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How the Grizzlies got the last laugh

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A multi-year narrative has become a success for the Grizzlies—and a tragedy for the Celtics.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo by Chris Elise/Getty Images

Time for a history refresher!

In 2015, the Memphis Grizzlies received Jeff Green from the Boston Celtics (and Russ “what it do” Smith from New Orleans!) in exchange for Tayshuan Prince and a protected future first-round pick. Since the Grizzlies lacked perimeter firepower, the trade was meant to push them into the upper-echelon of contenders in a wide-open Western Conference.

But there’s a reason why Green’s career jerseys basically make up the colors of the rainbow. He proved to be a polarizing fit on the roster, and the Grizzlies were eventually dealt a second-round exit by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs later that spring. And the following year, the Grizzlies traded Green to the Los Angeles Clippers for a few months of Lance Stephenson and a protected first-round pick that later turned into Grizzly legends *checks notes* Rade Zagorac and Deyonta Davis.

In nearly every single way, the initial trade with the Celtics was an apparent disaster for the Grizzlies. They failed to accomplish their primary objective in making the team a true title contender, and they also appeared to have caused significant harm to their future in giving the Celtics a protected first-round pick.

However, with the benefit of hindsight and everything that we know now, the trade appears to be nothing more than a stalemate—with the Grizzlies definitely having the last laugh.

That first-round pick, which you undoubtedly read about if you followed the site at all last year, has been the bane of the Grizzlies’ existence over the last few years. After all, It’s exceedingly difficult to start a true rebuild when a team owes a first-round pick in the immediate future, and that’s the reality the Grizzlies had dealt with over the last few seasons. The pick was 1-8 protected last year, and the #playtoconvey movement started because most believed that the best course of action was to go ahead and give a lower pick in the 9-15 range to Boston in what was considered (wrongly) a weaker draft (the pick is 1-6 protected this season and unprotected in 2021). The Grizzlies could have then, in theory, started their rebuild in earnest over the past year.

However, as everyone already knows, fate had a better plan in store for the Grizzlies than anyone could have imagined. The Grizzlies of course luckily moved up to the second pick in the draft lottery this past summer and drafted one of the great phenoms of recent NBA history in Ja Morant, making the still-to-be-conveyed Boston pick a general afterthought.

To add further insult to injury for the Celtics, they will finally receive the conveyed pick this summer—barring some miraculous bounce of the ping pong balls—in a year that the Grizzlies very well may make the playoffs and be out of the lottery entirely. And to make matters even worse, the 2020 NBA Draft class is considered to be among the weakest in recent memory and relatively low on depth.

Now here’s where it becomes comically hilarious in how tragic this multi-year narrative has become for the Celtics.

Unless you’ve been living under the biggest rock in human history, then you already know that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered society and canceled/suspended every single college and professional sports season, including our beloved NBA. What many may not consider - rightfully so, given the current state of things - in how the pandemic affects the NBA season is how it also affects the league’s offseason, specifically in regards to the 2020 NBA Draft.

No matter how long the stoppage of play persists, the league will still find a way to reschedule and balance its various in-season and offseason events. But there are many important parts of the pre-draft process that are lost and can’t be recovered this year. For starters, NBA scouts do not have both the NCAA conference tournaments and March Madness tournament to help them evaluate prospects on the biggest stage. There are also questions as to whether in-person interviews, pre-draft workouts at the annual combine, and necessary draft research like team physicals will even be possible under the circumstances.

As Ethan Strauss noted in his excellent appraisal of the situation for The Athletic, NBA teams—such as the Boston Celtics—are going to have to make huge decisions in the draft in the relative dark, with less information at their fingertips than ever before.

So to recap: since both the Memphis Grizzlies are ahead of schedule and there is currently an overwhelming pandemic, the Boston Celtics will potentially be using the Grizzlies’ conveyed pick to not only select a player outside of the lottery, but also do so while being relatively blind due to lack of advanced scouting and draft research. With an already elite young core headlined by Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Memphis Grizzlies will be more than happy to let them do just that.

The Memphis Grizzlies may not have necessarily won the 2015 trade, but they likely will get the last laugh. And for the Boston Celtics, you truly hate to see it.