When evaluating the Grizzlies front office, Chris Wallace and company are often maligned for an undeniably poor draft history.
The little goodwill that is available springs from the under the radar trades, free agent acquisitions and luck that led to assembling the Core Four. Luck is not a bad word here. Even organizations that appear bulletproof when it comes to the draft need luck to nurture and build around their talent. It took bad Steph Curry ankles and a perfectly timed cap spike for the Warriors to add Kevin Durant to an already 73 win team flush with all time great NBA talent.
After a string of big swings and misses, the Grizzlies front office appears intent on having the appearance of a stable organization and it began on draft night.
Like many Grizzlies fans, I prepared for the worst on draft night. I feared the franchise would either mortgage their future for one last swipe at the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference or refuse to learn anything from prior mistakes and draft Michael Porter Jr. The Grizzlies were going to end up with Harrison Barnes or the guy with a busted back on their roster by the end of the night and nothing could convince me otherwise. Instead, the Grizzlies sensibly drafted the best player available to them. It is difficult to say if the night unfolded as it did because of how high the Grizzlies were on Jaren Jackson Jr. or if they really were committed to taking the best player available. Trade rumors surrounding the Grizzlies swirled prior to the draft and it would not have surprised if Jackson was off the board and the Grizzlies traded the pick; a totally lateral move to squeeze every drop of blood out of the ‘Grit n Grind’ era would be par for the course.
Ultimately, the most important thing is that Jaren Jackson Jr, is good at basketball and early returns indicate he is a piece the Grizzlies can build around. I am relieved to see the skills Jackson showed in Summer League indicate a complete all round basketball player. Even in games where he is not shooting eight threes, he is making sharp passes out of the post, blocking shots or being talkative on defense. The Grizzlies found a player that will help them win games now and for seasons to come.
Grit and Grind 2.0
‘Grit n Grind’ is back. Considering the sustained success the franchise had during this era, it is a bit baffling it ever left in the first place. The front office saw the direction the league was headed and decided to hire David Fizdale, a young, forward thinking coach who would get the team to play faster, space the floor and shoot threes. Given the Grizzlies roster was ill-suited to do any of those things, it is little wonder the experiment failed.
After Fizdale’s departure, the Grizzlies decided rather than aspire to be a dollar store version of the Warriors, they would recalibrate and return to the identity they knew. I think this is a decision the front office made because they were confident it would lead to on the court success. I also think they anticipated they would hemorrhage ticket sales and tapping into fan nostalgia was a sensible way stop the bleeding.
While the skepticism may be warranted, the Grizzlies approach to the offseason indicates they are dedicated to building a roster that prioritizes defense and wins games they have no business winning. That commitment led to shedding almost every player on the roster that can best be categorized as not contributing to winning basketball games. Trading players like Ben Mcelmore and Deyonta Davis acknowledges past mistakes rather than stubbornly holding out for potential that won’t materialize.
Tyreke Free Agency
The Grizzlies made a massive miscalculation by not trading Tyreke Evans at the trade deadline. A move met with equal scorn was the decision not to even pick up the phone to call Tyreke at the start of free agency. I wont justify not trading Tyreke but it makes sense if the Grizzlies are trying to resurrect Grit N Grind they would target players in free-agency that fit the culture.
Tyreke is a fan favorite having played college basketballl for the University of Memphis Tigers and was a bright spot in a season devoid of anything resembling fun. Tyreke is also a player that has never been on a winning team and does not fit in with the defense first mentality the Grizzlies are trying to re-establish. That said, I don’t buy that the Grizzlies plan all along was to ignore Tyreke, target smart players from quality franchises like Kyle Anderson and call it a summer. Chris Wallace said over and over post trade deadline that Tyreke was the teams number one priority in free-agency and I’m skeptical there was no interest from the Grizzlies whatsoever.
The most probable scenario is as the teams relationship with Tyreke torpedoed to the point where the only way for the Grizzlies to save face was to pretend that they were going a different direction all along. You can’t get rejected if you never call the cute guy from the bar in the first place.
It should comfort fans that recent Grizzlies front office decisions point toward a direction that makes sense for the franchise going forward. The Grizzlies have embraced a path that allows them to remain competitive now while acknowledging the need to plan for the future. There are no guarantees of success but for the first time in a long time I can understand why the front office made the choices they did and that is something fans can get behind.