As long and drawn out as the analysis process felt in the lead up to the 2018 NBA Draft, it was as if you blinked and it all was over. All the draft parties and podcasts and rumors, it all was gone almost before you could say “Kostas Antetokounmpo”.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, their actions this past Thursday, and the words of the press conference the day after, said plenty.
So Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter are the newest members of the Memphis Grizzlies. What does it mean moving forward?
What do Grit and Grind and Lazarus (hopefully) have in common?
The death of the Grit and Grind Era was written about here, there, and everywhere. It was widely assumed that the departure of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen was the end of an that successful run of Grizzlies basketball, and their exit (plus the entrance of David Fizdale from Miami) screamed “new culture”.
One angry Spaniard, one sales pitch that would’ve made the worst used cars salesman blush, and one owner who is siding with the franchise player later? We’re back to the beginning. Yet instead of bringing in TA and Z-Bo as role playing mentors ushering in the return (which still may happen, who knows), it’s the selection of Jackson and Carter that is being heralded as the second coming of that beloved time in Grizzlies history.
This brings about three big questions for me-
- Is this a basketball decision, a financial decision, or both? There is no denying that a “rebuild” does not inspire season ticket sales, unless you somehow stumble upon LeBron James or someone of him ilk. Especially in a market like Memphis, selecting a player like Jackson - both celebrated as an elite defender and a project on the offensive side of the floor - and saying he is being taken as the first step of the next era of Grizzlies basketball while Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are still in town would go over like a lead balloon in the pockets of Memphians.
But hyping his natural abilities as a defender, and then selecting Jevon Carter, a two-time Big-12 Defensive and National Defensive Player of the Year, at #32 is a direct statement to the idea that Memphis wants to move forward by going backward to what they once were, which was very popular in the (We Don’t) Bluff City. J.B. Bickerstaff said as much in the press conference the next day - why try to be the same? The greatest success in this team’s history came when they were unique and emphasized defense and slowing down games. Why go away from that, especially with Marc and Mike in the fold at least one, maybe two more seasons at least?
Of course you can be good at both offense and defense (see Warriors, Rockets). The spin from “project” to “Grit and Grind 2.0” was masterful, though, and probably saved the Grizzlies front office and sales department a headache while also keeping fans bought in to the here and now. Impressive, considering the 22-60 record that got Memphis #4 overall in the first place.
- Will fans be satisfied with what Jackson can be immediately? The emphasis post-draft was on what Jackson can do well as long as he can stay on the floor and what Carter has shown to be on the highest levels of college basketball - defense. It is a smart play, and a bit of a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” move regarding the focus on Jackson’s likely contributions from day one as a defender instead of how he probably won’t be a modern NBA “unicorn” until two or so years from now. The defensive ability of Jackson is measurable now, and can be hyped now. Is that enough?
That question doesn’t mean Jackson was the wrong choice. Given the options available, and the probable reality that any trade on the table was not going to be worth it to Memphis, he was the right call. It helps that the following is true - Jackson and Carter were arguably the two best defenders in the draft. There is a direction again, which is refreshing, even if it is back to what it was before. But will it really translate to major minutes, and wins, immediately?
- Will this demean what Zach and Tony meant?
The answer to this is probably no. However, it did cross my mind that the straight-to-the-point aspect of what Bickerstaff and Chris Wallace said made it seem as if “Grit and Grind” was a basketball philosophy first and foremost. That wasn’t my experience - sure, their effort defensively and offensive pace were a part of it, but Zach and Tony’s personalities (especially Tony) really were what made that era special.
It’s like when you try to do a remake of a movie or TV show that was wildly popular in a bygone era. There’s no guarantee that what made it special to begin with still remains. The 2.0 aspect of things make me think this may be a bit of an over-reaction on my part. There is an intensity and aggression that came with that time period that was organic and very “lightning in a bottle”, though. I will need to see similar traits from players not nicknamed “The Grindfather” and “The Bully on the Block” before I fully buy in to this return appearance of GNG.
Memphis is looking for a wing (or wings) with the mid-level exception.
This seemed to be the direction they’d take before the draft, as most folks saw the Grizzlies selecting Marvin Bagley III or Jackson or even Mohamed Bamba if Luka Doncic was not available (and Wallace made it seem like Jackson would’ve been the pick regardless, but we will probably never know for sure). Now, with Jackson and Carter in the fold, it is clear where they are going for in free agency. Tyreke Evans, Will Barton, Mario Hezonja...there are going to be possibilities. But much like the Grizzlies draft, their free agency plans are not entirely up to them.
The largest domino to fall, LeBron James, may not tumble until mid-July. If the Lakers and Sixers strike out on him, then they will have money to burn. Perhaps they fancy themselves as Tyreke fans, or want to take on Super Mario, or bring in Will the Thrill, for more money than Memphis can afford?
There could be other possibilities. Kyle Anderson, Rodney Hood, our old friend Rudy Gay, and cheaper options like Glenn Robinson III, Seth Curry, and Shabazz Muhammad all make varying level of sense. It’d be shocking to see Memphis go in any other direction than the perimeter in free agency, though.
There may be a trade on the horizon
This roster is pretty front court heavy now, with Marc Gasol, Jaren Jackson Jr., Chandler Parsons (probably more of a four moving forward), JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin, Ivan Rabb, and Deyonta Davis all on the roster. Former GBBer Matt Hrdlicka posted on his Patreon page that Memphis currently only has roughly $7.5 million of the MLE to use and is only about $1.3 million away from the luxury tax if that is indeed used fully.
This is all the smoke that amounts to the fire that the Grizzlies may be making a cost saving move as the free agency period nears.
JaMychal, of course, would be the biggest and most probable player to move (Parsons is staying now, folks) thanks to his expiring contract and the fact he can contribute now to a good team as a role playing starter or good bench player. But moving off of the contracts of Jarell Martin or Deyonta Davis may be more likely since they make less and could be taken in to cap space more easily. Ivan Rabb will probably be in the mix long-term for Memphis given his skill set and the flashes he showed last season, while Martin (expiring deal) and Davis (lack of development) have more questions.
Maybe Memphis waits until after evaluating at summer league to make a decision. But if they want the full MLE to play with, plus breathing room under the luxury tax for mid-season moves, something has to give.