The year is 2021.
Luka Doncic is driving to FedExForum for opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is coming off a first-round playoff exit at the hands of James Harden and his 1-seed Houston Rockets, and the Grizzlies have spent the summer trying to figure out how to surround Doncic with new talent. Free agency continues to be an issue for Memphis, and while the Grizzlies did use their 2020 and 2021 first round picks on players meant to replace the recently departed Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the team is far too young to be a true contender. The lottery is another likely stop for the Grizzlies this coming season.
Doncic is rumored to be in line for a five-year extension with the squad near the max after the 2018 2nd overall pick had an All-Rookie campaign in 2018-2019 and was 3rd Team All-NBA last season, but it is controversial among the fan base. Doncic has been steady, but not the star that everyone had hoped when he was drafted 2nd overall in 2018. A career average of 16 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game makes him quite good, but not great. Whether or not he’s worth the money he will command was the hot-button topic all offseason, and the Grizzlies and Doncic did not come to terms on a deal before the season began, adding to the speculation that he may be on the trading block.
Doncic posts a 21 point, 6 assist, 5 rebound line for Memphis, but struggled defensively against Andrew Wiggins and missed a possible game-tying three as time expired, providing ammunition for both sides of a debate as to what comes next in the future of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Doncic. Marvin Bagley III. Deandre Ayton. Jaren Jackson Jr. Trae Young. Michael Porter Jr. Mohamed Bamba.
So many possibilities for Memphis and their Grizzlies. Some of these options will be fleshed out (for the most part) on May 15th, when the NBA Lottery occurs and one of the Grizzlies’ minority owners, Elliot Perry, takes the stage to represent Memphis (and hopefully be a good luck charm). If Memphis gets 4th or 5th overall? Jackson/Young/Porter/Bamba would be the likely pieces in play, or perhaps even a Mikal Bridges. 2nd or 3rd overall? Probably Doncic or Bagley.
1st overall, and the 19.9% possibility of that happening? Well, chaos would ensue...but the good kind.
These prospects are just that, though - prospects. The horrifying and exhilarating part of this entire process is the importance of the opportunity ahead of the Grizzlies. Rarely do you get the chance to select a generational talent, a player of such skill and stature that they could perhaps take your team to the promised land of championship glory.
Of course, as Grizzlies fans know all too well, it could also lead to ruin.
So much time and energy will be invested these next six weeks in processing data and watching tape. Breaking down skill sets. Identifying weaknesses in games. Looking for the slightest hints in their histories of improprieties, evidence of intangibles impossible to truly quantify. It will be the job of the Grizzlies front office to identify not just a player who could help now, but also one who could be the face of the the entire franchise when the time comes for Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to no longer be Memphis Grizzlies.
That shiver you just felt run down your spine is the realization that this pick is the most likely player to still be on this team four seasons from now.
Whether it is 1st, 2nd, or 5th overall, the magnitude of this moment in Memphis cannot be overstated. The ownership situation is settled, the head coach has been selected...but this decision will have ripple effects for years to come. This is a player who, due to the sins of the front office, will be asked to do more with less than perhaps any other player long-term for their franchise. The Phoenix Suns have Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. The Mavericks have Dennis Smith Jr. and whoever they take in this draft. Atlanta has a young core...
Memphis has essentially Dillon Brooks and a bunch of “meh” to “maybe” prospects. And probably not their 2019 1st round pick.
This selection is vital. Not just for the here and now, but for four and five, and potentially nine or ten years down the road. This young man will not just be a rotation player of a hopeful playoff team next season. He will likely be the next face of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise. He will be the guy on the billboards, on the cover of the Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer. He will be the one expected to carry on what Zach Randolph and Tony Allen and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley built, to keep the Grizzlies viable both competitively and in a broader sense as a professional sports franchise in Memphis. Conley is the only one of those four that was an actual draft pick of Memphis, but those who experienced “Grit and Grind” know it was free agency and trade lightning in a bottle...and it almost certainly cannot be done twice.
Other players will be added to the team as the Gasols and Conleys and Chandler Parsons of the world depart the team. Doncic, Bagley, Ayton, Jackson...they won’t have to do it alone. But they almost surely will have to be out in the front for the next era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball. With great opportunity comes great risk, and with great power comes great responsibility.
Do not lose sight of these next six weeks. So many possibilities and potential outcomes...with many moves on the horizon beyond this one pick over the next few years, what is done with this selection will set the pace for what is to come. Whoever comes to Memphis as a result of this draft may make or break the next decade for Memphis and their Grizzlies.
It means everything.
Trae Young sits down and sighs heavily at the interview table, still wearing his champagne-soaked jersey. He is celebrating a 32 point, 14 assist, eight made threes performance...and a Game 6 series-clinching win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2025 NBA Finals.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work”, the 5th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft says at the beginning his post game press conference sitting next to Grizzlies Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “No one believed in me being drafted as high as I was, and I used that and what Marc and Mike taught me all those years ago. And here we are now, 2025 NBA Champions...”
Trae stops for a moment, understanding just what all this means to the place that has become his home. “This is, and always has been, about Memphis. I love the city, and they love me. We play for them, and we are so excited for the parade down Beale Street to celebrate with each and every one of our fans. They’ve been through a lot the past seven years, but they stuck by us. They deserve this...this is for everyone who was told they couldn’t do it, that they weren’t good enough, that the Grizzlies were a joke or that Memphis couldn’t support an NBA team...”
Young pauses, composes himself, wipes away a tear and looks directly into the camera across from him. “Memphis vs. everybody. This means everything, man. This is for us, Memphis. We did it, we’re the champs...
We’re the best in the world.”