Shortly before I left work Tuesday, I was chatting with a colleague about that night’s NBA Draft Lottery, in which the Grizzlies had the second best chance of securing the top pick. I was optimistic about getting into the top two; he hedged: “Well, we can’t go lower than five,” he said.
I recoiled a bit. For Grizzlies fans — and maybe for Memphians in general — there’s a tendency to pre-empt disappointment by turning down the excitement of hope and possibility. “We can get No. 1!” I shot back. “Why we gotta jump straight to things not working out for Memphis?”
Well, we know how that worked out, now don’t we? Phoenix’s tanking paid off with the No. 1 pick. Sacramento and Atlanta leapfrogged Memphis into the Top 3. Once again, Memphis will pick No. 4 in the NBA Draft, set for June 21.
Some fans were dejected, in that projected franchise-type players DeAndre Ayton (Arizona) and Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic are the consensus top two picks, with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III expected to go third.
“I was happy with where we ended up because first of all we didn’t go back to five,” Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told Grind City Media’s Mike Wallace after the draft. “Two, inside the first four (picks), we’re still inside that first wave of players. So I’m fine with it.”
No NBA fan, including Grizz fans, should get overly attached to who their team might draft. There are just WAY too many variables that will affect who’s on the roster on opening night – trades, free agency arrivals and departures, coaching changes among them.
“I’ll tell you what, come draft night, the whole league will come calling to get up that high in the draft,” Wallace added. “So we’ve got nothing but options in front of us.”
The specifics of those options remain to be seen. But in general, there are four options: Use the pick, trade up, trade down or trade out of the draft altogether. Let’s briefly explore each.
Use the pick:
First of all, there’s a chance that Ayton, Doncic or Bagley fall out of the Top 3 on draft night — which would immediately detonate any other plans the Grizz may make. Assuming Doncic or Bagley are both available when the Grizz pick, I’d bet on Doncic, who seems to have the more NBA-ready game at this point and fills a need for perimeter scoring and playmaking.
But if all three of those guys are off the board, I’d turn my attention to former high school scoring phenom Michael Porter Jr.
Shout out to veteran NCAA reporter and sports-talk host Jason Smith for reminding me of Porter, who was touted to be a Top-3 pick before a back injury sidelined him in his lone season at Missouri.
At 6’10”, Porter has been favorably compared to Kevin Durant, and if his back injury is healed up, he could not only contribute immediately, he could be a future franchise cornerstone.
This almost certainly won’t happen. First of all, Phoenix, Sacramento or Atlanta would have to want a player on the Grizzlies roster more than they value Ayton, Doncic or Bagley. That player would also have to be someone the Grizzlies would be willing to trade. Then there would be the whole question of how to make the salaries match. And it doesn’t even consider other teams making better offers.
I think you only trade up to ensure you can get Ayton or Doncic. But who would you trade? Nobody is checking for Chandler Parson’s knees or $23 million contract, no matter how you wish otherwise.
Likewise, for all the improvement of youngsters like Andrew Harrison and Dillon Brooks, they are not equal value for a higher pick. And it’s still too early to talk about trading Mike Conley or Marc Gasol.
If you do find a trade partner, who do you get back? Sure, the Grizzlies would take Devin Booker from Phoenix, but would they trade him? Sacramento would want to dump salary, which could mean a Memphis homecoming for Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos. But for the Grizzlies, isn’t the point to get younger and more athletic? Trading up doesn’t add up.
This is what Wallace means when he says the league will come calling. Some franchises may make tantalizing offers of young talent and/or veterans, with other picks for 2018 or future drafts in the mix.
Those franchises will have a wide variety of reasons for their trades. Some underperformed and missed the playoffs (Denver, Detroit, Charlotte). Some teams imploded in the playoffs (Portland, Oklahoma City). I won’t be at all surprised when players like Demar Derozan, C.J. McCollum, Carmelo Anthony or DeAndre Jordan are on different rosters next season.
For Grizz fans, this might be the ultimate “what if” game. What if the Washington Wizards offer SG Bradley Beal? Has Ben Simmons made Markelle Fultz expendable in Philadelphia? If Orlando offers the No. 6 and SG Aaron Gordon, do you take the deal?
It would take ENORMOUS value for the Grizzlies to trade away their first Top 5 pick in nearly 10 years. In fact, the only no-brainer here would be if the Spurs offered a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard (and if Leonard agreed in advance to stay).
But do you make that same deal if OKC offers Carmelo Anthony? What about deals with Toronto (DeRozan) or Portland (McCollum)? On paper, any of those deals for veterans would put Memphis right back in the playoff hunt — but possibly hamstring the franchise for years if it doesn’t work out.
Alternately, Wallace could explore trades for former top picks who haven’t blossomed just yet – think Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker or Brooklyn’s Jahlil Okafor. The idea would be to nab a young player (or two) with both NBA experience and considerable remaining upside – so that the inevitable rebuilding years aren’t so rough or numerous.
In any case, once Grizzlies fans actually accept that the No. 4 pick is actually a fairly sweet one, we can all relax and enjoy the offseason pastime of rampant fan speculation and hope.
We won’t have any real answers until October at best. But it’s fun to dream, no?