The Memphis Grizzlies return from the All-Star Break tomorrow night (Feb. 23) with a matchup against the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers. But only one of these teams will be jockeying for playoff position — and it’s not the home team.
No, with their 18-38 record, the Grizzlies are firmly out of the playoff picture for the first time since 2009. As I wrote about earlier this season, every NBA team (except the Spurs) eventually becomes awful, and apparently this is the year for the Grizz.
Instead, they are playing for draft positioning, trying to walk that fine line of remaining competitive during games (so as not to anger fans) while losing enough games to improve their odds of a high draft pick.
But just because there will be no playoff fireworks this season doesn’t mean you should tune out. Here are a few thoughts on how the Grizzlies can finish strong — and this doesn’t just apply to players.
1. Offer J.B. Bickerstaff the head coaching job.
There’s a million reasons why, starting with the job he’s done since picking up for David Fizdale in November. He has his team playing hard every night in a lost season.
But truthfully, the Grizzlies need to save face. Fizdale was the third coach in a row to be let go after doing a decent if not stellar job. And even if letting Fizdale go was the right move, it was a PR nightmare — players and coaches around the league were scratching their heads. That’s not a good look if you’re trying to attract quality talent on either front.
Hiring Bickerstaff would be a wise PR move. Just so happens it’s the right move in general too.
2. Play Chandler Parsons, Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.
In the case of Parsons and McLemore, the idea is quite simply to build trade value.
Parsons needs to demonstrate that he’s healthy and still able to contribute. He may never live up to that $94 million contract, but he can still help a team win. That team is probably NOT Memphis.
McLemore is still something of a mystery. It’s telling that he’s a five-year vet and still can’t get heavy minutes ahead of younger players. On a reasonable $5 million deal, his expiring contract may be his true value to the team.
And playing Tyreke — in limited minutes — is just the right thing to do. After the botched no-trade this year, allow him to show off his talents so he can earn a good offer this summer. Again, free agents are watching.
3. The young guns are all right.
Everyone knows young players need playing time to improve. Now that guys like Andrew Harrison, Jarell Martin and Dillon Brooks are getting extended minutes, we’re beginning to see them blossom before our eyes.
Over the last 10 games, the oft-maligned Harrison has averaged about 14 points and 4.4 assists in 27 minutes a night. Meanwhile, Brooks looks more and more like a draft steal, and after two injury-riddled seasons, Jarell Martin finally looks like he might be an NBA player.
The jury is still out on rookie Ivan Rabb and big man Deyonta Davis. And I won’t get too excited about good numbers on a bad team. But things are trending in the right direction, and that counts for something.
4. Bring back Tony Allen!
The Grindfather is a free agent after being traded to (then waived by) The Chicago Bulls. Playoff teams have until next Thursday to add free agents like Allen — so if he’s not picked up, the Grizz have a shot.
I think they should take it. At 36, Tony is not the elite defender he was. But were he to return to Memphis, he still can help instill younger players with good habits on defense — studying film, playing hard every night, never giving up on a play.
Oh, yeah and fans would love to see Tony wandering around during timeouts again too. There’s that.
5. Just lose, baby.
Ugh. Hate to see the home team lose. But if the Grizzlies want a shot at a transformational player, that’s what they have to do. Lose. Lose. Lose.
There are parallels to be drawn between this squad and the one that eventually broke through to the playoffs. Remember: Mike Conley was almost traded for Ramon Sessions. Marc Gasol was just Pau’s fat brother. And Z-Bo was a “locker room cancer.” Lionel Hollins was repeatedly overlooked for coaching jobs.
The Grizzlies’ glory years were built on players and a coach who had been written off, but came together to forge a mighty unit.
I believe they’ll do it again.