Editor’s note: This column was written before news broke of a Grizzlies shakeup that reassigns Chris Wallace to a scouting role. J.B. Bickerstaff has also reportedly been fired.
The Grizzlies finished up their season Wednesday night with fireworks. Not actual fireworks, but they sure lit up the scoreboard en route to a 132-117 win over the (mostly resting) Golden State Warriors, wrapping up with a final record of 33-49.
Like the rest of us, the Grizzlies will be watching the playoffs from home, as the offseason is now officially underway. And this is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal offseasons in franchise history.
Of course, we say that about almost every offseason with this team. Why? Because there are always questions about this franchise and where it’s headed. Most of those questions over the past several years have revolved around how long to keep the “Core Four” together and when to rebuild.
But after a roaring 12-5 start to this season, the Grizzlies imploded in December and January, at one point winning just once in a 15-game span. There was the botched trade, the actual trades, the leaked locker room fight . . . actually quite a bit of drama for a team that was really bad.
And that wasn’t the end of the saga either. At the February trade deadline, Memphis detonated their roster, most notably sending Marc Gasol to Toronto and receiving what appeared to be random scraps from the Raptors, Clippers and Hawks. I’ll admit that I had low expectations for the team after that.
But then a funny thing happened. They started winning. They picked up the pace on offense and defense and surprisingly gelled into a competitive team, knocking off playoff powerhouses like Houston, Oklahoma City and Portland.
Even weirder: they manufactured several of these wins (and close losses) with injuries to Mike Conley, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Avery Bradley and Jonas Valanciunas.
But what, if anything, does it mean for this offseason? There are a TON of questions facing the Grizzlies this offseason. Here are the ones I’ll be watching:
1. Will they convey the pick?
The Grizzlies, Mavs and Pelicans each finished with a 33-49 record. Some weird tie-breaker rule will determine where the Grizz will rank. Currently, ESPN projects that there’s a 82 percent chance they keep their first rounder this year, putting off the conveyance until next season.
The irony here is that we really won’t know if they convey until the NBA Draft Lottery on May 14. There’s a (very low) chance they could catapult into a top-4 pick, which isn’t horrible, and might be enough to pull off a draft-day deal.
2. Will Chris Wallace stay as general manager? Should he?
There’s a chorus of Grizzlies fans who want Chris Wallace fired for incompetence. It’s harsh, but I get it – the dysfunction has to end. But if Wallace gets the blame for the early season struggles, he should also get credit for this current roster that’s been so thoroughly exciting to watch. I think the team’s recent performance has earned him another summer to see it through.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Andrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Wallace has been relieved of GM duties and reassigned to a scouting role within the organization.
3. Will J. B. Bickerstaff return as coach? Should he?
Yes to both. It’s hard to imagine Chris Wallace firing TWO first-year coaches (the first being David Fizdale) after injuries and trades torpedoed the season. If there is indeed a new GM, all bets are off. But like Wallace, Bickerstaff deserves a ton of credit for having a roster shuffled on him midseason and still getting them to gel into a competitive squad.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Andrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Bickerstaff has been fired.
4. Will Mike Conley be traded?
The real question is: Does Mike Conley WANT to be traded? Perhaps so, perhaps not.
At 32, Conley is in the back half of his prime, so if he hopes to compete for a championship, a trade is likely in order. Then again, for the first time in his career, Conley is THE leader – and he’s surrounded with young legs playing at a faster pace. I expect the team to respect his desires, but if it’s a “new team and playing style” he wants, Conley may already have it at FedExForum.
5. What will happen to the “forgotten players?”
As in “What will happen with Dillon Brooks. Or Kyle Anderson. Or Bradley. Or C.J. Miles. Or (insert other player). The upside of this late-season surge is that the Grizzlies may be further along in their rebuild that first thought. The downside – and I don’t envy Wallace – will be figuring out how all the pieces fit together.
Does Bruno Caboclo make Kyle Anderson obsolete? Does Delon Wright make Jevon Carter expendable? How much of this roster’s production can be attributed to “good numbers on a bad team?”
And will any of this chemistry carry over into next season when Jackson, Valanciunas and maybe Conley return?
6. Is there hope in the NBA Draft?
Not much. Assuming they convey the pick, they’ll stick to their script and take a shot on a second round player.
However, should they land in the Top 4, that pick will have value, even in what’s regarded as a weak draft. I would expect them to package the pick with another player to clear cap space and/or reel in a young veteran.
7. What of the veterans?
Veterans? What veterans?
Specifically here, I’m thinking of players like Joakim Noah, Avery Bradley and (yikes) Chandler Parsons. All of these players are on the wrong side of 30, and it would be foolish to plan a roster around them.
But darn if Avery Bradley didn’t come right in and start producing. Is he worth $12 million to bring back for the final year of his deal? If the team wants to keep the momentum going, the answer is probably yes. And if the team wants to dangle his expiring contract at the next trade deadline, the answer is definitely yes.
Joakim Noah has almost certainly earned himself a roster spot in the NBA next season, and I hope it’s in Memphis, again on a reasonable short term deal. I think his infectious energy was critical to developing this chemistry and he could continue as a role player here.
And finally, Chandler Parsons is finally looking like a basketball player now that a whole new roster is in place. Given his recent production, you could make a case for him staying – at least until his $25 million expiring contract becomes attractive next February.
Most likely, we won’t start to get these answers until after the NBA Finals in June. So in the meantime…