Author’s note: Two and a half years ago, I wrote about sadness, anger, and optimism entering a bar regarding the Grizzlies season that was at the time. Now feels like a good time to revisit these emotions...sort of.
Same bar. Same friends...er, emotions. Different times and circumstances...or are they?
Grizzlies Fan Sadness: We suck again.
Grizzlies Fan Anger: And it’s an easy fix. Fire J.B. Bickerstaff, and everything will be fine.
Grizzlies Fan Optimism: Good to see you guys, too...Merry Christmas?
Anger: Yeah yeah, how merry can it be in Memphis when the Grizzlies are this bad? Five losses in a row. Seven of their last eight. Eleven of their last fifteen. Big. Fat. Ls. Bah, humbug.
Sadness: It is a waste of a good start. After all that we went through last season, and the hope that we had coming in to this season...we are back to being a laughing stock. I don’t know if I can take another terrible season.
Optimism: It’s not so bad, guys. I mean, yeah, the Grizzlies have lost a lot lately. And it doesn’t feel like there is an end in sight when you are this deep in it. But after the game against the Lakers...
Anger and Sadness: LEBRON AND THE LAKERS! Lucky it wasn’t another loss!
Optimism: ...yes, those Lakers, the schedule lightens up a bit. Four of the next six games are at home, and against teams that are either comparable to Memphis in talent or injury situation. The Grizzlies could get back a win or two over the next couple weeks.
Anger: Then what? A run where Memphis plays Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto in a three games/three cities/four nights stretch, but before that is two rapid fire games against the Spurs. You make it sound like things are about to lighten up...the NBA has no nights off!
Sadness: Let’s be honest - it doesn’t really matter who the opponent is. The Grizzlies have an inexperienced coach who is not playing his best players in the best situations for them to be successful, and a broken roster with a giant $24.1 million hole in it.
Anger: UGH! Don’t even get me STARTED on Parsons - a waste of money, is what he is. Bickerstaff has no clue what he is doing - he has to go!
Optimism: Well I can’t speak for Chandler anymore...here’s to hoping that he can contribute in some way, but that’s probably a fool’s hope at this point. And you’re right, Sadness, that roster swing-and-miss hurts in a lot of ways.
Bickerstaff, though, isn’t a lost cause. He is in a tough spot - that imperfect roster, that we mentioned, makes things difficult. He is trying to keep a locker room on his side, and knows veterans are probably the way to do that. While Jaren Jackson Jr. is pretty clearly the way to go in terms of investment of time and resources moving forward...
Anger: TO EVERYONE BUT J.B. APPARENTLY!
Optimism: ...I am starting to remember why we only do this every couple of years.
As I was saying, Bickerstaff likely sees veterans as his best chance to execute and win down the stretch. He’s not right about that...but he’s an intelligent guy, and as he gets more comfortable with his roster he will make changes needed. Shelvin Mack and JaMychal Green aren’t his future. He surely feels pressure to win now, but that’s a challenge with the talent he has to work with. Especially when Marc Gasol is struggling offensively.
Sadness: Marc looks washed. He may be done...another wasted contract. Sure, defense is great, but he needs to score for Memphis to win. Garrett Temple and Kyle Anderson aren’t saving this offense.
Optimism: You’re right, Sadness. The good news is, we’ve seen Marc go through these stretches before. During his last All-Star season (2016-2017) Gasol had a month of March where he shot 41.5% from the field and posted a ghastly -13 net rating. He’s had runs of bad offensive play throughout his time as a Grizzly and bounced back.
Anger: Say Gasol bounces back...who is to say Conley doesn’t go through a cold spell? This team is so reliant on two players for their offense, and a coach who is in over his head to try to keep it all together. Chris Wallace and the front office screwed it up all over again...
Optimism: Now Anger, that isn’t fair. Temple, Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., even Shelvin Mack (they just need to play him more) have all been solid additions. It’s easy to forget the reason JJJ is here in the first place - this team was AWFUL last season. The front office took pieces from a broken roster and turned it in to a flawed one that at least had an identity and purpose. Too often under David Fizdale Memphis felt without a direction...now, there is a direction.
Things have cooled off...but the team was likely playing over their heads anyway. Their Vegas win total number was 34.5 - that was probably always too low, but not by much. Memphis competing for the playoffs and hovering around .500 was a sound cautiously optimistic view at the start of the season, and that looks to be the lot of the Grizzlies moving forward.
Sadness and Anger: Damn...
Sadness: If you’ve given up, there really isn’t any hope.
Optimism: Oh I haven’t given up anything! I like this team! Watching Jaren is great - yes, I would like for him to play more, and that will come with time. This coaching staff (the ones under J.B. especially) is too smart, and this front office is too “analytically sound”, to allow for the current way of rotations to continue. Change is almost certainly coming, and even if it has to wait a while, they still have some time.
The schedule we mentioned features a January homestand: five games, the longest of the season, starting with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If, at the end of that stretch of games, the Grizzlies are under .500 you may see the Grizzlies sell a week or so before the trade deadline.
Anger: I am waiting for the “glass half-full”, Optimism.
Optimism: You can take the expiring contracts of JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple, Wayne Selden Jr., MarShon Brooks, Shelvin Mack...all or some combination of a couple, send them to contenders for 2nd round picks or young project type of players (think Markelle Fultz, but probably not as good).
Sadness: This is depressing.
Optimism: The point is, as long as Conley and Gasol are healthy, you are going to be competitive. The names I listed aren’t key contributors in the long-term, at least they shouldn’t be, unless they’re willing to take less money. You turn expiring assets and turn them in to projects, or future trade filler for other players or picks, and still likely play well enough to send the 2019 first round pick to Boston this summer.
Anger: You have lost your mind.
Optimism: Say the Grizzlies go 20-30 the rest of the season. That would put them at 36-46 for the campaign, still 14 games better than last season and probably at 10th, 11th, or 12th in the lottery. Their 1st round pick trading mistakes will most likely be fully off the books, they will have multiple picks/younger players to work with, and will be in a place to rebuild if Marc Gasol leaves in the summer or build around him and Mike again as they did this past summer.
And young players and multiple 2nd round picks could sweeten a possible Chandler Parsons trade with a team trying to eat salary as they rebuild.
The best part is, this is all worst-case scenario! Memphis could very well turn things around and be buyers at the trade deadline, looking for a 3rd scorer instead of future assets. The return of Dillon Brooks could reinvigorate their offense and give them a shot of life. This season can still turn around...
But barring a catastrophic injury, “bottoming out” looks better than it did last season. And more fun to watch.
Sadness: Yay, we will suck, just not as much.
Anger: You know whose fault this is? The Mullinax blogger guy...he said we were back on GBB, and we went on the losing streak.
Optimism: He said the team is back to being competitive and fun to watch, and they are just that. The last time we were together we were arguing over a team that had a league record amount of injuries and was clawing to stay alive in the playoff picture. The Grit and Grind era gets glamorized in hindsight - it was far more common for Memphis to be scratching and fighting for the seven or eight seed than it was for them to be in the hunt for home court. In fact, the Grizzlies had home court once...ONCE...the entire GnG run.
I am not disrespecting that successful time. It’s the reason I am a fan. The point is, don’t revise history. Memphis has almost always had to grind to get in to the postseason. This season will be no different...and if it does fall apart the next five weeks, there is a path to another short-term rebuild where the team can still be competitive as the Gasol and Conley window ends.
Sadness: I guess so...I am just going to watch Jaren Jackson Jr. highlights if it comes to that.
Anger: I am going to hate watch Dave Joerger lead the Kings to the playoffs.
Optimism: The Grizzlies will right the ship. Just keep perspective as to what that righting of the ship means - they’re not a 4-11 team as the last 15 games suggest. They may, however, be a .500 team.
Anger: Put that on a Christmas card.
Sadness: Every time optimism speaks, a bell gets a crack in it, but only a little crack!
Optimism: Merry Christmas, guys.