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Mistakes to learn from past rebuilds

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Which missteps could the Grizzlies learn from the most?

Memphis Grizzlies v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies are off to an excellent start in their rebuild. Anyone expecting them to be thick in the playoff race and in sole possession of the 8th seed in the playoffs is a wizard and is going with me to purchase lottery tickets.

Nonetheless, it has also initiated questions among Grizzlies Twitter of what now. Do they become more aggressive to land a 3rd star? How do these current role players fit alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant for the next great Grizzlies team? What could they get for the Utah and Golden State first round picks?

It’s all noteworthy. I’m more in the party of seeing what you got from your young players and keep an open mind regardless — similar to what Toronto did this past decade. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a young player past his rookie deal at this stage of the rebuild, whether it’s Dillon Brooks, De’Anthony Melton, or Brandon Clarke.

We’ve seen what’s happened when teams try to expedite a rebuild, and it backfires in a way. We’ve also seen what happens when teams on cling to their assets too long as they depreciated.

Last week, I covered lessons to learn from successful rebuilds. Now, what mistakes could they keep in mind for this rebuild process?


Minnesota Timberwolves

I wanted to toss the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns in here, but that’s too easy.

For Minnesota, they botched both the Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love eras by simply drafting poorly. The one that stings the most is passing on Stephen Curry when they had both the 5th and 6th picks in the 2009 draft, using them on Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn. In addition, the Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams picks did the same thing, though they were the right decisions at the time.

They’re righting the ship with the Karl-Anthony Towns era by trading for his friend, All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell, but one could argue that flipping Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for a season of Jimmy Butler damaged the team as well.

Minnesota provides two lessons here: what happens when you botch picks around your stars, and when you flip for a star that may not fit into future plans. Luckily, the Grizzlies have two future stars to build around in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Brandon Clarke, as well, projects as the best 3rd-wheel any of those Minnesota teams ever had. Not to mention, unless something catastrophic happens within the next few years, they won’t be picking high enough where there’s legitimate possibilities to pass on superstar talents.

Unless they pass on a generational talent in the top 10, or if they flip too many assets for a one-season rental, this outcome is unlikely for Memphis. Just something to keep in mind.


Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia has already accomplished a feat that many rebuilding teams aim for: they acquired 2 top-20 talents with their high draft picks.

Granted, there were some blunders (Jahlil Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis, Markelle Fultz over Jayson Tatum, more notably). However, they landed Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, two players with MVP-caliber ceilings. Nonetheless, they are in this category, because they’re an example of what happens when you expedite “The Process.”

In Simmons’ rookie season, they had the perfect system in place around them. They had optimal spacing with JJ Redick, 3-and-D stopper Robert Covington, and a playmaking 4in Dario Saric.

The all-in moves they’ve recently made have limited their depth, flexibility, and a longer window. The Jimmy Butler trade cost them valuable starter depth, even if it yielded a good starter in Josh Richardson. The money tied up to Tobias Harris and Al Horford has destroyed their flexibility and created the clunkiest starting-5 in the league. Getting off one of those players may cost them draft picks, or Matisse Thybulle.

As the noise grows with making win-now moves — the popular ones in Memphis being Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, or Zach LaVine — they must access the potential cons from “The Process” in Philadelphia. In this move, will the reward outweigh the risk? Will it be worth pushing forward the championship window if it potentially shortens it as well?


Memphis Grizzlies v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics are probably looked at as a model rebuilding teams, but it’s not common for a GM to drop off a boatload of unprotected picks in exchange for aging superstars.

To give credit where it’s due, Danny Ainge did a fantastic job with these assets. They got an excellent 1-2 punch with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They made the right pitches to land Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, and Kemba Walker in free agency. They went for it all with the Kyrie Irving trade, and though it turned out to be a chemistry-killing disaster, it was still the right call.

Boston could legitimately be a Finals foe in the next iteration of great Grizzlies team. So what’s there to learn?

The consequences of holding on to assets too long.

Whether it’s young players that didn’t really fit long-term plans (Terry Rozier), or valuable assets that depreciated significantly (the Sacramento and Memphis picks), Danny Ainge held his cards to the vest for too long and never took the right approaches in catapulting them to the next step. They didn’t even need to go all in for Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. They could’ve used the picks on a great complementary player like Tyreke Evans or Serge Ibaka to go for a title push.

The Memphis Grizzlies have a lesson to learn here, as they have two valuable assets in future first-round picks from the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. If the perfect deal hits at the right time, cash in on the assets. Though they could end up finding another Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, they need to do anything they can to extract the most value possible in their assets.


New Orleans Pelicans v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Before an angry swarm from Sixers Twitter, or Bill Simmons himself, comes and attacks me, both Boston and Philadelphia are really good teams that have non-zero chances of winning titles in the next several years. 4 of the 25 best players in the league are on that team, and they’re all not even in their primes yet. Regardless of their mistakes, both teams have had successful rebuilds.

However, both teams made decisions that hurt their trajectories — for Philly, they shortened their window, while Boston missed out on a good time to strike on theirs. They have the stars to win a title, but will these moves, or non-moves, cost them?

The Memphis Grizzlies have a similar formula brewing. With Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, they have the cornerstones that could evolve into top-15 or 20 players. They also have a supporting cast around them that’s cost-friendly and actually makes sense. They also have the cap flexibility and draft capital to make necessary moves to build a championship team around their two stars.

These other teams have stars too, and they’ve shown that any mishap can alter their title chances. The Grizzlies could cling to assets too long where they never find that wing scorer between Jaren and Ja. Or, they could make a bad, all-in trade that costs them Brandon Clarke and/or Justise Winslow.

The Grizzlies’ new front office though possesses the poise to dodge the mistakes while building the next great Memphis Grizzlies team.

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