Change, like death and taxes, is inevitable.
Once you embrace that, you can move on.
The Grizzlies have done just that...and thanks especially to the moves made this week, a new era of Memphis Basketball has begun.
Welcome, Brandon Clarke, to Memphis...oh, and Ja Morant too.
The arrival of Morant was already going to theoretically turn the page to that next chapter in the story of Grizzlies basketball. The electric young point guard, and his pairing alongside Jaren Jackson Jr., was determined over a month ago when the Grizzlies got lucky enough to win the right to select Ja at #2 overall via the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. That would’ve been difficult to mess up - while Memphis took calls on #2 (and promptly told people no, according to Grizzlies front office head Zachary Kleiman), and surely explored options like RJ Barrett, the Morrant-Memphis marriage made far too much sense to part with, unless the price that a team was willing to pay was extraordinarily high.
Superstars don’t flock to Memphis...but they can be grown here.
Morant, and even the slightest chance he could be one of the league’s next biggest stars, could not be passed on. But that selection is not the indicator that a new day has dawned for the Grizzlies.
It is Clarke’s selection...and how Memphis got that opportunity in the first place...that should make Grizzlies fans feel something they haven’t in a long time-
With Jaren Jackson Jr. looking on at his new teammate(s) in Brooklyn, the Grizzlies took the past and used it to launch their future. The trade of Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz was all about flexibility. In addition to the arrival of Kyle Korver (who may not ever play a second in Memphis), Jae Crowder (who should be flipped to a contender for assets by the 2020 trade deadline), and Grayson Allen (the most likely to stick around with the Grizzlies, to the dismay of some), the generation of potentially the largest traded player’s exception in NBA history and two first round picks, including #23 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, gave Memphis options it didn’t have prior to the Conley deal.
They used that, and showed they are willing to run with it.
Without the Conley deal there is no chance to trade up for Brandon Clarke, a players whose offensive game is currently limited but has the opportunity to be elite defensively almost immediately in the NBA. Without the trade of our now former conductor, there’s no chance to take advantage of teams hungry for shooters without room for growth elsewhere in their games, or focused on the “upside” of a 19 year old over a proven contributor/role player who may be older but can help in the development of Jaren and Ja.
But it even started before this past Wednesday’s transaction. Without the Marc Gasol trade in February, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to add two players in Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright, who - for the right price (more to come on that) figure to fit in to key role for these young Grizzlies as they find their NBA footing. If Memphis didn’t acquire the 2024 2nd round pick of the Raptors in the deal, perhaps they’re not comfortable parting with their own in the Clarke trade.
Without saying goodbye to our past, we couldn’t have possibly looked ahead to a future that is so much brighter now than it was just six months ago. Six months ago we were debating whether or not the Grizzlies should convey or not convey. Through sheer luck, that debate ended. But the Grizzlies new front office has shown that luck isn’t all that matters.
It’s what you do with it.
Now, Grizzlies fans look ahead to an era that won’t play out in the mud, but through the air. They can see a future where ESPN highlights run of whatever amazing pass Ja Morant made, or finish at the rim Brandon Clarke completed. They can better rationalize a period of time where Memphis will not win many games - playoffs should not be mentioned any time soon - because there is direction. Purpose.
Room for growth, from head coach, to front office, to the players on the floor.
The beautiful irony of this new age is that while the Core Four is no more, the spirit of what made that era so special can live on. Whether purposely or by accident, the two newest running mates of Jaren Jackson Jr. have stories Memphians can relate to. Two under-recruited prospects, two relatively unknown and somewhat under-appreciated at first players nationally that have shown a desire to bust their asses to get better as well as a deep love for the game of basketball. They’re flawed, but they’re willing to work to overcome, adapt, and strive for something greater than what they are now. They embrace the grind, and to this point have displayed true grit.
As dawn breaks on a new day for Grizzlies basketball, the characteristics that make the relationship between Memphis and their NBA team so special and symbiotic will continue to shine. Athleticism replaces what was once the least nimble roster in the league, but it won’t mean the tenacity they brought to the floor will be lost. Likely gone are the days of isolations in the post and on the baseline and the uniqueness of what the Grizzlies circa 2010-2017 were, but that won’t lead to the end of endearing stories of second chances and self-made success.
We have lost Grit and Grind. But now the Grizzlies of the moment will get to write their own Memphis story - one that, if given time to organically grow, can become the greatest of all those that have been told in this great city.
There are lean days, weeks, and months coming. Losing streaks and silly mistakes. But the journey ahead will also be filled with hunger, and ambition, and an intentional pursuit of a culture that can resonate through the ages, like the one that Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley built nearly a decade ago.
Imagine - the 2024 NBA Finals. Game One. Memphis vs. Atlanta (the NBA’s worst nightmare). Before the game, the Core Four - Gasol, Conley, Randolph, and Allen - have assembled on the steps outside of FedExForum as their long-discussed statue is unveiled. A stunning and immortal nod to the men who helped establish Memphis Grizzlies basketball as a force to be reckoned with, that bred a generation of fans who share memories of moments with their children and continue that spread of fandom for a team and their city.
After the unveiling, a standing ovation before the game. One last acknowledgement of the past, before Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and players yet to be Grizzlies take the floor to stake their claim to Memphis, and NBA, history. It is a lofty vision - one that will take more than two trades and a stroke of luck to achieve.
But after the events of this week, the execution of the inevitable change that has finally arrived makes that future much more possible - and worth the work to come to achieve it.