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The joy of imperfection in Memphis

Shades of a blissful past exist in an uncertain future for the Memphis Grizzlies.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The world around us is uncertain.

Try as we might to control the circumstances of our lives, there will always be happenings that are beyond our control, beyond our ability to plan. It is a frustrating aspect of existence, but it is true all the same.

The world is also not black and white, but rather colored in shades of grey. Of course, it would be easy to go about our lives always equipped with the knowledge of what is a wise decision and what is a poor one. But the decisions that define us are rarely that simple. Sometimes, the decisions that define us come down to a shot in the dark. An optimistic hope that everything in spite of overwhelming adversity will work out.

However, it can sometimes truly be beautiful when a plan, even if it may seem to be an incoherent shot in the dark, begins to come together. When it does, the world is no longer shaded in grey. And an uncertain future becomes one that is defined by conviction and heart.

You might even say...grit.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This has happened for the Memphis Grizzlies once before. In the aftermath of the terrible Pau Gasol trade in 2008 (and yes, it was a terrible trade at that time considering that former number one pick and constant Kobe Bryant bully victim Kwame Brown was the centerpiece of that trade), the Grizzlies were left with almost nothing tangible to build around. After all, Brown and Javaris Crittenton (which the less said about him, the better) hardly served as building blocks for a rebuild. And the two first round picks they received, who would become Donte Green and the fabled Greivis Vasquez, hardly served as one either.

They were truly left with no real prospects from which to rebuild to greatness. And without the organizational excellence of Jerry West, who retired as the Grizzlies’ general manager in 2007, the prospects of a small-market franchise that had still never won a playoff game to this point becoming a perennial playoff contender seemed bleak.

Yet as absurd as it was, it all managed to come together over the course of three years.

No one could have expected that one of those second round picks the Grizzlies received in the infamous Pau Gasol trade would become arguably the best true center of this decade in his brother Marc Gasol.

No one could have expected that the young troubled power forward that they traded for in Zach Randolph would become the most dominant player in franchise history.

No one could have expected that a one-dimensional journeyman in Tony Allen, who in his own words, wondered if he would ever be heard from again after signing with the Grizzlies, would also come to define a city with his play and his words as well.

“All heart. Grit. Grind”

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

And of course, let’s not forget the longest tenured current Grizzly in Mike Conley, who even though was the 4th pick in the 2007 NBA draft, had about the longest developmental curve of any NBA star outside of Steve Nash.

I say all of this to paint the proper picture of the Grit ‘N’ Grind era in Memphis: It was a beautiful imperfection. A mess of unique parts that didn’t really seem to fit together, but when they did, they formed a foundation of future excellence. And most importantly, these unique parts formed a cohesive identity that was both cultural and spiritual. To put it simply, it was an era of Grizzlies basketball that defined what the city of Memphis truly is.

With Marc Gasol traded to Toronto and Mike Conley the last remaining member of the Core Four, that era of Grizzlies’ basketball is now over. Yet a new one is just beginning.

Now it is very possible that most of the pieces that the Grizzlies received at the trade deadline (Jonas Valanciunas, Avery Bradley, Delon Wright, and CJ Miles) will not be apart of the Grizzlies’ long-term future. The Grizzlies certainly didn’t receive much in the way of future assets outside of a 2024 2nd round pick from Toronto, and they might try to flip some of these players for more future assets.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

However, what if some or most of these players are apart of the Grizzlies’ new core?

If they are, then they give echoes of a now dead era of Grizzlies basketball—not necessarily in how they play, but in how they fit together imperfectly. Valanciunas and Bradley are two very good players (advanced stats be damned for Bradley) who were no longer thriving with their respective teams because of role and fit. Delon Wright very well could have already been one of the best backup point guards in the league if he hadn’t already been playing behind Fred Van Fleet in Toronto, who is the best backup point guard in the league.

Much like Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, these three are all talented players who are in need of a change of scenery. And they now have that in Memphis. At 28, Avery Bradley is the same age Tony Allen was when he first came to Memphis. Valanciunas is a more offensively dominant player than Marc Gasol was at his age (26), and he has shown that so far in his stint with the Grizzlies (18.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.4 APG in just 25 minutes per contest).

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Will this group be able to thrive if it stays together? I believe that they can, even if they haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire lately outside of a thrilling win over the hapless Los Angeles Lakers. It’s important to remember that the Grizzlies will get Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, and Dillon Brooks back next year. If they don’t convey the pick, which looks more and more likely at this point, they also will add a top eight pick to the mix. With the possible return of Mike Conley, the Grizzlies could have a team that could make some noise next year.

And as improbable as it may seem, this imperfect mix of players that echoes a bygone era in Memphis could be the foundation of the next era for the Memphis Grizzlies.