The only things we have to fear are Marc Gasol repeat injuries, poor trade decisions, and relying on Brandan Wright.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt...probably.
There is a lot of uncertainty coming from the Memphis Grizzlies and their fans these days. A blowout victory over the free-falling Brooklyn Nets before the start of the All-Star Break is not a reason to feel confident about the prospects of the Grizzlies moving forward after the serious foot injury that has befallen Marc Gasol. Memphis' place in the Western Conference playoff picture, while steady for the moment, is not one that keeps good vibes flowing down Beale Street.
About five games soundly in the playoffs as of right now, with a three-game gap between themselves and the Dallas Mavericks as of Thursday night. If the Grizzlies were heading in to their post-All-Star Game slate next week with Marc Gasol leading the charge, perhaps a 4-5 match-up with the Los Angeles Clippers could be predicted soundly. This of course would be ideal-avoiding San Antonio, Golden State and Oklahoma City as long as possible...but those days are gone.
Between the loss of Gasol and the tougher schedule that the Grizzlies face starting March 7th against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it is hard to see that standing out west sticking long-term. Utah and Portland are both playing better basketball as of late, improving and getting healthy as Memphis possibly begins to fade. If the Grizzlies cannot take advantage of the next nine or so games, it is very possible that they will head in to April not just competing for a seven or eight seed...but for their playoff lives at large in much the same way the last time Marc Gasol dealt with severe injury. While that may not be as bad as it has been in the past (losing a draft pick in a reportedly bad draft, not being sacrificed to a historically great team in the first round, etc.), it still is a far cry from where Memphis and their Grizzlies want to be.
The worst part? This isn't the only worst part. There are many other uncertainties ahead of the Grizzlies that should weigh heavily on the minds of everyone associated with Memphis the next week and beyond, from Chris Wallace and Robert Pera all the way down to and through the fan base.
Marc Gasol Recurring Injury Problem
Bill Walton. Yao Ming. Joel Embiid. Greg Oden. All big men with histories of bad wheels, all talented front court players whose careers were either shortened, delayed, or kept from getting off the ground due to their feet or leg issues. There are a variety of reasons for why these players, and big men at large, suffer from such problems. These reasons are outlined in this great article for Deadspin from about a year and a half ago. Nutrition and general genetics are pointed to as possible issues (they are larger than normal humans, after all), but a major takeaway from the article is a study on injuries in the NBA that shows no direct correlation between size and injury prevalence.
This is potentially a positive with regard to Marc Gasol; it isn't true that big men break down any more than a "normal" sized NBA player. The fact remains though that a 7'1" 260+ pound man just broke a bone in a part of the body that will deal with constant contact and pressure consistently for the rest of his career, and life for that matter. That is cause for concern for those who understand sports injuries-
My biggest concern about Marc Gasol's long-term availability is @CAGrizBeat calling the injury a midfoot fracture. Tough injury for bigs.— Jeff Stotts (@RotowireATC) February 10, 2016
It isn't crazy to think that this could become a long-term issue if not handled properly, or if Gasol is allowed to return prematurely from the injury. All it would take is one wrong step, one awkward push off the floor, for the injury to recur. Between Kevin Love and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the NBA hasn't had the best luck recently with previously injured body parts getting re-injured. Gasol is Memphis' franchise player, the guy that the future of the organization will be built around. While there are success stories after foot injuries (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, for one), the history of bigs having issues past the initial injury is unfortunately long and distinguished. The details of Gasol's injury are iffy at best right now, and it may be fine come October, or perhaps even April if you are hopeful. It is possible, though, that this sets Gasol back again in the future...perhaps maybe even for good.
That is horrifying, if you are a Memphis Grizzlies' fan.
Brandan Wright, Starting Center?
Grizzlies fans and front office personnel point to the return of Brandan Wright as a big-time positive in the wake of the Gasol injury. The reliance on a player like Wright is another reason to pause, however. Wright has been out since November 8th with a knee injury that required surgery, and this past season's major free agent acquisition for the Grizzlies has played only about 120 minutes this season for Memphis. Of the seven games that Brandan Wright played in before his injury, he played more than twenty minutes only once. Considering the only other center on the roster is Ryan Hollins, who hopefully does not see more than twenty minutes on any given night, this means that Memphis will be depending on a player to play roughly 28 minutes a night who hasn't done that in roughly ten months.
And Wright has rarely done it as a starter throughout his career. The most games that he started in a season was 23 during the 2008-2009 season, a mark that he would break if he somehow started every game the rest of the year for Memphis (if he is asked to do so). Over the past four seasons, Wright has started in only 25 of the 246 games that he has appeared in, or 10.1% of the games in which he played. Of those 25 games as a starter, he is listed as a "center" in only 16 of them according to basketball-reference.com. Yes, positions are mattering less and less, but the fact remains that Wright has little experience as both a starter and as the biggest man on the floor.
He will possibly be asked to be both of these things for the Grizzlies when they return to the floor next Friday against Minnesota at the FedExForum. Between inexperience in the role and a lack of extended playing time this season due to a bum knee, putting a ton of expectations on Brandan Wright to perform seems not just unfair, but unwise. Wright will bring athleticism and pick and roll offensive expertise to the floor for the Grizzlies, giving Memphis a new look. But extended minutes next to Zach Randolph (whose game meshing well with Wright has been called in to question) and alongside other players who also need to be at or around the rim to be successful (Tony Allen, Jeff Green) are causes for concern.
Wright will be a huge part of whatever success Memphis has moving forward this season. It is possible he thrives, but it needs to be shown that he can do it in a larger role for a longer stretch of time before he can be counted on, as a starter or otherwise.
Short Term Fixes at the Expense of Long-Term Improvement
This fear is directly tied to past experience. The Jeff Green acquisition, which some disliked from the beginning and most now acknowledge was a mistake, cost the Memphis Grizzlies a first round pick. The salary cap dump that got Memphis Jon Leuer from the Cleveland Cavaliers some years ago also forced the Grizzlies to give up a future asset in the form of a pick. While Memphis simply is not able to trade another first round pick at this point due to protections (thank goodness) they still could theoretically negatively impact their future in the search of a band-aid option to replace Gasol, if they are not sold on Wright being "the man" in that role. The Grizzlies seem willing to try to improve the roster even after losing Marc for the year for a playoff push...but at what cost?
A trade like this with Cleveland, for example, would be an OK move in theory...
You give up Lee's offensive ability, but you reinforce the Grizzlies' front court and still maintain the capacity to try to bring in a major free agent this Summer (like Kevin Durant...?)
But a different version of this trade would be a potential disaster.
In the short term? That trade is a win. You keep the better player in Courtney Lee and exchange two players that have lesser roles this season for the services of a capable Gasol replacement in Timofey Mozgov. You lose, however, one of the rookie scale contracts on the roster, a player who (in theory) is a part of your future and will potentially play a large role on the team next season, and perhaps even beyond. You certainly cannot count on Adams at this point, but you also are not entirely sure what you have in the young former UCLA Bruin. Departing with him for a three-month rental would be a long-term mistake. Cleveland maybe does not even do this trade, but it is possible they would be willing to take yet another long-term asset and a leader like Carter in exchange for a big they are using less now with Tyronn Lue as the Head Coach in Cleveland.
Here is another example of a potentially OK deal-
The Orlando Magic are interested in acquiring a veteran who can help coach up some of their younger players. Memphis could use a big who can hit mid-range jumpers off of the pick-and-roll outside of JaMychal Green, and Jason Smith can easily do that. Orlando still has multiple bigs they can play, and Memphis gets a good 3rd or 4th big to get minutes without losing a key wing toward a playoff push. Throw in a 2nd round pick from the Grizzlies, maybe, and this deal could happen.
This trade could be made potentially worse, though.
But wait, the Grizzlies could get Tobias Harris? What's so bad about that? A couple of things, possibly- for one, you lose another valuable contract in JaMychal Green. Memphis has a limited number of players under contract next season. With this trade, you exchange one guy who will be on the roster for less than $1 million for a player (albeit a better one) who will be on the roster for about $16 million. It weakens your ability to grow the team, at least for next season.
From there? Harris' skill set, especially compared to that of Jeff Green, isn't necessarily that much better.
Tobias is of course younger than Jeff, and has not had the opportunities that Green has had to be on good teams. Harris is a better player with a better upside, but is the gap between Green and Harris worth the opportunity cost of sacrificing cap flexibility this Summer? Is Harris worth the lost chance at netting a Nicolas Batum? Maybe it/he is, but it is possible that Harris, a career worse three-point shooter than Green and a net-netural player in terms of net rating, could limit the Grizzlies more than help them. It is worth having a healthy debate about.
I think "fearless" is missing Marc Gasol but trying for the playoffs, anyway.
- Possibly Taylor Swift
There is a lot to fear about Memphis and their Grizzlies at the moment. Can Brandan Wright be trusted in a larger role? Will Marc Gasol be able to make a full recovery? Is there a move for Memphis to make that will improve them now without hurting them in the long-term? All fair questions, and the answers will be hard to find. How the Grizzlies' Front Office treats this trade deadline will provide a look in to how they see this team in the here and now, and where they see them heading in to this Summer in free agency, the draft and beyond.
If the Memphis Grizzlies team itself has shown us anything, it is that they will do everything they can to fight and hold on to their playoff position. That is admirable. How they get there, and how their best player recovers from a serious injury, is murky at best at the moment.
And that, for everyone involved, is what is pretty scary.