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Decision Time Looms for the Grizzlies as the Trade Deadline Approaches

The Memphis Grizzlies have some important, potentially franchise altering decisions to make before the February 18 trade deadline.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hardest things to do in sports, and specifically in basketball, is to try and look at a four- or five-game trend and decipher exactly how it fits into the larger picture. In essence, what does this small sample size mean going forward?

The most obvious example of this was Jeremy Lin's famous (infamous?) 19-day "Linsanity" run that took place back in February 2012.

Lin averaged 24 points, 9 assists, and 2.5 steals over 11 games while leading the Knicks to a 9-2 record.

The nation was captivated. An Asian American, who's a Harvard graduate, was sticking 23 and 10 on John Wall and outscoring Kobe Bryant 38-34 in a win over the Lakers.

Moments like these were made for SportsCenter and daily sports talk radio to fill up a segment or two. But at some point, you have to look at what's happening and ask, "What does this mean?"

Lin parlayed his near-unprecedented run into a 3-year/$25 million deal with the Houston Rockets. We now know that Lin is not a superstar point guard, but he is a serviceable spot starter and a solid backup, which is the role he plays now with the Hornets after signing for the Bi-Annual Exception (roughly 2 years/$4.4 million) in Charlotte this past summer.

While the Grizzlies don't have the most well-educated point guard in the league who's scoring 25 a night on some of the NBA's best, they do find themselves in a situation where they have to ask that same question: "What does this mean?"

This season has been the most difficult to figure out since the team started making the playoffs annually back in 2010-2011.

The team is (or, at least it appears they are) in a slow transition away from their old-school style of basketball and towards the more modern style of pace-and-space. The two styles have at times been an oil-and-water mix out on the floor, leading to head-scratching lineups and some of the worst defeats in franchise history (and this is a franchise that once had Will Solomon, Rodney Buford, and Eddie Gil as their first three guys off the bench).

The answer of how to approach this season is not as cut and dry and people might like for it to be. With each way of approaching the rest of 2016, there are consequences.

The Grizzlies seem poised to make the summer of 2016 the time in which they can overhaul the roster (the homie Matt Hrdlicka broke that down here). But in the meantime, the trade deadline is a little more than five weeks away, and the team has several decisions to make.

Jeff Green, Matt Barnes, Courtney Lee, Mario Chalmers, and, of course, Mike Conley are all unrestricted free agents come July 1, 2016. Last season, the Grizzlies decided to hang on to free-agent-to-be Kosta Koufos, a player who almost certainly would not be resigned in the off-season, and try to make a deep playoff run with Kosta being the main big off the bench. As a result, Kosta left in free agency, and the Grizzlies had nothing to show for it.

With the way the Grizzlies have mortgaged their future by dealing first round picks for Jeff Green and earlier in a salary dump that brought back Jon Leuer, it would be wise for the team to try and trade a couple of their 2016 free agents to see if they can get future value in return, whether that be a first round pick or a young player.

But that's where things get interesting.

The Grizzlies owe their 2016 first round pick to Denver (from Cleveland) from the Leuer salary dump deal if the pick falls between 6-14. Basically, if the Grizzlies narrowly miss the playoffs, they'll have to hope to jump into the top five; otherwise, their lottery pick becomes property of the Nuggets.

Ideally, the team would make the playoffs as a lower seed (realistically they probably can't get higher than the five seed), so they can make a run while still keeping a pick in the late teens. Really, just making the playoffs period should be the goal since it's beneficial in both the short- and long-term.

That's what makes dealing with the expiring players tricky. They don't want to lose all of them for nothing, and outside of Conley, they'll have to renounce all of them if they intend on having maximum cap space this summer. But they also don't want to simply give them away and find themselves as the ninth best team in the West, missing the playoffs, and losing their 2016 first round pick.

The team has gone 5-2 over their last seven games, three and a half of those without Conley, and Zach Randolph is averaging 18 and 8 while shooting nearly 54 percent from the floor.

Tony Allen is flying around the court making plays on defense, and, probably best of all, he's dunking with the ferocity of a 22-year-old as opposed to the occasional blown layup.

This is where we again find ourselves asking, "What does this mean?"

What does this seven game stretch mean? Does it mean that when this team plays TA and Z-BO that they can still beat any team in the league? Or is it simply an aberration that tends to occur during an 82-game season? And Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are too late into their careers to be asked to, at times, carry a team.

These are the questions the team has to answer. If they feel like what they have going right now can be sustained for the next four or five months, then the team may be less inclined to try and deal a Jeff Green or a Courtney Lee.

But if they do decide to keep them for the remainder of the season, they will then lose four rotation players for nothing while still owing two first round picks to other teams in the near future.

Keeping the team relevant now and improving the future outlook do not have to be mutually exclusive, however. There may be some type of happy medium where they deal one or two of their players while getting someone that can help keep them in the playoff picture and add a future asset.

Luckily, the team still has plenty of time to figure this out. Five weeks should be more than enough time to sort out whether what we've seen recently from the team is sustainable. But at the same time, the deadline is rapidly approaching, and for the first time in nearly six years, the Memphis Grizzlies could find themselves playing the part of seller instead of buyer come deadline day.

The front office has their work cut out for them, but maybe more so now than ever, what they decide to do in mid-February could impact the direction this franchise goes not only this summer, but over the course of the next four plus seasons.