Admit it: If you didn’t give up on this season’s version of your Memphis Grizzlies before the February trade deadline, you probably gave up on them afterwards. I did.
If you were making a recipe for team chaos and awful play, it seemed like the Grizzlies had all the ingredients: They blew up the roster midseason, stitching together a ragtag roster of players from Toronto, Atlanta, the L.A. Clippers and the G-League.
Budding superstar Jaren Jackson Jr. is sidelined with injury, as are early-season starters Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson. It was folly to expect this team to win after the trade this season. It shouldn’t work. It can’t work.
And yet, it’s working – for the most part.
With Monday’s wire-to-wire win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Grizzlies were sporting a 6-5 record in March, beating playoff teams like Houston, Portland and OKC. And they battled the Warriors until the final minutes of Wednesday’s 118-103 loss to Golden State.
Newly crowned franchise scoring leader Mike Conley is playing fast and free like never before. Chandler Parsons looks like a basketball player again. Jonas Valanciunas, who came back from Toronto in the Gasol trade, is averaging 20 points and 10 boards since arriving in Memphis (Uh… Marc WHO?).
And young players are finally getting minutes on a Grizzlies roster – and proving they belong. Delon Wright, Ivan Rabb, Bruno Caboclo and Tyler Dorsey are all showing promise.
This squad has gelled shockingly well, stunningly fast under Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff. There are a lot of Grizz fans who’d love to see this group together for a full season. And assuming the Front Office doesn’t completely churn the roster this offseason, we might just get a chance to do that.
According to Hoopshype.com, Valanciunas and C.J. Miles both have player options that they are likely to exercise. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies hold team options on Dillon Brooks and Avery Bradley. Wright is a restricted free agent; Justin Holiday, Jevon Carter and Joakim Noah are all unrestricted, able to sign anywhere they choose.
None of which factors in trade offers for Conley, or whether the Grizzlies will try to offload the final year of Parsons’ contract – or who would need to be included in deals for either player. And that’s assuming that Conley wants to go anywhere at all now that he finally is at the top of the pecking order.
I’d like to see Memphis bring Noah back on a reasonable deal. His energy and competitive spirit is contagious the way Tony Allen’s was. And is Avery Bradley worth $12 million for one more season? Perhaps, given that he’s the Grizzlies’ first scoring guard who consistently scores since maybe O.J. Mayo. And see how you glided right by that last sentence without really thinking about Brooks or Anderson?
So while these Grizzlies are fun to watch and could be the start of something new, it’s difficult to get too attached to them. It feels pointless to visualize a future with this group when you know they probably won’t be together next fall.
At least we finally got to see what an up-tempo version of Grit ‘n’ Grind looks like. The Grizzlies have finally turned on the jets and show no signs of slowing down. If they can retain that style in the offseason, and build on this late season chemistry, maybe there’s hope after all – regardless of who suits up.
Conveying the pick: An update
At the beginning of March, I projected that Memphis would need about 30-32 wins to convey the Top-8 protected pick they owe to the Boston Celtics. I also outlined how the new-look Grizz could get there – pretty much by losing to playoff teams, beating lottery teams and picking off a few from the NBA’s middle class.
So, the Grizzlies being the Grizzlies, they go against the grain – and any expectations. They inexplicably lose to otherwise awful teams (Atlanta, Washington) and beat Western Conference Playoff teams (Houston, Portland, OKC and Utah). And yet, here we are at 30 wins, with seven games remaining.
Right now, with so few games left, my new estimate is 33 wins. But for that to happen, they simply MUST defeat teams beneath them in the standings. Fortunately, the Grizzlies have been playing .500 ball over their last 10 games. Here’s hoping they can keep it up. A quick game-by-game projection:
March 30 (@ Phoenix): At 17-58, the Suns have little to play for from here on out. If the Grizzlies jump on them early and take fans out of the game, maybe they can encourage the Suns to start vacation early. (Grizz win)
March 31 (@ L.A. Clippers): The Clippers will be rested, and still have a shot at home court in the first round. The Grizzlies will be playing the second night of a back-to-back. Yeah . . . no. (Clippers win)
April 3 (@ Portland): On one hand, the Blazers are one of the hottest teams in the league, winning seven of their last 10 games, including a current four-game win streak. And they’re still clinging to home court advantage. But Jusuf Nurkic’s awful injury makes them vulnerable. Expect Dame and C.J. to step up. (Blazers win)
April 5 (@ Dallas): This is one of those MUST win games, mostly because Dallas is currently below Memphis in the standings. A Memphis loss here could mean the Mavs leapfrog the Grizzlies. (Grizz win)
April 7 (Dallas): The Grizzlies return home after a four-game roadie. They should be rested. The Grizzlies NEED this game for reasons stated above. So, of course, they’re going to mail in a clunker. (Mavs win)
April 9 (@Detroit): The Pistons will be playing at home and likely still trying to seal a playoff spot. The Grizzlies will also NEED this win. It will be a hard fought game, but I think it goes to the home team with the better record. (Pistons win)
April 10 (Golden State): For fan night and their season finale, the Grizzlies will welcome in the defending champs. FedExForum will be packed, and with the Warriors entering playoff mode, they’ll likely limit minutes for their stars. Maybe that and an energetic home crowd can get the win. (Grizz win)
Of course, just to be contrarian, watch the Grizzlies go out and win seven in a row. We’ll be watching . . .
Mike Conley, All-Time Great
Just before halftime in the Grizzlies-Warriors game, Mike Conley canned a corner three-pointer to become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, passing Marc Gasol with 11,700 points – and counting. He finished the game with 22 points.
Conley is now one of only three players to lead a franchise in scoring, games played, steals, assists and three pointers. The other two? Pacer legend Reggie Miller and some guy named LeBron James (Cleveland).
This is sweet for a couple of reasons – or actually two sides of the same reason. One, had Conley been traded just a few weeks ago, this distinction would obviously be out of reach. Which brings us to the other sweetness.
Conley gets the award by staying in one place for so long – and, of course, being really good. In an age where players are traded or choose to go to other teams in free agency, I expect Conley’s record to stick for a long time.