As last season mercifully came to an end, it seemed that the Memphis Grizzlies had finally reached a crossroads. Depending on what came next with a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol leading the charge, the Grizzlies would either return to the playoffs once more or inevitably usher in the next era of Memphis basketball through a painful rebuild.
And yet, it’s now a year later, and the future somehow is even murkier than it was a year ago.
Even the #playtoconvey apologists don’t have the clarity to celebrate yet, as the Grizzlies loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday has added another complication in their efforts to convey their top-eight protected pick to Boston. As it stands right now, there is about the same chance as not that the Grizzlies will keep their 2019 pick.
Regardless, the variety and sheer amount of questions that the Grizzlies will face this off-season is seemingly unprecedented. And the answers to these questions will determine what direction they go in their future.
Whether it’s the NFL or the NBA, there are generally three different types of foundational agendas and goals that an organization can have for an upcoming season. The first option is to commence a total rebuild in which the team’s aging or no longer-desired stars are moved for future assets. Although the organization has no intention of winning in the short-term, they make the moves necessary to prioritize long-term success.
The second option, on the other hand, is to simply try to grow and compete with the group that the organization already has. They may make some moves to improve the team, but they are generally confident that they have a competitive group that could soon grow into a title-contender.
And contending for a title is obviously the goal to which every NBA team would love to aspire for every season. This is of course the final agenda that you hope to have, and it generally takes years of team-building, wise decisions, and some luck to reach this final step of the process (or “the Process” as our friends in Philly would call it).
Now here’s a perplexing question: To which group do the Memphis Grizzlies belong?
We can of course go ahead and rule out the title-contending option since Prime Michael Jordan himself could suit up with the Grizzlies next year, and they would have an outside shot of maybe, possibly, winning 50 games.
The truth is that the Grizzlies seem to be caught between the “total rebuild” and “growing and competing” stages (which could honestly describe the hapless state of the franchise for the last two years).
When news broke that both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were on the trading block, it seemed that the Grizzlies were finally committing to a total rebuild. And when they traded Gasol to Toronto, it seemed to be a reality. But the Grizzlies obviously never moved Conley at the deadline, and with him coming off the strongest season of his career, whispers persist that the Grizzlies will retain him for next year.
However, as great of a player as he is, retaining Conley only really makes sense if the vision going forward is to simply reload and try to make a run at the playoffs next season. If you really believe making the playoffs next season should be the top priority (which would be exceedingly stupid, but I digress), then Conley, a top six or seven point guard in the league, still makes the most sense to lead the team.
If you believe that prioritizing the pursuit of long-term assets to build a future around Jaren Jackson Jr. is the best option (in which case, here’s a cookie), then moving Conley, whom will likely be in high demand from teams like the Lakers and Jazz, is the smartest move.
Regardless, Conley’s future is the Grizzlies’ lynch-pin for all the other moves that they will make, including the futures of Avery Bradley and Jonas Valanciunas.
Now this all wouldn’t be such an infuriating conundrum if we had any idea what the vision going forward for the Grizzlies is, or whose vision it even is. In my opinion, it’s far from a guarantee that Robert Pera will retain Chris Wallace as general manager during the off-season. It may be a sign of the end times if it happens, but with recent firings around the league for persistent mediocrity like Dell Demps in New Orleans and Ernie Grunfeld in Washington, Pera may feel pressure to go ahead and pull the trigger.
It may be as simple as this: If Wallace is retained, then an all-in effort to reload next year with Mike Conley still in-tow would certainly fit his MO for lack of forward thinking. But if Pera brings in someone new, then that new person will likely have a fresh vision for the franchise—one much more in line with a complete rebuild and a chance to work with a clean slate.
It goes without saying that the Memphis Grizzlies are stuck between a rock and a hard place no matter what they eventually decide to do. If they decide to trade Conley and commit to a total rebuild, then they are basically committing to likely irrelevance and being one of the worst teams in the league over at least the next 2-3 years. As Site Manager Joe Mullinax said a few weeks ago, it will be rough. If they decide to keep Conley and essentially run it back, they may be more competitive and fun to watch in the short-term, but they will likely find themselves in the same continuous hell of mediocrity that has become the home to teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons.
So what is next for the Memphis Grizzlies?
Your guess is as good as mine.