I’m feeling about ready to call these next few years of basketball for the Golden State Warriors. You saw what the NBA Finals were like! LeBron James was in his GOAT form, and it still wasn’t close. Watching the shot-making in Game 5 sealed it for me. Every momentum shift was nauseating, because that was pure talent forcing shots in to stay alive, but then the Warriors ended up winning that pretty easily too. The level of play is way too much. Nobody’s getting there.
So I guess how I feel about the NBA Finals, in some grand overarching sense, is that I don’t really care. We don’t even have to frame it as, “I don’t believe in my favorite team anymore,” but more just, “I’m just going to accept they’re not getting there, for my mental health.”
It’s somehow almost July already, which means a quick turnaround from thinking about the death of the NBA season to thinking about team salaries and free agency. These are the other things that still exist, and shooty-hoops nihilism or no, this Mid-Level Exception still needs to get spent. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are hitting free agency—this offseason obviously means a lot to the Grizzlies. What I’m still trying to do is figure out is how to reconcile all of this with the next five Warriors championships on deck.
It’s strange too, because last summer was the one where the Grizzlies brought back Mike Conley on the NBA’s richest contract and maxed out Chandler Parsons. Last year was the big money year. Maybe we should’ve known better after the Warriors signed Kevin freaking Durant, but just from looking at the league through the lens of my team, it felt like playing for serious contention.
Not even a year later, and I’m calling it — ambition, mostly — dead. Let’s say Parsons comes back at full health, which would be a real cool thing for what it is, but it’s not even about that. It’s about the Warriors, and how LeBron James couldn’t even catch up to them this season, and how nobody else is catching up to LeBron, much less the Grizzlies. The hierarchy is too pronounced.
What, then, do we make of Randolph and Allen going to free agency? Or Vince Carter and JaMychal Green? Those players mean a lot to me. So on one hand, “nothing matters,” and on another, “this matters.” What the Grizzlies do this summer seems like it’ll indicate their plans for the next few years, whether they retool, begin to rebuild, or hold steady. It’s just impossible to do anything without thinking of the Warriors now.
It’s becoming very clear in my mind: I want the team back. This would be a harder question if the choice was between sentiment and a championship, but since we won’t get one, we get to eurostep the harder questions and just bring everybody back for more good times playing for a 7th seed. You decide for yourself what you want, but I don’t see a lot of actual winning coming to fruition any time soon.
This matters more.
You can quantify it like this: The Grizzlies have a little less than $30 million under the luxury tax to re-sign their free agents, and JaMychal’s offer sheet in restricted free agency could eat up to half of that. Probably, that means Randolph and/or Allen have to take a pay cut to return. It’s their money, so their choice, but for all that means anything anymore, give them a good reason to come back. Offering $9 million to Randolph and $6 million to Allen could keep the Grizzlies under the tax threshold, but if paying tax or taking on an extra year or two of guaranteed salary is really the difference, that’s acceptable, too. Is that cap space going to be used for anything more important in 2019, when the Warriors win their third straight championship?
When we’re talking about good contracts and bad contracts, it’s only in the context that a team is building towards something. The Warriors have taken that away, or probably, just the delusion of it, but maybe it’s something to lean into. I don’t have to worry about these hard choices anymore. Rihanna voice: It doesn’t matter!
By the way, if Memphis doesn’t manage to re-sign their players, I’m all for it if they want to go to the Warriors and get themselves a ring. They don’t owe this team anything—they built the thing! Think of Vince Carter, playing his age-41 season in the NBA. Wherever he needs to go to find further peace and happiness, whether that’s Golden State, Cleveland, Toronto, or Memphis, he should go there. Think of JaMychal Green, pretty easily a $12 to 14 million per year guy, getting his first opportunity at a big money contract as a soon-to-be 27-year-old. Go get your money, always.
I’d just be a little bummed if this isn’t the team next year. What I care about are the seven straight years of watching the Grizzlies in the playoffs, which is kind of all we’ll have to take away from it if the Warriors are going to crush the field every year, but also not at all because we’ll have the ~MEMORIES~. That’s a luxury, too: the luxury of not having to care about the best outcome at all times. Some teams are still trying to get to remembering themselves, and that’s unfortunate because the Warriors are waiting at the end of their season, telling them it’s over before it is. Tough thing for good times.
I’m thinking about how the Grizzlies put on one of the best games of the playoffs in Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs, and about how completely worth it it was to play the Warriors to 2-2 this season. You’re not getting anyone in the summer that leads to anything other than a first round out and maybe a little bit more, anyway. Maybe that’s admitting defeat to the inescapable disappointment of sports, but that’s not how I think of these Grizzlies.
Let’s slap P.J. Tucker on this team for the MLE, pay the luxury tax for a year or two, and play the thing out.