The last time I talked to Mike Conley, at the Grizzlies final media session on April 11, he was laughing off whether or not it was time for another farewell speech.
Not surprisingly, Conley wants to play for an NBA championship and doesn’t have much of an appetite for a rebuild.
“I wanna win a ring, man,” Conley said, when asked about the rest of his career. “You get to that point, 13, 14, 15 years, those years start to stack up. And you don’t get too many opportunities to win at that level. If that’s here or anywhere, I’m all for it.”
All in all, Conley spoke for nearly 20 minutes, cut short because he had to go donate half a million dollars to sickle cell research. He was highly talkative, which made the tweet he sent just a few hours later all the more resonant:
— Mike Conley (@mconley11) April 11, 2019
That was all Conley had left to say after the Grizzlies blew up the front office, demoting Chris Wallace from General Manager, and flat-out firing J.B. Bickerstaff.
Mind you, this was less than 24 hours after a thrilling 132-117 season finale win over the Golden State Warriors. Leave it to the Grizzlies to needlessly squash optimism while people are still celebrating.
“In order to put our team on the path to sustainable success, it was necessary to change our approach to basketball operations,” said Grizzlies Controlling Owner Robert J. Pera in a statement. “I look forward to a reenergized front office and fresh approach to Memphis Grizzlies basketball under new leadership, while retaining the identity and values that have distinguished our team.”
While many Grizz fans understand and even applaud the move – especially demoting Wallace – there was shock and outrage at how it was done. Just hours before the Grizzlies’ own version of the “Red Wedding” (no escaping Game of Thrones, y’all) Bickerstaff and Wallace had both spoken optimistically about the end of the season and how to carry the momentum forward.
I’ve written countless times before about the Grizzlies need for stability. I can’t do it anymore – not when the numbers say it all. Since 2012, your Memphis Grizzlies have demoted Wallace twice. Twice since 2016, the team has used 28 players in a season, including this season.
Since 2013, they’ve changed coaches four times, including three African Americans fired for questionable reasons. And that’s not just head coaches; that’s coaching staffs and systems, in and out of the proverbial revolving door. Sadly, dysfunction isn’t the exception for this franchise; it’s the historical norm.
Here are a few random thoughts as I try to digest where the team stands right now and where it goes from here:
Are the Grizzlies doomed? I doubt it. For all of its dysfunction, the Memphis Grizzlies are still an NBA team. Meaning that as long as the checks clear – and the checks WILL clear – someone will accept the job to coach, to run the team, to play. Who knows, they may even be good again . . . someday.
In fact, Wednesday night news broke that the Grizzlies had hired two former GMs for their front office – former Charlotte exec Rich Cho and former Raptor honcho Glen Grunwald.
Of course, there’s no coach right now and we won’t know who’s on the roster until late summer. Anything can happen, but fans should brace for life in the NBA basement – indefinitely.
Bye-bye Conley? Firing Bickerstaff – who had earned the respect and admiration of his post-trade team – was the clearest sign that Robert Pera had ZERO intention of building on the team’s late-season success. It’s a rebuild, plain and simple, and Conley wants no part of it.
This will bear watching. Keep in mind that the Grizzlies are not obligated to trade Conley, regardless of his wishes. What happens if the Grizzlies don’t get great offers for Conley? Could he find himself trapped on a rebuilding team? And would he be disappointed? Here’s what Conley said just hours before all hell broke loose:
“Nah, man. I’d never be disappointed to be back here,” he chuckled. “The opportunity to win a ring? I’d be like, ‘Aw man. I missed that opportunity.’ But after that, being here? It’s home. It’s all I know.”
After the shakeup, no one would blame Conley if he publicly demanded a trade, even though it would be the most un-Conley thing he could do. His situation this summer bears close watching.
More of the same? Once the shock wears off, take a minute to scan down the players on contract for next season: Conley, Jaren Jackson Jr., Parsons, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Kyle Anderson, Bruno Caboclo and Ivan Rabb. Dillon Brooks and Avery Bradley are on team options. I expect Jonas Valanciunas to opt into that $17 million.
In other words, most of the team responsible for that late season surge is coming back – and perhaps will be able to build on the momentum. The point? Unless they do trade Conley, the Grizzlies would bring back a core of Conley, Jackson and Valanciunas, along with many of the young players who began to blossom this spring.
But it’s right about here, 800 or so words in that I remind myself of the “burning questions” I asked just last week. I even had the gumption to predict that the spring surge had earned Wallace and Bickerstaff more time. The sad reality is that there’s no predicting anything with this franchise.
Last summer, the team proudly introduced its new “against the grain” version of their home court, making Memphis the only NBA team with “sideline-to-sideline” wood flooring. It’s appropriate, I suppose. Like the city itself, the Grizzlies are often contrary just to be contrary. They are clearly going against common logic this offseason. We’ll just have to wait to see if that’s actually a good thing.
In the meantime, GRIND ON!!!!