Thursday, April 11th, 2019 will go down in history for the Memphis Grizzlies franchise.
It was a day of hope in a few ways, as controlling owner Robert Pera recognized the issues that many fans and media alike had been pointing out for a long time and rearranged basketball operations. Chris Wallace - who likely already had a reduced role behind the scenes - was officially demoted, and Jason Wexler and Zachary Kleiman were promoted to oversee the organization’s on the court progress moving forward (with more hires likely to come). Perhaps more controversially, J.B. Bickerstaff was also relieved of his duties as head coach. While Bickerstaff had his supporters, the team struggled mightily with in-game adjustments (18 double-digit leads lost) and J.B. never found his footing when it came to scheme and developing his own coaching abilities.
To do all this after a morning media availability where both spoke of a future that Pera knew they would not be a part of is questionable at best, despicable at worst. But the deed has been done...one that most agree needed to happen.
To break down some of the pressing questions both behind and ahead for Memphis, I have assembled 12 (yes, 12) of our terrific staffers here at GBB in a two-part Roundtable. GBB Associate Editor Jack Noonan, GBB Senior Writers Parker Fleming, Brandon Abraham, McCarty Maxwell, and Greg Ratliff, and GBB Writer Lauren Harvey are with us for Part I, where we tackle the events of yesterday as well as the Gasol trade and favorite new Grizzly faces.
Was there a “winner” in the Marc Gasol trade this season?
GBB Associate Editor Jack Noonan: I’m not really sure there was a winner of the Marc Gasol trade, and it isn’t because both teams gained from it. For the Grizzlies, what if Jonas Valanciunas opts out, Delon Wright is paid more than the Grizzlies can match as a restricted free agent, and C.J. Miles opts in having to pay him 8 million dollars next year. All have a possibiloty of happening, and then the trade looks terrible going forward for Memphis. For the Raptors, what if (and probably will) they have to pay a 34-year-old center 25 million dollars next season when he opts in who mainly comes off the bench. In a few short months, this trade could be seen as a negative for both teams.
GBB Senior Writer Parker Fleming: There isn’t a clear “winner” in this trade, as these teams had clearly different objectives in completing this transaction. With Memphis, they found two players that are battle-tested in ultra-competitive playoff games, which could be huge for Jaren Jackson Jr.’s development. Toronto acquired a multi-time All-Star with playoff experience, hoping that his two-way brilliance and his superb playmaking can finally bring a championship up North. If Toronto misses out on the Finals, and both Kawhi and Marc walk this summer, Memphis might look like the winner. On the other hand, it’s a calculated risk the Raptors needed to take, given the Kawhi situation.
GBB Senior Writer Brandon Abraham: I think both teams were winners in the Gasol trade. Valunciunas and Wright look like legitimate pieces of the future for the Grizzlies and while the box score doesn’t look great for Marc, he’s had a positive impact in Toronto as well and should be critical in their playoff success.
GBB Senior Writer McCarty Maxwell: Memphis won IF Jonas comes back next season, even if it is just for one year. If JV doesn’t come back, then I’ll call it a wash. Gasol has played well for the Raptors, but it was clear he needed to move on from Memphis. JV played out of his mind for the Grizzlies, and to the surprise of many, so let’s call it a win.
GBB Senior Writer Greg Ratliff: Assuming that Jonas Valanciunas picks up his player option, no I don’t think there is as of now. If Toronto wins the championship, then I guess you could call them the winner. If you don’t convey the pick, and everyone you acquired from Toronto re-ups for 2019-20, you definitely can’t call Memphis the winner.
GBB Writer Lauren Harvey: Both teams benefited. Marc hasn’t put up monster numbers but the Raptors are a better team when he is on the court, particularly sharing the ball. The Grizzlies were able to pick up some useful pieces that may or may not be a part of the future. If Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright are retained on reasonable deals and can match their end of the year production both teams won.
What is your immediate reaction to the decisions made in the Grizzlies front office?
Noonan: My immediate reaction was immediate relief for Grizz Nation and the team moving forward. Chris Wallace had been GM for too long. This decision was overdue, but at least now, if anything, they can shake things up building for future success. They still do not have the front office experience, but over time, they will hopefully build a coaching staff and front office to make the correct decisions.
Fleming: It’s a step in the right direction. Honestly, none of the moves -- aside from the Tyreke trade and the botched trade -- have been terrible. In fact, they’ve actually been great. It just leaves me wondering what’s next. Who will they target as a head coach? And, who will surround Wexler and Kleiman in the front office?
Abraham: My immediate reaction is that it is the right move, but handled poorly. I think it’s a bad look to send Wallace and J.B. out to do the exit interviews for media and then fire them afterword. The internal business should be handled before external business.
Maxwell: I’m confused as to why Chris Wallace is still affiliated with and paid by the Memphis Grizzlies. It seems like they fired Wallace because a lot of people wanted that, but that they still find value in him. He has never been a consistent talent evaluator, so I don’t understand why scouting is now his number one role.
Ratliff: Was it handled appropriately? Probably not. We don’t 100% know what happened and probably never will. But it was a move that needed to be made as you try to move the franchise forward.
Harvey: Like much of what has transpired with the franchise recently I had mixed reactions. Changes obviously needed to happen but the manner in which it was done benefited no one, not the players, not the fans, not J.B. or Chris Wallace and certainly not the new front office. I also question promoting from within rather than bringing in someone with a fresh perspective.
What should the Grizzlies look for in their next head coach?
Noonan: The Grizzlies should look for experienced NBA assistants that have been working under a solid basketball infrastructure. While the “assistant” word may concern some people, it is important to bring in someone who knows a basketball culture that the Grizzlies should want to emulate. A few early names that I feel would be a good fit is Jay Larranaga from the Celtics or Wes Unseld Jr. from the Nuggets. Both these names are assistant from great organizational situations that could help bring some stability to the Grizzlies.
Fleming: They need someone with legitimate head coaching experience. For one, I’d wait until some of these playoff teams fire coaches and try to swoop one up there -- Billy Donovan, maybe. In addition, I’d try to acquire a coach in the college ranks, even though most of the top-notch guys are going to stay. If I had to give a name for the next Grizzlies head coach, I’d roll with Monty Williams, a coach that’s been to the playoffs and is very respected around the league.
Abraham: I think player development should be a major focus when looking for the next head coach. With a mostly young team, the Grizzlies need to hire someone who can develop guys like Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Delon Wright and Valunciunas.
Maxwell: Memphis needs a coach that can compete schematically. One of the biggest flaws recently is closing out games and/or blowing large leads. This team needs someone that can draw up effective plays and counter other teams’ tactics. The Grizzlies have to catch up with the rest of the league in terms of pace and style, a coach that is committed to doing that is a step in the right direction.
Ratliff; Someone that will get along with Jaren Jackson Jr. and understands that Jaren needs to be the focal point of what they do. I won’t go as far as some others have said and say they need a former head coach but that’s where I would start the search.
Harvey: Someone that is able to develop young talent and the front office can commit to. The coaching turnover rate cannot continue if the franchise wants to lose its ‘dysfunctional’ label. The good news is getting along with Marc or Mike will no longer be of consideration so the franchise can start fresh. Also, maybe an actual search with an interview process would be nice.
Which new Grizzly this season (not named Jaren) has the brightest future in Memphis?
Noonan: I would have to say Kyle Anderson. He is one of the only new Grizzlies that are for sure staying until next season that was not drafted by the Grizzlies. Anderson, though, played a huge role in the Grizzlies early success. He contributed tremendously outside of just the box score. It was the defensive end where his value was added. Once he gets back to 100%, he should fit back in nicely to this roster.
Fleming: Do I have to answer here? I want to see if Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson can bounce back post-injury. Jevon Carter and Tyler Dorsey had a nice close to the season, but they don’t project to be more than fringe rotation players. Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright are too up there in age to have the “brightest future.” If I had to give a answer, it’s Bruno Caboclo, as he has the skill set on both ends to be a valuable 3-and-D rotation player -- maybe a poor man’s Robert Covington -- next to Jaren. With his fearless offensive game, and his defensive versatility, the Grizzlies could’ve found themselves a diamond in the rough.
Abraham: I think Delon Wright has the brightest future in Memphis, regardless of what happens with Mike Conley. The Grizzlies have the chance to lock Wright up long term this offseason and his ability to play both guard positions and stick around for awhile gives him the brightest future. The triple-doubles are cool too!
Maxwell: Delon Wright is magic. I won’t curse him by naming him a quality back up PG, that’s a career ending statement coming from a Memphis fan. But he is really fun to watch and seems to be comfortable on this roster. I hope he can carry the momentum into next season and find his role to grab significant minutes. If they let him loose like they did to close the season, he has a really bright future.
Ratliff: Delon Wright definitely raised his profile with the way he played the last few weeks of the season. While I don’t expect that to be the norm going forward, it could be the shot of confidence he needs to be a more consistent and important rotation player. Barring anything crazy happening, I still see Delon as the only member of that trade having a long-term career in Memphis.
Harvey: Jonas Valanciunas, I am not sure how the shake up has changed his perception of the organization but he is already a fan favorite and genuinely seems to like playing for the Grizzlies. Unfortunately, we did not get to see him play with Jaren however in theory their games complement each other well. It seems a long term deal would be easy to get done, at the same time nothing is easy with the Grizzlies.
Thanks to Jack, Parker, Brandon, McCarty, Greg, and Lauren for participating in Part I of our Roundtable! Click here to check out Part II, where six more GBBers look ahead to what should be an intense off-season for the Memphis Grizzlies.