As the city of Memphis and every fan of the Grizzlies wakes up today after the euphoric high of “winning” the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery, moving up six spots to the #2 spot in next month’s draft, the march toward the future of the franchise feels more like a skip than a trudge.
Sure, the conveyance of the 1st round pick to the Boston Celtics will have to wait another year (more on that in a moment). Yet even with that slightly frustrating debate continuing for another 12 months, the idea of Memphis welcoming another elite basketball talent to the Grizzlies to be the running mate of Jaren Jackson Jr. hopefully for years to come is tantalizing and almost too good to be true.
But it is true, Memphis. It happened. It isn’t Zion Williamson, but it’ll do.
Now? The follow through, which will mean more in the long run than the random bouncing of ping pong balls...although it was nice to feel lucky for once.
Here’s what to watch for in the weeks ahead.
Morant or Barrett?
You thought convey vs. don’t convey was frustrating?
Get ready...this one is going to be FUN.
On the surface, Murray State’s Ja Morant is the clear choice for Memphis at #2 overall. The point guard position is (arguably) the most important one in the modern NBA, with so many top teams having dominant guards capable of running in transition and creating off the dribble for themselves and their teammates. Morant excels in both of those areas, and while he doesn’t have the physical size of a Russell Westbrook he definitely has his ability to explode and finish.
So what’s the hold up? Morant’s shooting form is questionable, and his defense is...well, not the best. He comes from Murray State, a place where the competition wasn’t exactly the best, and the Grizzlies could also use a wing with the scoring mentality and ability to perform early at a high level like RJ Barrett. Barrett was widely considered the early favorite to be the #1 overall pick when the college season began...until Zion happened. It’s not because Barrett was bad - he was consistently dominant as a scorer in the ACC, the best conference in the country.
Williamson was just better.
Will Morant be the man for Memphis? Probably...and that’ll probably be the right pick. But it’s not a no-brainer. Hopefully the Grizzlies “brain trust” is debating and becomes better for having the conversation. It’s a decent test of your scouting department - Zion would’ve been easy.
What to do with Mike Conley...and the #2 pick?
Memphis has more flexibility today than they did just 24 hours ago. With the #2 pick in hand, they have reasonable arguments to both trade, and keep, Mike Conley. More will be written on this moving forward, but essentially if Memphis wants to fully restart and draft Morant without Mike in their plans, they can move on from Conley and send him to whichever contending team can piece together the best offer. It’s a win-win: you reward Mike for being the “good soldier” while also having an opening to part with the franchise’s leading scorer and not have too many fans upset by the decision - oh, and get some good assets in return. The Morant jerseys will make up for missing Mike, to an extent.
But being at #2 makes a Barrett pick possible...and with the conveying of the 1st round pick to Boston still hanging over the heads of the Grizzlies, a selection of Barrett and keeping Conley - while not perhaps the correct long-term move - can be argued for.
If it’s not the right decision long-term, why bring it up?
Maximizing the Conley trade value should be a priority moving forward. Whatever return you get, alongside the choice at #2 overall and Jaren, are your core whether it is formed this year, next year, or years from now depending on return. Getting the most out of Mike’s trade worth to another team depends on just how realistic it is that the Grizzlies could keep him...and that Memphis could take Barrett.
That also matters for the #2 overall pick in general. The New York Knicks, for example, almost certainly prefer Barrett over Morant - they have Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster and figure to keep Emmanuel Mudiay, plus they’re in play for both Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker in free agency. If you as the Grizzlies can convince New York you are seriously considering Barrett at #2, and keeping Conley, you could get the Knicks pick at #3 via trade, another asset or two, and still get your man in Morant.
It’s all in the sales pitch. Here’s to hoping Zachary Kleiman and Jason Wexler execute that side of this over the next month.
Who is the next head coach?
The Grizzlies head coaching job just got a hell of a lot more attractive.
Memphis now has the opportunity to coach the #2 overall selection in addition to noted unicorn Jaren Jackson Jr. as a sweetener in any negotiation with a potential coach. While Sam Cassell, pictured above, has not been mentioned in any Grizzlies coaching rumors yet, he’d be a terrific mentor to Ja Morant. Perhaps Cassell was out of the Grizzlies league a week ago, but the talent potential just jumped up a good but in Memphis. If the Grizzlies are willing to - for the first time in a long time - invest in the coaching position, even better candidates than those already interviewed should be in the mix now.
Look for this decision to be made in the next couple of weeks. While the head coach isn’t necessary while constructing a draft board, it would be nice to have their input as to who to take and how their schemes would fit a Morant or Barrett pick and whatever return you receive in a Conley trade. With the Lottery in the rear view mirror now, the hiring process can go in to hyper drive.
These topics, and much more, will be explored more and more in the weeks ahead. Continue to make Grizzly Bear Blues your source for the best, most consistent and complete Grizzlies coverage as we do prospect breakdowns, Mike Conley trade value analysis, and coaching search updates.
Enjoy this, Memphis. The sun shines a little brighter on your Grizzlies today...and boy, did we need the light.