Understanding what’s happening with your Memphis Grizzlies right now is a little like breaking down the Trump Administration — there’s simply too much smoke for there NOT to be a fire. In just the past month, we’re talking about a franchise that:
• Embarrassed itself with a fiasco of a trade involving Marshon (I mean Dillon?) Brooks and Wayne Selden, a fiasco that unfolded while the team was playing;
• Embarrassed itself when Omri Casspi and Garrett Temple came to blows after a loss — with news of the fight escaping the locker room in near real time;
• Finally DID trade Marshon Brooks and Selden to Chicago;
• Has had a very public falling out with Chandler Parsons, the $94 million man who says he’s been ready to play for weeks now, though he’s away from the team and may never suit up in Memphis again.
• And the hits keep coming. Literally as I was writing this, news broke that Dillon Brooks will have toe surgery and probably miss the rest of the season. Sheesh.
All of that is in the past month or so. Oh, and as of Jan. 8, they’ve lost six in a row and 14 of their last 17 games. There’s that.
So with the Grizzlies officially halfway through the season, it’s time to start asking tough questions.
And while some are calling for the heads of GM Chris Wallace and/or Head Coach J. B. Bickerstaff, I’m not among them. You could make a case for firing either one, but to me, those moves would only add instability to a franchise that needs no more of it.
That said, the Grizzlies are below .500 in a packed Western Conference. They are consistently blowing leads and losing by double digits. And if they are indeed fortunate enough to make the playoffs, they ain’t winning four games to advance. Sorry.
Which brings us back to the tough questions. If the playoffs are out of reach, then what are we playing for? Is it time to develop and stock young talent?
And gasp: Is it time to trade Mike Conley and/or Marc Gasol?
It was 11 years ago when Wallace decided that a Pau Gasol-led team had gone as far as it could go, trading the elder Spaniard to the Lakers, which propelled them to two more championships. Fans hated it at the time, but in just a few years, he’d parlayed journeymen players and draft picks into the Core Four. The rest is history.
But why Conley and Gasol? That’s easy. As the team’s most talented veterans, they have the most trade value. Perhaps unfortunately, they are both also HUGE contracts and have histories of injury, either of which can complicate trade discussions.
And what would the Grizz want in return? The usual: young players, expiring contracts and draft picks, with an eye toward the talent gelling around Jaren Jackson Jr in 2021-22, when he’ll be eligible for an extension.
In principle, Gasol is more enticing because of his smaller expiring contract in 2020. But either could elevate a playoff team into the championship conversation.
For instance, on paper, a Joel Embiid/MarcGasol frontline in Philadelphia is scary, and Gasol would likely flourish as a high-level role player – much like Pau did with the Lakers.
In that theoretical trade I ran on ESPN’s Trade Machine, Memphis would also send JaMychal Green’s expiring contract to the Sixers, with All-Star Jimmy Butler and Markelle Fultz coming back to Memphis. Butler’s rep with coaches isn’t great lately, but a Grizzlies “Big Three” of Conley/Butler/Jackson doesn’t sound so bad.
In a just world, Conley and Gasol would retire as the Memphis icons they are. But without a major trade, they’d likely end their careers on a series of 20-win teams. They both deserve better than that.
But with the Grizzlies flailing as a franchise, fans are right to wonder if it’s time to blow it up and start over – even if it means saying goodbye to the Grizzlies storied past so it can embrace the future.