“The narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone. I think that’s old and we should move past that. Believe in this city. Believe in yourselves.”
In the aftermath of the Kawhi Leonard trade, Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri was emphatic that good was no longer good enough for their organization. He recognized that complacency was the enemy of greatness and that the people of Toronto should expect more.
As a result, the Toronto Raptors are now one game away from winning their first championship in franchise history. The risk that the Raptors took to achieve greatness paid off—and it’s one that the Memphis Grizzlies should seek to emulate.
Of course, the Grizzlies do not have the assets or the circumstances necessary to trade for a one-year rental superstar (Anthony Davis?) as an all-in attempt to win it all. However, they should seek to emulate the philosophy of risk-taking that the Raptors exemplified this past summer.
While the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors are distinctly different in market size, they are significantly similar in that they are both not seen as premier free agent destinations. To acquire top-tier talent, teams like the Grizzlies and Raptors have to do one of two things: They must either build through the draft, or they must use whatever assets that they have to make a blockbuster trade.
Sometimes, success in option one can lead to future success in option two, as the Raptors were able to use DeMar Derozan, an all-star caliber player that they drafted, as their primary asset in trading for Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.
It goes without saying that the Grizzlies do not have the assets to make a similar maneuver for a player like Anthony Davis (not to mention that it also would hardly move their needle towards title contention even if that somehow became a reality). The draft, and this draft in particular since the Grizzlies will more likely than not convey their 2020 first-round pick to Boston, will be their best bet in adding possible superstar talent, whether that be in the form of Ja Morant or R.J. Barrett.
However, although the Grizzlies may not have the ability or desire to make a similar risky gambit like the Raptors, they should still seek to be bold with the smaller opportunities that they do have.
One example could be found in a potential Mike Conley trade. As of right now, it’s a near certainty that the Grizzlies will trade him, but the timing of it could be anything from now until after the other key players of free agency sign with their teams. As Parker Fleming postulated yesterday, let’s say for the sake of this exercise that the Grizzlies trade Conley to the Boston Celtics for Gordon Hayward and the 14th pick. The question obviously becomes whom they should select with the 14th pick.
With the 2nd pick and a more aggressive philosophy in hand, upside should be the focus of this pick or any other lottery pick that the Grizzlies could hypothetically receive in a Conley deal. Think about it: With an already incredible talent in Jaren Jackson Jr. as well as another possibly transcendent talent in Morant/Barrett, the Grizzlies already have their two main building blocks for their rebuild.
With that in mind, the Grizzlies can afford to miss on the 14th pick. Yet the leeway that they have to miss on that pick also gives them the flexibility to swing for the fences on it as well. With the 14th pick, players like Jaxson Hayes and Romeo Langford will likely be at the top of many teams’ draft boards, since they project as effective role players that can help your team immediately. But for the Grizzlies, upside—and the calculated risk that comes with it— should be more of a concern with this hypothetical pick than immediate production.
Instead of players like Hayes or Langford, the Grizzlies should prioritize “riskier” players that have greater overall upside. Sekou Doumbouya, on whom I wrote a scouting profile two weeks ago, should definitely be in consideration, as he is an 18-year-old phenom with a smooth shooting stroke that also has absurdly similar physical measurements to Pascal Siakam. Bol Bol, the 7’3” center from Oregon who averaged 21 points and 9 rebounds while shooting 52% from three in 10 games this past year, is also a potential unicorn that the Grizzlies should consider despite his injury history and possible character issues.
The rationale behind this outside an intentional desire to be bold is simple: If the Grizzlies select a player that projects as a role player to fit beside Jaren Jackson and Morant/Barrett, then they will most likely receive that outcome. That is perfectly fine. However, if the Grizzlies decide to “risk it all” with the 14th pick or another one in the latter part of the lottery—and that player becomes an all-star or even transcendent talent—then they have more than just a solid core to build around. They probably have the makings of a title contender in 4-5 years.
Of course, such a decision does carry more risk of not working out, but it’s those type of swings that the Memphis Grizzlies will need to make in order to eventually make it to the upper echelon of title contention. The stars have not nor will they ever simply align for the Grizzlies to become a championship-caliber team—they will have to make the difficult decisions and choices to bring the stars to them.
The foundation of the last era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball was founded on risk. If that wasn’t the case, then Zach Randolph probably never suits up in the Beale Street Blue. And if risk was the foundation for the last great Grizzlies team, it will likely have to be so for the next one as well.
Such is the lot for the NBA’s forgotten franchises with Canadian roots.