The Los Angeles Lakers will pay a visit to FedExForum this afternoon as the Memphis Grizzlies host the MLK Day Game. And while the two franchises could not be more different, the Lakers offer something of a glimpse into the Grizzlies future.
The Lakers have not made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season, when they were bounced in the first round. For multiple seasons afterward, they were burdened with an aging Kobe Bryant, who continued to suck up a large portion of the team's salary cap, much to the detriment of his young teammates.
But with their former star out of the picture, the Lakers have been able to concentrate their resources on building around a young core over the past two seasons. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart make up a good portion of a team that's been fun to watch in spite of the fact that they're on pace to win under 30 games. It's a nice reminder that there can still be joy found in losing seasons, a fact that Grizzlies should remember in the seasons to come.
It should also serve as a reminder to Memphis fans that patience is a virtue when it comes to young NBA talent. Brandon Ingram, the second overall pick in last year's draft, was seen by many as a bust after his first season, but he's turned those perceptions on their head this year. He's shooting more efficiently, his per-36 numbers are up across the board, and he's able to use his length to his advantage on the defensive end.
It's likely that the Grizzlies' seven-year playoff run will end this season. And while the team may still be able to reload and make another run around a Mike Conley and Marc Gasol core, the rebuild lurks just around the corner, waiting to rear its ugly head. The Grizzlies may stumble into a lottery talent this season, but there will be no draft pick next year, and that's where things will get really interesting (read: depressing).
This isn't a perfect comparison, of course. The Lakers will be trying to land a max-contract free agent in the offseason. (Whether or not that is the right move is open for debate, of course.) At the same time, the Grizzlies' biggest free agent signing in franchise history may be having his contract waived and stretched. The Lakers have the market size and fan base to weather a temporary downturn. In Memphis, any protracted rebuild will come with lingering questions about Seattle and the void left by the Sonics.
But Memphis is closer to the end of its current run of success than the beginning. No one knows quite when the rebuild will begin in earnest—next season, the year after?—but it is coming. On Monday, the Grizzlies may get a glimpse into what their future holds. Hopefully, though, Memphis' future is one without the drama of LaVar Ball.