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In search of the next great Grizzlies rivalry

Finding a new rival for the new-look, new era Memphis Grizzlies

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are undoubtedly entering a new era. The incoming rookie Ja Morant and second-year stud Jaren Jackson Jr. have been the signals this new era has arrived. But the final nail in the coffin that is the previous era was the trading of Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz.

Why? Because now every Grizzlies rivalry is dead. Including the biggest one of them all, the rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers, even before this huge summer for them, were a completely different team than the one that went to battle with the Grizzlies time and time again in the playoffs. After this summer, the Grizzlies’ sole link to that rivalry plays for a different team and the Clippers are title favorites while Memphis will be looking for solid improvement and another good draft pick in 2020. Same goes for the Thunder, who had a rivalry with Memphis which lasted all the way until Memphis quietly fell out of the playoffs. The “rivalry” with both teams just do not exist anymore.

Now, the goal is to find new rivals. Rivals for the long-term. Rivals we can write home about to Ma and Pa. Let’s get to it.

4. Oklahoma City

This is ranked last because a lot is in flux in Oklahoma City, but a couple of things are leaning into reigniting this rivalry: Chris Paul and history.

What better rival to have than a combination of your two greatest rivals? All the stuff we know and hate about Chris Paul on a team that still has known-punch-and-kick-taker Steven Adams. I’m sure when push comes to shove, literally, Memphis will find a lot to dislike about this OKC team. I haven’t mentioned anything about Chris Paul except his name and I know that’s enough of a reason to earn them a spot on this list. I was going to do a top-3, but here I am with an awkwardly numbered top-4 because Chris Paul forced my hand.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Then include the fact that they were the standard-bearer for “how to get superstars in a small-market” and absolutely torched it. Sam Presti, with some luck and some smart moves, got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Paul George over the past decade and has one (1) Finals appearance to show for it. OKC ruined it for the rest of us. Since Presti caves so easily on the mechaninations of the luxury tax (Harden) or the whims of a player still signed for two more seasons (George), why wouldn’t any other GM?

The floodgates have been open on player movement for a while, but Sam Presti just put a doorstop down to keep it wedged open. A victory against the Thunder is a victory for the league.

Picking a Fight

If Sam Presti was this much of a pushover in 2014, Memphis should have asked politely if Oklahoma City would kindly lose game 7 of that first-round series against the Grizzlies.

Also, cool team name that has nothing to do with the city....NOT. That’s OUR thing. But at least our name made sense in our old city. OKC CHANGED their name to the Thunder when they moved from Seattle. You know, the famous thunder of Oklahoma that we all know and love. Next thing you know they’re gonna put a team in Utah and call something like “The Jazz.”

3. Dallas

Luka Dončić is a prodigy and Kristaps Porzingis shows all the talent in the world. They are very worthy--and perhaps better--duo than Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Dallas also shares a division with Memphis, guaranteeing four games against them every year, even more if they meet in the playoffs.

Despite being division-mates, there hasn’t been too much of a rivalry between the two teams. Mainly because it is rare when both teams are good at the same time. They haven’t made the playoffs in the same year since 2015-16. Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors, won two titles and two Finals MVPs, and left the Warriors in that same timespan. That’s a lifetime ago is what I’m saying.

Now that that bum Dirk Nowitzki is done dragging the Mavericks into the sewer, they can really start winning some ball games. But there is a reason a division rival is ranked so relatively low. I’m not entirely sure Dallas can hold up their end of the bargain. Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle have been riding that 2011 high for 8 years and haven’t really done anything since. Memphis have made the conference finals more recently, lol.

Picking a Fight

They would be higher if they could be taken seriously at all. Rick Carlisle is this supposed coaching wizard that always wills his team to success despite having a .481 winning percentage and 0 playoff series victories since winning the title in 2011. J.B. Bickerstaff have the same amount of playoff series wins in that timespan, that’s a fact.

2. New Orleans

Like Dallas, there would be a lot of time to get familiar with the Pelicans. Being division-mates guarantees at least four games a season to let tensions build up.

Of course, a driving storyline would be Zion vs. Ja. The #1 and #2 picks of the 2019 draft going head-to-head would be a story, even if the true matchup would be Jaren vs. Zion.

The Pelicans rebuild has been almost immediate. I wouldn’t guarantee a playoff berth, but they already seem more established than the Grizzlies as Jrue Holiday remains a Pelican. They aren’t necessarily on the same timeline, which might make this a hard “rivalry” to get off the ground if they keep making the playoffs as we slowly improve.

But this is a lay-up of a rivalry. Two geographically close teams, in small markets, with young prospects leading the way. If New Orleans and Memphis both come out on the other end of their rebuilds as playoff teams, it could be the rivalry of the division the way Spurs-Mavericks dominated the 2000s. While it isn’t my number one choice, this feels like a rivalry that might happen no matter what.

Picking a Fight

The King Cake Baby should face punishment for his crimes.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

1. Atlanta

This is the most high-end possible rivalry for the Grizzlies. The two franchises share a lot of similarities, a rebuilding timeline, and a deep love for Vince Carter. The two teams are relatively close geographically, but are split by conference, giving us the potential to meet our rival in the Finals down the line. We just need to do two things:

  • Make them our rival
  • Make the Finals

Seems easy enough!

Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr would likely frequently be compared to Trae Young and John Collins. Trae and JJJ were similarly ranked prospects going into the 2018 NBA Draft and were picked consecutively.

Best of all? Both front offices have executed shrewd moves to accelerate their rebuild. Both teams have seemingly made great draft night choices, although time will tell if that actually plays out. There’s not much to dislike about the Hawks. Trae and John Collins are a good start. De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish seem like great draft picks this year, especially getting Reddish at 10th overall after being the consensus #3 prospect going into his freshman season. Not to mention, they’ll have boatloads of cap space the next two seasons if they want to put some good veterans around their young core before the young guys get paid.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

But the Grizzlies have put themselves in a good position as well. JJJ and Ja Morant aside, Memphis has stockpiled 1st-round picks and may have unearthed a not-so-well-hidden gem in Brandon Clarke. The future is bright for Memphis; the Grizzlies possess a great amount of cap flexibility in the coming years with Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Anderson, and the young guys locked up on favorable deals.

The fact that they would only play two regular season games a year hurts its cause. In fact, the chances of this ever becoming a rivalry are pretty slim because of it. I’m not calling for violence, but at least one of those fake-fighting, pushing, “hold me back!” fights needs to happen in one of the games to kickstart this bad boy.

With that said, the potential for a Finals matchup still vaults the Hawks into the top slot. The payoff would be either incredible or disastrous and I am absolutely here for it.

Picking a Fight

Laser tag-lookin’ uniforms. How they expect to make any backdoor cuts with those neon numbers. They’re not sneaking past anybody. Also, Atlanta the TV show is alright, but not great.

it won’t be whether or not Jaren is better than John Collins (because he is), it will be whether John Collins is better than Brandon Clarke. He isn’t.

The Hawks have been playing since 1949, while the Grizzlies have been playing since 1995. Since 1962, the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies have made the same amount of conference finals appearances: 1.

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