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Waiting for Superman in Memphis

Mistakes that the Grizzlies have made in the past have put too much pressure on their top draft pick this year.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

And with the 4th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies select Luka Doncic, guard from Real Madrid.” As soon as the pick was made, Memphis fans began to celebrate, both at the FedexForum watch party and in the comfort of their own homes.

After all, why wouldn’t they?

When the Grizzlies fell to the 4th spot in the draft lottery, many doubted that Memphis would still be able to get a potentially generational talent like Doncic or Marvin Bagley. However, the Atlanta Hawks decided to pick Jaren Jackson Jr. with the 3rd pick, giving the Grizzlies the opportunity to get their guy. And when they decided to pick Doncic, the most accomplished 19-year-old basketball player in history, the sky really did appear to be the limit for the Memphis Grizzlies.

But now the honeymoon is over.

Nearly halfway into the season, the Grizzlies now sit at 10-25 with almost no chance of getting back into the playoff picture. Mike Conley seems to have permanently lost a step from missing nearly an entire season, and it is clear that Marc Gasol is rapidly regressing. Chandler Parsons remains Chandler Parsons.

Luka Doncic in particular has received intense criticism. To be sure, the player that was picked to help the Grizzlies in the present and to lead them into the future has seemed incapable of either. He has struggled immensely on the defensive end against the superior athletes of the NBA to the point where he is regularly on the bench in the 4th quarter. The biggest surprise, however, has been how much he has struggled offensively. His meager averages of 7.1 points and 2.2 assists wouldn’t be so terrible if not for the fact that he is also shooting just 35% from the field and 23% from three. He could very well still develop into a solid role player, but it is obvious that he will never be the player that many envisioned he would be.

There truly does not seem to be much hope left in Memphis. With Gasol and Conley both now on the market, the franchise appears to be poised for a directionless rebuild, a rebuild in which they have no star to build around.

If only the Grizzlies had picked someone other than Doncic...


NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Duke Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It all comes down to this, doesn’t it?

After nearly 20 years in Memphis and countless memories, the fate of the Grizzlies may well be decided in Brooklyn on June 21st. If they do not select a quality player with the 4th pick, the franchise could enter into a dark rebuild from which it may never recover, just like in the above scenario.

And it is beyond ridiculous.

For whomever the Grizzlies decide to pick, they will not only be in the most competitive situation of any of their peers in the top ten, but they will also have the most amount of pressure. They will have the pressure to not only be the future face of the franchise, but to also help lead the Grizzlies back into the playoffs in their first year.

And if it all falls apart, they will be the face of that too.

It is unfair to put the entire weight of a NBA franchise on the shoulders of one draft pick, but that is now the situation of the Memphis Grizzlies. They have once chance to get this right, and if they don’t—well, there could be blog boys lamenting the state of the Seattle Grizzlies a decade from now.

Suffice to say that it should have never have come to this in the first place.

If the Grizzlies are forced to enter a full rebuild after an underwhelming season next year, it will not be because the Grizzlies drafted a bust. Rather, it will be because they drafted another bust or made yet another poor roster decision.

There are many good players who could become generational stars. There is no one, however, that can save the Grizzlies from all of their poor decisions in the past. There is no LeBron James, or Tim Duncan. No sure-fire franchise redeemer...no player that the Grizzlies pick can atone for the sins of the past.

When a franchise’s future depends entirely on one draft pick, it only does so because there is no longer any margin for error. It’s fine to make some mistakes here and there, but the long list of mistakes that the Grizzlies have made with their roster has left them with no room for more.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Missouri vs Florida State Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

So if Luka Doncic or Michael Porter Jr. do not pan out for whatever reason, they will not be the person to blame. They will only be a final symptom of what has been a persistent problem.

After all, it wasn’t them who gave up on a first round pick in Wade Baldwin IV after just one year.

It wasn’t them who managed to retain only one of the team’s last five first-round picks.

And it wasn’t them who never successfully added anyone to properly complement Mike Conley and Marc Gasol over the last few years.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, they will still be asked to cover for all of these past mistakes—and if they are unable to do so, they will be blamed for them. It will not be fair to remember Jaren Jackson Jr. or Luka Doncic as the pivotal piece that caused the Memphis Grizzlies to fall apart.

They should have never had that responsibility in the first place.

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