It’s an irony that the Memphis Grizzlies are trumpeting a return to Grit n’ Grind.
It is an irony because the organization is more well primed than ever to move on from the era for good.
Yet at the same time it makes sense. With the players it has acquired this summer, defense and tenacity seem to be the top priorities for the club again. For the first time in what feels like eons (maybe ever), it appears the front office has a plan in place which encompasses both the near and distant future.
How can this be? A desire to keep GnG around while positioned to move on as well? A plan to compete this year with an ability to blow it up at any point thereafter?
The answer can be derived from the franchise’s two marquee pickups this offseason: Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson.
These two players represent a light at the end of the tunnel that is “Grit n’ Grind” so to speak. For years we dug that tunnel together blissfully with GnG, happy to be along for the ride though we had no idea where we were headed. It was the jarring confusion and dread of last season that made us suddenly realize that if we continue digging that same tunnel in the same direction, we’ll eventually dig a hole so deep we can’t escape from it.
Jackson Jr. and Anderson (as well as Dillon Brooks [and maybe hopefully Wayne Selden Jr. and Andrew Harrison]) are the focal points around which the franchise might build a new culture in a post Conley/Gasol Grizzlies future. Anderson just signed a four-year offer sheet with the Grizzlies that will keep him in Beale Street Blue until he’s 27; Jackson Jr., a rookie, will be under team control for likely the next nine seasons.* Anderson’s contract (4/$37.2 a.k.a. the full Mid Level Exception) is also an asset. Supposing he plays decent to above average, Anderson may have a lucrative trade market in which the Grizzlies could recoup picks and/or prospects in a potential deal.
*Five year rookie scale deal at the end of which Jackson Jr. will become a restricted free agent. If he shows he’s good, he’ll probably receive a four year max offer sheet which the Grizzlies would also likely match.
However, it’s fickle even to think that far into the future as the franchise cannot realistically begin a rebuild until after the 2018-19 season. That is because in 2015 the Grizzlies traded their 2019 first round pick to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Jeff Green.
What that means is that there is absolutely no incentive to tank next year as the only beneficiaries of a Grizzlies tank would be the Celtics.
Thus, the revival of Grit n’ Grind for one last go round. And I mean just one go round... but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Critics were skeptical whether Jackson Jr. would be a factor for the team in the upcoming campaign as many saw him as a project. But, like our own site manager Joe Mullinax concluded after watching the 18 year old out of Michigan State in Summer League, those critics are being persuaded otherwise. And Anderson’s length allowed him to be one of only four players to have registered 500 minutes to crack a 2.5 percent steal and block percentage (this just means he’s good at getting steals and blocks) per Basketball Reference.
Kyle Anderson is the only non-big in the top 10 of Defensive Box Plus/Minus this season. He’s one of 17 players with a two-plus steal percentage and a two-plus block percentage.https://t.co/0u69LtNg9Z pic.twitter.com/FeywOktbAc— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) January 8, 2018
These players, along with Jevon Carter and Omri Cassipi, help the Grizzlies win this year. Not at an elite level, but in the territory of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Regardless of whether the team makes the playoffs this season or not, the additions of Jackson Jr. and Anderson, in my eyes, spells the end of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol’s tenure in Memphis starting in the summer of 2019.
At that point there will no longer be any incentive for the Grizzlies to be good. Their franchise cornerstones will be two players on the wrong side of 30. Their next best players will all be 25 or younger (excluding JaMychal Green, assuming he’s not dealt and also wants to re-sign again in Memphis [probably not]). The team will not be in a good position to sign any key free agents. The time to move will be at that moment.
I can think of at least one Los Angeles based team which would very much like to have a defensive minded, three point shooting center to play alongside LeBron James. Assuming Conley comes back and plays a healthy season of in form basketball, the Grizzlies’ point guard should have a positive trade value as well. If that is the case, the team should capitalize by trading him for picks.
That will free the organization up to tank successfully for several seasons, building around Jackson Jr. through the draft.
The emphasis the Grizzlies have put on defense in their summer acquisitions shows they want to bring back the tough minded approach of seven straight seasons of playoff basketball. But the focus on locking down young talent for a long time shows that the team is finally forward minded.
Let’s enjoy at least one more year of trying to win, because the writing seems to be on the wall in terms of how long that project will endure.