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Big Dream: The Supposed Necessity of Trading, Part One


For over a week, it's been no secret that the Memphis Grizzlies are looking to make a trade or acquisition to bolster their bench

Rookie Sam Young, who the Grizzlies drafted in the 2nd round, is supposed to be the 6th man, but Lionel Hollins can barely afford to keep him on the floor for 16 minutes most nights. DeMarre Carroll has practically hustled his way out of the rotation, which is the opposite of what was expected.

Of course Hasheem Thabeet has taken some big steps towards legitimacy, but he's still a back-up center, which means he's limited to about 14 minutes per game. And adding Jamaal Tinsley has also seemed to galvanized this team, but he's better suited to leading by coaching from the bench at this point in his career.

So management feels that the Grizzlies need to arm the bench with, most likely, a shooting swingman who can take pressure off the rookies. In a bit of a Catch-22, the more games the Grizzlies win currently configured, with the rookies playing, the more likely they are to change things up in preparation for a playoff push.

Some people see that as paradoxical, foolish, and actually counterproductive. They'll typically make one of two arguments:

  1. The Grizzlies aren't legitimate contenders this season and since the rookies will, most likely, be around for this unit's peak in a couple seasons, Memphis needs to continue to invest in the future by giving the rookies playing time to develop.
  2. The team is winning as currently configured, so there is no point in spending additional money or giving up assets for the possibility short-term increase in performance.
Over the jump you'll find the most extensive look into these two stipulations in the history of NBA blogging, in other words, get ready for a long-ass read that you probably will skim most of. Don't even get over the jump until you've poured yourself a gin and tonic. And this is only part one.

To investigate these claims, I'm going to take it not so way back, only searching over the past decade, and evaluate what kinds of answers history can provide. 

Additionally I'll get into a mix of statistical analysis, a little bit of basic economics, and a nice dose of some common sense. In short, it's time to get busy:

So management feels that the Grizzlies need to arm the bench with, most likely, a shooting swingman who can take pressure off the rookies. In a bit of a Catch-22, the more games the Grizzlies win currently configured, with the rookies playing, the more likely they are to change things up in preparation for a playoff push.

Over the past ten years or so, there are lots of teams that are pretty consistently in the playoffs. The teams in for 8 of the 9 years in the West are the Spurs (2000-2009), Mavericks (2001-2009), and Lakers (2000-2004; 2006-2009). Don't even try to look surprised. The East has only Detroit (2000, 2002-2009) in the old boy's club.

So let's exclude these from teams from the search through history because they obviously don't fit the profile of a team struggling to get back into the playoffs and move into more productive pastures.

Also I'm going to avoid looking too much into the East, which has traditionally been pretty top-heavy and terrible during this time period. No offense to the Eastern Conference, but the playoffs mean something completely different when you can finish with a losing record and still get into the post season.

  • Utah Jazz: Make the playoffs from 2000-2003, but then fall out of contention until their big-time return to playoffs in 2006-2007. They did not make any major moves to move from .500, the season before, to over 50 wins, instead relying on the enormous impact of Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur's development and Carlos Boozer staying healthy. Notably, however, their rookie draft picks Ronnie Brown and Paul Millsap actually made major contributions.
  • Portland Trail Blazers: Isn't it kind of hard to believe that this team made it's first playoffs just last season? After years of back-blast from shipping out the Jail Blazers, Portland finally got back into the playoffs, but an immediate free agent signing or trade didn't get them there; like the Jazz, it was the growth of their young core and contributions from young guys like Nicholas Batum and Rudy Fernandez. In fact the Blazers tried to score their major addition this summer and ended up splurging on Andre Miller, which has produced largely mixed results. Some -- meaning guy -- think more time for Jerryd Bayless was the answer.
  • Denver Nuggets: They drafted Carmelo Anthony. The Grizzlies don't really have the opportunity to try that option, no do they? Exchanging Allen "Persona Non Grata" Iverson for Chauncey Billups did move them up to elite status, but it's not like they were wallowing in misery with Iverson manning the point. So moving right along, then.
  • New Orlean Hornets: Hurricane Katrina probably needs to be mentioned here, because as nice as it's been for the Thunder, I don't think Oklahoma City did Chris Paul and company any favors during the 2006-2007 season when their big moves happened. They added Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, and Jannero Pargo, which would all become major contributors to the gigantic leap they took to clinch the 2nd seed. It's not a particularly similar situation to the Grizzlies, because of the enormity of the overhaul, but these moves obviously benefited the Hornets, while also practically destroying their future.
  • Golden State Warriors: The Grizzlies might take the "We Believe" slogan if they make the playoffs this year, but that's about all they have in common with the Warriors, who's historic run in 2007 was one of my favorite NBA moments of all time. But their run into the playoffs, and considerable success in the next season, was predicated by trading Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy for Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson, which wasn't exactly a minor addition. It is, however, possibly an indication that the Grizzlies might need to overhaul two roster spots to get into the dance (for example: get Mike Conley the hell out of Memphis).
  • Los Angeles Clippers: Their one year in the sun, 2006, had a lot to do with adding Sam Cassell and Vladimir Radmanovic. I suppose this is, sadly, the most fitting comparison to the Grizzlies current state, although I'd argue the Grizzlies window is nowhere near as short and far less reliant on a single player (Elton Brand). You've got to admit, Hasheem Thabeet has the potential to have a little Yaroslav Korolev in him. Anyhow, trading Chris Wilcox for Rad Man's shooting could be a nice little model for the Grizzlies to work with. Could Darrell Arthur or DeMarre Carroll net the Grizzlies a stretch-big? Maybe.

So when you look back over the years, it's clear that the key to making it back into the Western Conference playoffs after a rebuilding effort is normally on the back of a huge leap in the development of a young star -- like with Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Elton Brand -- or, occasionally, a relatively significant roster tweak.

The Grizzlies obviously have a plethora of really solid young players, but at this point it's pretty clear that none of them will ever have the franchise altering impact of the players listed above, even Elton Brand's short-lived prime was probably much better than any single Grizzlies player. The Grizzlies can probably expect further improvement from O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, and, possibly, Mike Conley, but for the most part their roster is probably fully fleshed out.

That would mean that the Grizzlies probably should get cracking on something, though the idea of a relatively minor trade just to get into the playoffs is relatively uncharted ground. Obviously many contenders will make additions late in the season to bolster their lineups, but it doesn't seem like many teams want to press to, historically speaking, get the honor of being crushed by the Lakers or the Spurs.

Most teams are content to play their fortunes out, and this is for a few reasons. First, economic concerns didn't make the lopsided trade as frequent as it is today. Second, a finish outside of the playoffs earns you a couple of lottery balls. And, thirdly, it's typically expensive to add something for little to nothing.

Two of the problems aren't really applicable to the Grizzlies, though. This season lopsided trades are supposed to happen more often than ever, although the Grizzlies goal of acquiring an expiring contract player to add to the bench probably means that they can only really move Steven Hunter or Marcus Williams. And it wouldn't be pricey for the Grizzlies to add a 6th man; moving Steven Hunter and the price of paying one of their three 1st round draft picks would probably actually save them cash.

But the lottery balls are a concern. The Grizzlies may need to take a different direction at point guard somewhere down the round, and that's probably going to have to come out of the draft. While Ramon Sessions could barely find anywhere to sign this summer, it's not often you find a cheap point in free agency. Or Memphis could snag a bench star with one more lottery pick, a la Chicago and Ben Gordon.

Obviously the Grizzlies are treading in unfamiliar territory here. And while I'm not advising missing the playoffs, it certainly could be a blessing in disguise, as it was for the Jazz and Blazers, for the front office. Finding the right player in a trade or free agency would almost certainly cost more than drafting him, but drafting isn't exactly a can't miss proposition.

In recent Conference history, there hasn't really been a team in the Grizzlies situation. In other words, until the two contrary arguments are assessed more fully, I'm not sure if there is much to do besides wait and see what happens. 

If there is one lesson to take away, it's that patience pays off. While major changes are not what the Grizzlies are actively looking to do, this is still advice worth mentioning. The teams that made major, immediate changes have typically strapped themselves to those changes. And I'd be willing to bet Trail Blazers fans are much happier with years of Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, and Nicholas Batum on the cheap than Hornets fans are about Peja or Emeka's contracts that pushed them over the top -- of the luxury tax.