Where did it all begin to go wrong for the Memphis Grizzlies?
For almost a decade, the Grizzlies brought joy and civic unity to the people of Memphis. Although they were never able to push their way to an NBA championship, their excellence on the court as well as commitment to the anachronistic “Grit ‘n’ Grind” identity captivated Memphians and many NBA fans in general.
But somehow along the way, things slowly started to fall apart.
Maybe it was the numerous years of failed draft choices that slowly began to catch up with them (as I noted last week, the Grizzlies only have two of their last six first-round picks currently on the roster). To be sure, the Grizzlies’ notoriously poor draft history has left them without many reliable role players behind Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.
Perhaps it was the fact that they signed Chandler Parsons to a massive four-year contract in a failed attempt to usher in the next era of Grizzlies basketball. He may still be an effective player in the limited times when he is healthy, but his albatross of a contract has hamstrung the Grizzlies’ ability to add talent around two aging, injury-prone stars in Conley and Gasol.
Or maybe it is simply because of the general incompetence and lack of stability that has permeated the franchise in recent times. Firing three coaches in six years and blunders like the Tyreke Evans situation have only made the Grizzlies look spectacularly inept to the rest of the NBA. As Stephen A. Smith said earlier this year, the Grizzlies do not need clearly coherent reasons for the questionable decisions they make.
It is simply what they do.
After a season of unrelenting misery, it appeared that the Memphis Grizzlies had finally hit their lowest point due to a combination of these factors. Before this offseason began, it seemed that they were stuck in the NBA’s version of hell for a small-market team. Not only did they not have the talent to make the playoffs even when healthy, they also likely couldn’t sustain themselves through a total rebuild.
However, things have started coming together again.
Although the Grizzlies have never had much consistent success in the draft, they may now have a potentially generational star to build around in Jaren Jackson Jr. While he has definitely had a rough game or two in summer league, he is already showing glimpses of the player he could be this year as well as giving us a tantalizing taste of the star he could become in the future on both ends of the court.
In spite of their lack of cap space, the Grizzlies have also added young talent through free agency with the use of their mid-level exception. You can certainly make the argument that Kyle Anderson may not be the “scoring wing” that the Grizzlies have needed for many years, but he is still a young, versatile player that they will have under contract for the rest of his prime. And for a team that desperately needs young facilitating role players, Anderson will fit in nicely.
Most importantly, there is an overall vision for the franchise that been basically non-existent in recent years. For better or for worse, Grit ‘N’ Grind is the culture of the future in Memphis, and they have found a coach in J.B. Bickerstaff and players in Jaren Jackson, Jevon Carter, and Kyle Anderson that fit that mold. It remains to be seen whether this vision will be successful, but it is still a vision nonetheless.
Now let’s be clear: I can’t guarantee that the Memphis Grizzlies will be in the playoffs next year or will even remain relevant in the NBA over the next few seasons. This will truly depend on the health of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol as well as how the younger players on the team continue to develop. The status of the other teams in the Western Conference will play a role as well.
However, it’s hard to imagine that the Grizzlies could have possibly had a better offseason to this point, especially after one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Optimism, a quantity that has been in short supply recently in Memphis, is alive and well.
There is now a vision. There is now a culture.
And there is hope in Memphis once again.