First? Despair, probably, when it was announced that both Mike Conley and Joakim Noah would miss the game, adding to an already crowded injury list. With Noah and Conley out, Memphis was missing seven (!!!) rotation players, including their #1, #3, and #4 scorers on the current roster.
Next? Excitement, seeing the team have success - especially the players brought over in the Marc Gasol trade, Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright. Assuming both players return to Memphis next season - a logic thought, considering what was given up to acquire them - Grizzlies fans should be elated that even if Mike Conley is no longer a Grizzly come opening night, there are players capable of playing against playoff opponents like the Thunder at a high level. It may not mean consistently winning basketball, but it should mean competitive basketball. That’s something to feel optimistic about.
Your final thoughts, however, probably differed, depending on which side of the convey debate you are on. If you’re like me, and you want to send the owed 1st round pick to Boston this summer (largely because you refuse to hate watch Cam Reddish film), it was a big win. Memphis is now only a half game away from being 9th in the standings and guaranteeing one of the following - either a conveyance of the pick, or a selection in the 1st 4 picks of the 2019 NBA draft. Depending on your opinions of Darius Garland or Jarrett Culver, this is a terrific scenario. If, however, you want Memphis to keep the pick this season, every unlikely win drives you further away from that opportunity.
Throughout the events of the evening, though, I personally settled on a new take. One that I have yet to experience regarding this topic, and yet one that makes total sense looking ahead to an uncertain future for the Grizzlies-
It really doesn’t matter...unless the Grizzlies organization looks substantially different by the end of the summer.
The future is not in the hands of Tyler Dorsey or Justin Holiday. They’re good stories, and it is good to see them having success and making the most of their opportunities. But there are reasons they were dealt, and they at best are rotation players moving forward. Not that that doesn’t hold value. Of course it does. A Grizzlies rebuild is not dependent on their ability to develop, however.
The same can be said for most of the current Grizzlies, simply because there is no guarantee they will be around in four months. Even the great Mike Conley, who will likely pass Marc Gasol as the leading scorer in Memphis history the next time he plays for the Grizzlies - hopefully Wednesday night against the Warriors - could very well be sent out via trade this summer. Valanciunas has a player option, Wright is a restricted free agent, and the fact is that while it would take a lot of moving pieces it is possible that only a few of these current Grizzlies are still on the team when training camp opens this September, and most of them are currently inactive for Memphis.
In the absence of roster stability, you look to organizational strength. Sadly, the Grizzlies are not the model for this at the moment. Speculation runs rampant, not because of anything the public relations department has done or the Grind City Media section of the franchise has said. It’s because it has been long overdue, and this could potentially be the opportunity for change to come.
History tells us, though, that we should not hold our breath.
Perhaps it isn’t fair to fire a coaching staff one season in. It’s difficult to make a full judgment of J.B. Bickerstaff with less than a full season of work as the true head coach, especially considering all of the adversity and overturn the team has endured during his time at the helm, even dating back to when he took over for David Fizdale in the 2017-2018 season. If the measurement is record, he has helped this random collection of players come together and win eight games in the 46 days since the trade deadline, and that includes the All-Star Break. Prior to that, it took Memphis 62 days (without a break) to win that many games.
Yet that doesn’t change the fact that a team that was designed to compete for a postseason berth has fallen well short of that initial goal, and the 12-5 start that helped fan the flames of optimism in the hearts and minds of all those that follow Grizzlies basketball.
There is a lack of institutional identity right now in Memphis. To an extent, that is understandable. When something as organic and powerful as Grit and Grind ends - in hindsight with the departures of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen in the summer of 2017 - the space between that and what comes next is often filled with lesser ideas and achievements. That is the way of things, both with historical empires and sports franchises...with some exceptions, like the San Antonio Spurs and New England Patriots, whose culture is dictated by Hall of Fame front office staff and head coaches. Hiring such transcendent leaders is also easier said than done, of course.
Still though - to be truly great, for extended periods of time, it cannot be the players that set the tone for the organization. The organization must establish culture that the players help build and evolve. The franchise must invest in a process to find the right type of people to lead multiple generations of Grizzlies...something that has been ignored largely in Memphis for years.
Ask yourself this question - do you trust that Chris Wallace and J.B. Bickerstaff are capable of doing that? If the answer is no, then there should be a change made.
Now ask yourself this - is majority owner Robert Pera willing, or even capable, of making such a decision?
The reality is we don’t know...but in the limited amount of experience we’ve had with Pera, the answer is quite possibly no.
Perhaps the ownership questions of past years being settled will embolden Pera to make sweeping adjustments. He has had questions regarding his control of the franchise since he bought the team several years ago, and now that his hold on the Grizzlies is more firm he could perhaps see himself as more settled to move on from Wallace and other front office members. Such a move would wake up the franchise, and whether it is an outsider (Shane Battier please) or someone within like a Chris Makris, being out from the Chris Wallace era, whether as a full General Manager or as a spokesperson for the collective front office brain trust, would in and of itself bring about a sense of renewal.
If it means a new coaching staff, so be it.
If it means trading Mike Conley, so be it.
If it means a team that looks drastically different than even the current group, aside from the likes of Jaren Jackson Jr., then so be it.
Because regardless of where you fall on the convey the pick debate, without a new voice leading this franchise whoever makes up the 2019-2020 Memphis Grizzlies will remain without direction. It takes time to develop chemistry, and what made the Core Four of Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley so special was they were allowed to come together naturally. That doesn’t happen over night. But it will never happen when there is no long-term vision.
It becomes easier to execute that vision if you clear your 1st round draft pick ledger this off-season. But even if you don’t, and a Jarrett Culver or Cam Reddish or DeAndre Hunter becomes a Grizzly, what environment are they coming in to?
Currently? A losing one. And there’s no culture to dictate that as part of a process. Instead, it’s a symptom of a larger issue.
That can be altered, but it will take an organizational shift that Robert Pera has been unwilling to undergo to this point.
As the final games of the season play out over the next two weeks, the debate will rage on. To convey or not to convey...that is the question of the moment. Yet regardless of the path the ping pong balls in May at the NBA Draft Lottery, aside from a Zion Williamson miracle there is probably no franchise-altering player that could bring the change needed for the Grizzlies. It must come from up top...and the ironic reality is that with success in terms of conveyance could come the wrong type of stability from a franchise in desperate need of a reset.
Convey, don’t convey, be an agnostic. None of it matters, until what it means to be a Memphis Grizzly is defined. Getting that right will impact Memphis far more than the bouncing of a ball.