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The best and worst of times in Memphis

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In light of the team’s unintentional tank, what would be the best or worst outcomes come season’s end?

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Mario Chalmers (6) plays peek-a-boo with Kevin Durant (35).
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Welp, we’re in it now.

As Peter Edmiston and our own Joe Mullinax made clear in the last day and a half—if it wasn’t obvious already—there’s a very low chance the Memphis Grizzlies make the playoffs this year. And if the team continues losing at the same pace it has the past 20 games, it is likely the organization will have a top five pick this summer.

This is clearly not the way fans nor players wanted the season to go. The same sentiment pervades the front office, which seems to be in denial about the season’s direction as general manager Chris Wallace continues to assert that the Grizzlies will be a playoff team.

That dream died when the team fired former head coach David Fizdale 19 games into the season, creating a dust storm of upheaval that threw the franchise into disarray and its star player under the bus.

Not that Marc Gasol isn’t complicit in Fizdale’s ousting, though that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here. The point is that the moment we all got the notification from Adrian Wojnarowski about Fizdale’s firing was the moment the season pivoted 180 degrees. It was the moment the season was lost and the moment the tank began. It was the moment, in retrospect, we had to reassess our values as fans of the team.

Memphis Grizzlies v Washington Wizards
Marc Gasol (33) holding an imaginary box.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Wins became losses and losses became wins in an upside down world that not even the kids from Stranger Things could save us from (note: I’m STILL upset about the win over the Hawks. There were like four teams at the time who were worse than Memphis—Atlanta being one of them—and the Grizzlies were in losing position the whole game. But no, they just HAD to win...). Instead of anxiously awaiting the return of Mike Conley we’re now content to keep kicking that can down the road. Everything is topsy turvy, and it all happened so fast that it’s taken us (at least me) a minute to recalibrate our expectations.

So what are the best and worst possible outcomes for this season?

Best Case

The fairytale best case is that the team wins the Finals.

That very obviously will not happen. The realistic best case is that the team finishes in the bottom three in the Association. It’s not even outlandish to think they might have the league’s worst record and therefore the best odds of picking number one overall.

Here are some numbers:

  • If the team finishes with the third worst record or worse, it will pick no lower than sixth, and very likely before that.
  • The worst team in the league gets a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery. The second worst gets basically a 20 percent chance while the third worst team derives a slightly above 15 percent chance.
  • Michael Bagley III, Luka Doncic, and DeAndre Ayton are the consensus top three in this draft. If you have one of the three worst records, you are fairly likely to get one of those three guys.
  • The Grizzlies have the third worst record in the league as of this writing (before a matchup with the Phoenix Suns, who have the fourth worst record).
  • The two teams worse than Memphis are the Hawks—again, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat—and Mavericks, whom the Grizzlies have already lost to twice.
NCAA Basketball: Duke at Boston College
Marvin Bagley III
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Gasol and Conley clearly need a game changing presence to assist them if this team wants to be a playoff contender. Bagley and Doncic especially have the potential to be impact players immediately in the league. If there was ever a way to compete with Mike and Marc again, this is pretty much the only way.

The Grizzlies can also help themselves out by trading Tyreke Evans and/or Brandan Wright and/or James Ennis III for probably not great picks and/or young fliers.

Worst Case

The worst case, when you think about it, doesn’t change much. The one thing you cannot hope for as a Grizzlies fan is that the Grizzlies turn their season around magically and compete but not make the playoffs. This was essentially the same worry at the season’s opening.

If this were to happen, then the consequences would be:

  • They don’t make the playoffs. This is bad because that’s the point of the game.
  • They have a poor pick when they could have had a great one. The best three lottery teams (the first three teams not to make the playoffs) have no better than a 0.7 percent chance to win the lottery. They have no better than a 1 percent chance to pick in the top three. They have a 93+ percent chance of picking 12th or worse. That would be a DRASTIC swing, to say the least, from the position the team is in now.

There’s no silver lining in this narrative. The only thing that could happen is that the team guesses on a low lottery stud, but do you really believe Chris Wallace will do that?

It’s time to embrace the tank, people. The risk-reward analysis clearly favors a tank, and you might just also set yourself up with a future to build upon while doing so. There’s plenty of room on this armored bandwagon, so go ahead and hop on.

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