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The Grizzlies have become the Lakers’ feeder team

Over the last three seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies have made a habit of helping players end up on the Lakers.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There has long been a running joke on the internet that every single decent NBA player has been photoshopped into a Laker jersey at some point. Call it Lakers exceptionalism, or call it “wish fulfillment,” but like all the best jokes, the meme is funny because there is a degree of truth to it.

But over the last few years, another trend has come into focus, and it’s fair to wonder if Lakers fans would be better off devoting their Adobe Creative Cloud energies elsewhere. Because if they really want a player to wear purple and gold, they might be better off editing them into a Memphis Grizzlies uniform first.

Avery Bradley. Dwight Howard. Dion Waiters. And soon, Rajon Rondo. All of them were salary dumped to the NBA waystation in Memphis, and not long after, all of them were Lakers after being waived or securing a buyout with the Grizzlies.

The stats, when put into context, are fairly staggering. Of the 31 players on guaranteed deals to play for the Lakers over the 2019-20 and 20-21 seasons, as well as the upcoming 21-22 season, four were paid to go away by the Grizzlies, a fairly significant 12.9% of the Lakers’ rosters over that time period. Between Bradley, Howard, Waiters and Rondo, the Grizzlies paid approximately $34.5 million to four players to go join the Lakers for an estimated $10.4 million in total salary.

Assembled with the help of esteemed HoopsHype NBA salary cap expert Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan on Twitter), the estimated salary numbers are, again, eye-popping (assuming that Rondo gave back the veteran’s minimum in his buyout like Howard did, which is likely):

The Memphis Lakers

Players Money from Grizzlies Money from Lakers
Players Money from Grizzlies Money from Lakers
Avery Bradley $2 million in guaranteed money (Waived) $4.7 million
Dwight Howard $3 million (Bought out) $2.6 million
Dion Waiters $12.1 million in 2019-20, 12.5 million in 2020-21 (Waived) $0.5 million
Rajon Rondo $4.8 million (if he gave back $2.6 million of the $7.5 million he was owed, Bought out) $2.6 million
Total Salary $34.5 million $10.4 million

Waiters admittedly skews this a little considering that he barely played a role in his half season with the Lakers, but even without his inclusion, Memphis still paid $9.8 million to three players to go play in Los Angeles for around $9.9 million. While subsidizing a small business like the Mom-and-Pop Shop Lakers is admirable, it also seemingly doesn’t make a ton of sense on its face for a tiny market like Memphis, even if the Grizzlies’ owner, Robert Pera, is worth an estimated $18.5 billion, significantly more than his Lakers counterpart Jeanie Buss ($500 million).

So why would the Grizzlies do this? The reasons vary by the player, but the commonality is Memphis taking on a contract another team doesn’t want in exchange for a token asset, even if some of those trades haven’t amounted to much, as Gozlan explains.

“They buy-outs don’t help them that much to be honest. It’s good business for teams to get some savings when they cut a player. But Memphis is so far from the luxury tax that they could’ve waived Rondo outright and still be in the same position they are now,” Gozlan said.

“Memphis is wisely using their trade flexibility to position themselves for the future. The thing is, Memphis often does trades that greatly help their trade partners more, while incrementally helping themselves,” Gozlan continued. “For example, they gave Miami (Jae) Crowder and (Andre) Iguodala while taking on Waiters and James Johnson just so they can take a shot at (Justise) Winslow. They didn’t get any picks or anything, and they ended up paying Waiters the rest of his deal for nothing*.”

*Winslow left for the Clippers in free agency after the Grizzlies declined his team option following just 26 games in Memphis.

Now, whether or not the relationships the Grizzlies build with agents by doing the favor of essentially paying their clients to go pick their next destination instead of holding them hostage will pay off long-term in free agency remains to be seen, but for now, the Lakers are undoubtedly the main beneficiaries of the strategy. So for any players looking to end up on a contender in Los Angeles, maybe try to have your agent get you sent to Memphis, first.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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