It is fun to think about.
The Memphis Grizzlies, your 2019 NBA Champions!
Something that sounds so ridiculous at least feels a bit more realistic now than it did six weeks ago. That, in and of itself, is really something to be thankful for.
Despite the clear improvement in Memphis to this point in the regular season, it also is evident that they are still a piece or two away from being truly in the mix as a “contender” to the throne of the Golden State Warriors. It is natural for fans to get excited about the exploits of their squad after a lost season like Memphis just went through, but the “worst to first” narrative is not one that is likely sustainable with the Grizzlies as currently constructed. Too many role players playing above their career averages, too much being asked of stars like Mike Conley...
Which, when rumors of discontent among All-Stars elsewhere in the NBA, leads to thoughts that hypothetical statements like this one...
The Memphis Grizzlies have traded Chandler Parsons, Wayne Selden Jr., and two future 1st round picks to the Washington Wizards for Bradley Beal and...
The rest would be a moot point.
WE’RE GOING TO THE FINALS!
Now make no mistake, this purely speculative and nowhere-near-a-rumor move would certainly make the Grizzlies better immediately. Same thing with any Beal-esque addition. Bradley Beal in particular is a stud, and he would fit the mold of the “third man” Grizzlies fans have been hoping for for so long. Finally, a third star alongside Mike Conley and Marc Gasol! Finally, a second scorer to take the burden of being the primary shooter constantly away from Mike and to make Marc more comfortable in a lesser scoring role! He has size, he has youth, he has just about everything you could ask for...
At what cost, though?
You still operate in a world where, even if Houston never figures it out (they probably will) and the Lakers with LeBron James do not make a run this season (they may not, but it’s coming beyond this season more likely than not), the Golden State Warriors reign supreme. Even with Beal, does a Mike Conley/Bradley Beal/Kyle Anderson/Jaren Jackson Jr./Marc Gasol starting five with Shelvin Mack, Garrett Temple, Dillon Brooks, and JaMychal Green as key reserves beat Curry/Thompson/Durant/Green/Cousins with Iguodala and company in a seven game series?
Maybe once...in every ten series played.
Does that mean you don’t play the games if you get in that spot? Of course not. It does mean, though, that mortgaging your future for immediate growth makes little sense.
The fact the Memphis Grizzlies are relevant again after a winter (and spring) of discontent is terrific. The Grizzlies front office did a truly remarkable job maximizing their hand in rebuilding this roster around Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, emphasizing smart and tough basketball players that gel well with the strengths of the Memphis cornerstones. While in hindsight it is easy to say “all the top-5 picks are doing well”, in the lead up to the draft there were concerns from some about Jaren Jackson Jr. and the team made the call to take him instead of more proven commodities or trading down.
It was clearly the right call.
Watching this team overachieve should not lead one to think about giving up the future resources required to build around JJJ, though. It should make them excited for the long-term potential of the franchise. At no point did the Grizzlies hurt their long-term viability as an organization this summer - Kyle Anderson for the mid-level exception is a solid deal considering its length and his defensive impact, Garrett Temple was essentially acquired for nothing and is an expiring contract, Shelvin Mack is here on a veteran’s minimum deal. The moves were focused on both being as good as possible now and being in a place to build for the future once they send their owed 1st round pick to Boston, probably this coming summer.
There will come a day when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are no longer Memphis Grizzlies. When that day comes - hell, maybe even before then - this will become Jaren Jackson Jr.’s team. The build around him, and his skill set, would be that much harder to complete if 1st round picks in 2022 and 2024 (for argument’s sake) are not a part of the Grizzlies arsenal moving forward.
Bradley Beal would be 31 in 2024, and a 12-year NBA veteran. Jaren Jackson Jr. would be 25...think about that for a moment. Jackson Jr. would be entering his prime, and there’d be no first round pick to supplement that opportunity, or even perhaps trade to get another younger player like Jaren. You’d be costing yourself flexibility years down the road for the chance to acquire a very good player to try to max out the Conley and Gasol window...
It isn’t Jeff Green. But it would hurt your future dealings...which doesn’t match up with the moves the Grizzlies front office has made.
There are possibilities that would not cost you as much. Tim Hardaway Jr., Kent Bazemore, Evan Fournier, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, Courtney Lee, Jonathan Simmons, Jae Crowder...all solid-to-good players, all potentially available, and all possibly available for some combination of JaMychal Green and/or Garrett Temple’s expiring contracts and a 2nd round pick, depending on money needed to make a deal work. None of these guys are the caliber of Beal, and some of them don’t solve your scoring issue.
What they do is make your team better without sacrificing long-term assets, be it cap flexibility beyond the Gasol and Chandler Parsons contracts in 2020 (assuming Marc stays in 2019) or future firsts. That must remain the focus moving forward.
If you could get Beal for Chandler Parsons and a 1st round pick, you do it. Immediately. Yes, you lose a future piece, but you gain an All-Star that makes you that much better right now and help max out the Marc and Mike window while also theoretically giving Jaren help once Gasol and Conley are gone. That (give or take a Dillon Brooks, Garrett Temple, or JaMychal Green) must be the line - any trade for any player that involved multiple firsts being shipped out, or Jaren Jackson Jr. being sent away, cannot occur unless it is for an Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant level of player, which almost certainly isn’t happening. The future of this team can finally become clearer through the draft, where great teams are built, once the 2019 first is shipped off to Boston.
To jeopardize that future for a somewhat better shot after a surprisingly strong start would be short-sighted, and hot-headed.
So play it cool, Memphis. Enjoy the team’s success, and look for reasonable ways to improve an already improved roster. Don’t confuse that improvement with title aspirations, however, and learn from past mistakes. The Grizzlies have done a better job playing the long game of late - and it will pay off in the long run.
Patience is a virtue.