also become a restricted free agent after the season.
  • The problem with the deal for Speights is how much the 76ers may ask for in return. Speculation has been that Philadelphia would ask for some combination of back court players from Memphis, most likely Greivis Vasquez and Xavier Henry. I think Memphis would be okay parting with injury-prone Henry, but Vasquez showed a lot of potential last season, and I don’t think Jeremy Pargo is ready to be the go-to backup at point guard.
  • Cap issues also further complicate the trade. Grizzlies’ owner Michael Heisley has been emphatic in saying Memphis will not go over the $70 million luxury tax threshold. In order to avoid this and pick up Speights (scheduled to make $2.7 million this season), the Grizzlies will probably have to sacrifice Henry – at least.
  • Reggie Evans, a nine-year NBA veteran, has also surfaced as a potential option. According to NBA writer Chris Tomasson, Evans is considering Boston and the Clippers along with Memphis. Evans
  • Kris Humphries is off the market. The restricted free agent has signed a one-year deal with between $7 and $8 million with the New Jersey Nets.

Memphis has two of the more dominant big men in the game with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, as each averaged a double-double during last year’s playoff run. However, the Grizzlies announced yesterday that the team will be without power forward Darrell Arthur for the duration of the season after he suffered a torn achilles.

With Arthur gone, the Grizzlies roster will stand at 12, and Randolph is currently the only healthy power forward Memphis has on its payroll. If owner Michael Heisley is dead set on not paying luxury tax as he has indicated, the team will have to sign three cheap big men, carry a roster of 15 and hope one of those bigs shows promise and earns minutes.

Memphis seems to be trying to solve its roster problems without moving OJ Mayo, which will be a difficult task. The Grizzlies are also being forced to consider their long term financial future in these deals. As it stands now, the team is on the hook for more than $60 million in salary next season for just seven players – and that doesn’t include Arthur and Mayo.

The Grizzlies also have to deal with the fact that other teams in the league know Memphis is in a tough position. Because of the franchise’s desperation, other organizations are asking for a lot in return for big men in an effort to capitalize on Memphis’s misfortunes.

Memphis plays its final preseason game Wed. Dec. 21 on the road agains the New Orleans Hornets. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Click here to read about the Grizzlies 2011-12 roster

Click here to learn how NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement will impact the Grizzlies

Click here to read what Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley have to say about the 2011-2012 NBA season.

Preston McClellan covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @p_mcclellan.

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