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Stop trying to kill the Memphis Grizzlies

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It’s not cute.

2019 NBA Awards Show Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The death of Memphis Grizzlies basketball is unlikely to occur.

If some in the national media had their way, however, it would be swift and merciless.

Throughout the history of the Grizzlies organization, whenever the team reached its highest peaks, it was built more often than not through two means - trades, and the NBA Draft.

Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Jason Williams, Rudy Gay, Mike Miller - all acquired by trade.

Mike Conley, Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, Stromile Swift, Shareef Abdur-Raheem - all drafted by the organization. Battier was re-acquired by trade, in fact, later in his NBA career - so he fits in both boxes.

The best free agent in Memphis Grizzlies history? Tony Allen.

Tony. Freaking. Allen. And the guy that was supposed to hold that distinction, Chandler Parsons, has become a laughing stock for how bad the contract is...a contract that Memphis had to offer just to be in the running for Chandler Parsons.

Allen is a player that probably wouldn’t have ever had the career he did anywhere else but Memphis, because he likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to impact a franchise the way he did anywhere but Memphis. Boston loved him, but he was a niche player. A “fun story”.

In Memphis, Tennessee, he is a damn legend. A jersey hanging in the rafters.

If some in larger NBA circles had their way, TA wouldn’t have had a team to become an icon on.

2016-17 Memphis Grizzlies Team Photo
Only one came by free agency...arguably the worst one.
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Every year, national NBA media has the opportunity to wax poetic about how they would change the way the National Basketball Association operates in the offseason. You know - because the league that has the best offseason of any major North American league really needs a bunch of tinkering. Some of the ideas, in fairness, are good ones. Rearranging the NBA year, for example, so players like De’Andre Hunter and Brandon Clarke don’t have to walk across the stage wearing the hat of a squad they likely will never play for after those picks have been traded would be a start.

But then you get the REAL deep dives in to making the league even more “player friendly”.

Abolish the NBA Draft!

Free agency is a sham!

You can find all sorts of articles about why the current way is bad, and how giving players complete and total autonomy over their decision making process is the “right way” to do things.

It’s bullshit.

You’ll notice, in most of these fun and well-structured posts by people far better at writing than I will ever be, that the by-lines and locations/places previously worked of these folks usually (not always, but usually) have similar geographic locations.

New York.

Los Angeles.

Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco from time to time. But more often than not, it comes from the “city that never sleeps” or “LA-LA land”.

Of course the best players, whether they’re free agents or “amateurs” entering the league, should be allowed to choose where they would play in their minds. They’d choose, in a completely unregulated system, those cities.

Who would choose different?

Leave the “if you’re a well-run organization, they’ll come to you!” arguments somewhere else, because that’s not true. The Utah Jazz, a team most have as a potential NBA Finals contender in 2020, drafted Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, who almost certainly would not have had Utah #1 on their “desired franchises” lists. They then traded for Mike Conley, giving up multiple future assets because they wouldn’t be players in free agency for the Kyrie Irvings of the world.

Los Angeles Lakers Introduce Frank Vogel - Press Conference Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Meanwhile, a dumpster fire of an organization for multiple reasons - the Los Angeles Lakers - now has both Anthony Davis and LeBron James at their disposal, and are potentially about to add Kawhi Leonard. Three of the top seven (or so) players in the entire NBA, on the same team...and two of which will be coming to the Lakers via free agency. Not because of the structure of their franchise. Not because of the “culture” that was built by the brilliant mind of Rob Pelinka.

Because it is L.A. The “brand”. The spotlight. The geographical location. That is why.

It’s because of this elitist mentality that SURELY the Memphis Grizzlies will just buy out Andre Iguodala and allow for him to come to the Lakers. “Iguodala doesn’t want to play there anyway”, they say. Just let him walk. Let him live his best life on the best coast!

No.

He signed a contract and is making more money in one year than most humans will ever make in their lifetimes. He may very well be bought out, but it should only be done when every other avenue is exhausted - as detailed here. While the Grizzlies front office took advantage of the mighty Golden State Warriors’ desperation to get a 1st round pick to get Iggy on the roster, that doesn’t mean they should just waive him without trying to acquire an additional return.

(Insert blank L.A. or New York stares here).

Memphis is the smallest market in the NBA. Memphis is landlocked geographically and is one of the least desirable places regarding location in the NBA. The Grizzlies could be run by the most brilliant General Manager in history and coached by the brain child of John Wooden and Pat Summitt and, in a truly level situation, would be beat by at least half the other NBA markets head to head. If not more.

That’s why there’s a draft, structured the way it is for competitive balance.

That’s why there are trades, so that smart front offices (like Memphis now apparently has) can use the tools at their disposal to be a strong franchise.

Because no matter what Memphis does, it won’t be equal. And in a system where players had complete control, the Grizzlies would have to completely cripple their franchise in terms of cap just to bring in a free agent, be they a rookie or veteran.

Want to get rid of that? Eliminate 14 teams from the league and only have the Knicks, Nets, Lakers, Clippers, Bulls, 76ers, Mavericks, Wizards, Rockets, Celtics, Hawks, Suns, Pistons, Raptors (for the international flavor, not necessarily market size), Heat (moved to Tampa) and Nuggets (moved to Seattle). That way the top TV media markets in the nation (according to Nielsen) are all represented, and players can get the best opportunities to build their “brands” in the largest/”best” cities around.

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

“That will mean former NBA champions like the Spurs, Cavaliers, and Trail Blazers will no longer be in the league!” Small markets that won in part because of the draft (Tim Duncan, the drafted-then-returned-because he-was-born-around-Cleveland LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, David Robinson, and Bill Walton) and trades (Kevin Love and Maurice Lucas). They should’ve existed in larger, more attractive places.

“That will eliminate almost half the jobs!” Then expand rosters to 20, since the season is too long any way (another offseason rallying cry...but making less money isn’t an option!)

Are there exceptions? Of course - Robinson and Duncan spent their entire careers in San Antonio, evidence that competency can, and will, be rewarded. Paul George staying with the Thunder is a more recent example of “culture” beating the allure of larger markets. But they have to get there first, and the Spurs and others are indeed the exceptions - Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are heading to Brooklyn. Kawhi may be a Laker by the time you read this. Stars are aligning in these larger markets...despite this system being so “against them”.

And despite all this competitive balance, the NBA is arguably the least parity-filled league of them all. And you want to make that worse?

Conley, Randolph, and Gasol are exceptions in their own right. While not superstars, they each had the opportunity to leave and they chose to stay. But Gasol and Conley got player-friendly contracts, and Randolph had already made a lot of money in the NBA and chose to be a Memphis legend/focus of scheme over going to another squad. They all remained in Memphis...but would they have chosen Memphis to begin with?

Chances are, probably not.

So stop it with the “complete player freedom” while also choosing to conveniently look away from the consequences. While there are varying levels to improving the current way of things - a system similar to what medical students/future doctors go through in terms of placements could be intriguing and a compromise - the teams that would be punished are the ones that do not have the natural advantages that larger markets have.

The current way of things allows for that playing field to level a bit - for teams like the Grizzlies to have a chance to prove to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. that Memphis has a lot to offer, and that they can run the team effectively, while they are compensated well. From there, there are levels of team control - and larger player compensation - that give more freedom for individual choice for players while also giving them financial incentive to stay right where they are. If Zachary Kleiman and company do their jobs - like the Spurs before them - they will have (hopefully) terrific players for years to come, and perhaps their whole careers.

If not? They will leave, either via trade like Anthony Davis or in free agency eventually, but not before after making potentially over $200 million for nine years of work.

You don’t like that Zion Williamson isn’t a member of the New York Knicks? Think he, or any other player should have had the opportunity to choose his market from the beginning? Fine.

But don’t ignore what that would mean for Memphis and their Grizzlies. And you may not miss them...but we would.

Follow @sbngrizzlies