Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has a saying: “We’re not for everyone.” Meanwhile, in Memphis, the Grizzlies reportedly decided that Dillon Brooks is not for them. Perhaps there is some match-making to be done.
The Athletic reported this week that the Grizzlies told Brooks during his exit meeting with team officials that they would not offer him a new contract “under any circumstances.” After a tumultuous end to the season, in which Brooks repeatedly jabbed at LeBron James through the media and then underperformed in the Grizzlies’ first-round series loss to the Lakers, the organization decided it best that they get a fresh start.
Brooks will be an unrestricted free agent. Rival teams know the Grizzlies won’t make an offer and can decide now whether they would like to make one. There aren’t many teams that can tolerate all that Brooks brings to a locker room. The Heat can and, if they can carve out the money, should pursue Brooks this offseason.
Brooks wasn’t the only distraction during the Grizzlies season. Ja Morant, the team’s star, was suspended by the league for eight games without pay after Morant was seen in an Instagram Live video holding a gun at a nightclub near Denver. Teammates held a players-only meeting about off-court activities. They needed a veteran voice in the locker room, especially after trading away Danny Green in February. It may not be a coincidence that things unraveled in Memphis after trading away Green, a valued voice in any locker room who at 35 years old has experience within a championship organization like the Spurs. With Green gone, there was no one with similar credentials or experience to hold the younger players accountable.
The Heat have several of those players. It’s kind of their thing. In a locker room with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Udonis Haslem making post-retirement appearances, there would be several players who could help Brooks correct course when veering too far into heel mode.
Brooks hasn’t made many friends around the league. His intensity on the court often leads to technicals, flagrant fouls and forced shots. The Athletic’s John Hollinger, who was an executive for the Grizzlies when they drafted Brooks in 2017, wrote that the intel on Brooks was similar dating back to his college years at Oregon. Few know where Brooks stands in the league better than Hollinger, who also had this:
“The answer to the conundrum of where Brooks best fits is that he belongs in the spot where it’s easiest for him to straddle The Line – where he can be an aggressive bulldog defender without needlessly poking bears (or GOATs), where he can be a secondary offensive weapon without getting overly thirsty and where his edge and work ethic help inspire an overachieving team as it did in Memphis in 2020-21 and 2021-22.”
Sounds a lot like the Heat, doesn’t it? The question the Heat have to ask themselves is: Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Where Brooks does back up the bravado is on defense. He’s a top-flight wing defender who will likely be named to one of the NBA’s All-Defensive teams. Despite his negative wing span and limited athleticism, he makes up for it with relentless effort and intelligence. He’s a value-add to any defense. (Lineups featuring Adebayo, Butler and Brooks would be closest thing they’ve had on defense since P.J. Tucker left in free agency.)
But for him to be a true “3-and-D” player, the 3-point shooting part of the equation needs to turn around. After shooting 35% from distance in his first four seasons, Brooks shot 32% over his last two seasons. The Lakers in their playoff series routinely helped off Brooks, leaving him open in order to send defenders to other threats.
For the Heat, who already play two non-shooters in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo heavy minutes, they would have to be confident that Brooks can turn that shooting around and at least become someone defenses have to respect. Nudging that percentage up into the mid-30s should do the trick.
The other part of this is that this is not a compelling free agent class. Besides Brooks, there aren’t many wings teams know will be available that are capable of starting on playoff teams. Other teams will be interested. (Teams like Phoenix and Atlanta make sense as potential Brooks suitors.) If the Heat can tap into the taxpayer mid-level exception without going over the second luxury tax apron, which would mean wiping away a few of their current contracts, then they could make a competitive offer.
I’ll end on this: I recently spoke with Brooks for a story I wrote for RealGM. I can’t say I know him well, but everyone I talked to raves about his intelligence and agrees he’s a winning player, even if the sometimes boneheaded behavior gets in the way. A chance of scenery, more accountability and the right opportunity could coax Brooks into being a more consistently positive player. To a much greater degree, we’ve already seen the Heat do this with Jimmy Butler. Brooks is cut of a similar cloth. He may not be for everybody, but he might be a good match for the Heat.