Instead of summarizing the NBA news for each week in this article, I’ll be breaking down courses of action for a different team each week.
Team Breakdown: Memphis Grizzlies
Last Sunday, the Grizzlies were in the midst of a 7-game losing streak. They were trailing the Brooklyn Nets at home, and had just cut the Nets’ lead down to 5 points with about 8 minutes left. Star player Marc Gasol, who had been sitting on the bench for much of the rally, began to rise to go back into the game. As soon as he did, however, coach David Fizdale told him to sit back down, and he did not enter the game, which the Grizzlies went on to lose. After the game, the train truly came off the rails. Gasol told the media “If I’m not on the floor that means I’m not valued. And that, I’m sure they know, hurt me the most… I’m sure they wouldn’t do it to Mike.” (Mike Conley is the other star player on the team, and he missed the game with an injury.) The next day, Fizdale was fired.
Fizdale had been seen as one of the best young coaches in the league, acting as an assistant for Erik Spoelstra for Lebron James’s Heat teams, and more recently with his “Take That For Data” rant in last year’s playoffs, in which he berated officials after they called foul after foul against his team. Even with the firing, the Grizzlies remain in a tailspin. Following their loss in Cleveland on Saturday, they have lost 11 in a row. Mike Conley remains injured with a sore Achilles, and the team sits at 7-15, 13th in the Western Conference. Going forward, they face several possible courses of action:
- Blow it Up
The Grizzlies have the third longest streak of playoff appearances in the league, trailing only the Hawks and the Spurs. However, the team is amongst the oldest in the league, and their two best players, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, are 32 and 30 years old, respectively. If they act now, they act now, they could receive decent value for these players, jump starting a rebuild that could make them a perennial playoff team again. This could be appealing for the team because of the complete absence of young talent on the roster. James Ennis and Dillon Brooks are contributing this year, but neither was a high pick, and nor do they figure to blossom into elite talents.
In a best case scenario, the Grizzlies could trade Marc Gasol to Cleveland for Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ first round draft pick. Although neither Thompson nor Shumpert would be a meaningful acquisition for the Grizzlies moving forward, Zizic is a talented rookie center, and the draft pick is very likely to be in the top ten. Although the Cavaliers would like to avoid trading the Nets’ pick, this trade would offload Thompson and Shumpert, who are making a combined $27 million, and give themselves a better chance at the championship this year, and possibly lure back Lebron James for another year.
The best case scenario for a Conley trade would likely be with the Wizards for Otto Porter Jr., with another team (maybe the Pelicans or Spurs) taking Conley and giving Washington a big man. This path, if the trades could work out, would give Memphis a starting place for its rebuild, surrounding Otto Porter, who is only 24, with a group of young players, which would include their own draft pick as well as the Nets’, as well as Zizic. However, several other factors could prohibit Memphis from making these moves. The ownership seems very unwilling to break up a winning team because of the small market size of Memphis: the team that Memphis has on the court now is winning (at least with Conley playing), and the owner, Robert Pera, is still losing money. If the team were to be gutted of its stars, it could mean financial disaster for the franchise. Additionally, the Grizzlies owe their 2019 draft pick to the Boston Celtics. If they were to trade their stars, they would likely have to give a very high selection to the Celtics rather than acquire more young players for their team. Thus a rebuild for Memphis seems relatively unlikely.
- Keep the team together
This Grizzlies team has been together for longer than almost any other core in the league. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are fan favorites in Memphis, and keep fans coming to games even if the team is mediocre. Both of them have shown willingness to play in Memphis, which usually cannot compete with bigger markets like Los Angeles. For Robert Pera, it seems very scary to let two stars go, and hope that several draft selections pan out, and give them a similar team to what they have now. The Grizzlies have shown that they can compete when their stars are on the court (the team is 7-5 for the season when Mike Conley plays). They can continue to try to make the playoffs every year with their current roster, even if it means being knocked out by much better teams in the first round every time. Once Gasol and Conley truly become ineffective, the team can go through a rebuild, and this way, the pick that they give to the Celtics will not be worth very much. This seems like the likely course of action for a franchise that has seemed content cruising to the playoffs every year. If Marc Gasol were to be traded, what would the point be in firing David Fizdale?
- Trade Gasol, but stay competitive
After the fiasco with Marc Gasol and David Fizdale, a change of scenery might make sense for the star center. If the Grizzlies decided that they didn’t want him anymore, but wanted to keep their trajectory of making the playoffs every season, they could trade him for another star. This could be to the Spurs for LaMarcus Aldridge (where Marc would get to play with his brother, Pau), or somewhere else if a star were to become disgruntled with his team during the season. This seems to be the least likely path because of the loyalty Memphis showed to Gasol in their firing of Fizdale, but still seems plausible if too many teammates are upset with the preferential treatment he received.
Which is best?
In my opinion, the Grizzlies should blow it up, and rebuild their roster to compete in the future. With every passing year, their team gets older and older, and less and less likely to be able to compete with elite teams in the Western Conference. They can most likely sell high on Conley and Gasol now, especially to a Cleveland team that is doing everything it can to keep Lebron James. If they act now, because of the protections on the pick the Grizzlies owe the Celtics, it might not be conveyed until 2021, which could be a reasonable timeframe for Memphis to become competitive again. If the front office can make good draft picks between now and then, the Grizzlies can finally put themselves in title contention, which they have never been able to do with their current roster. Right now, they have two stars, whose value will never be higher in the future. They can let themselves fade into mediocrity, or they can set themselves up for another decade of high quality basketball.
By Will Henson, Staff Writer