Everyone wants to leave 2020 in the rearview mirror, but for the Memphis Grizzlies, there will be some of the negative carry over from that horrendous year: Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. will not be suiting up for Memphis anytime soon.
The time frame announced on Morant’s Grade 2 ankle sprain is 3-5 weeks, and it is probably safe to assume it will be closer to five than three based off how they are approaching Jaren’s return to play. It will be interesting to see, however, if Ja forces his way back on the floor early, as he has already shed the walking boot and been working out pregame.
Regardless, the coaching staff will be forced to stay afloat while waiting on their budding superstar to return, barring a front office decision to not try so hard to win many games this season in the interest of accruing assets.
There are three options for Memphis while Ja is out: Find a point guard externally, use what the team has internally, or nothing at all.
Were the front office concerned about winning now due to shrinking window, they may opt to look for a trade or signing for a stop gap point guard, either to back up Tyus Jones or allow Tyus to maintain the role he would normally have.
The first option would be to either waive or trade Gorgui Dieng. Waiving Dieng would be such a waste of a valuable expiring contract; there is absolutely no way that Kleiman entertains this option. So pulling the trigger on a Dieng trade to bring on a point guard well before the deadline is possible.
The New York Knicks currently have plenty of cap space and plenty of point guards. Currently rostered are: Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntilikina, Austin Rivers, Immanuel Quickley. The most likely candidate to be available is DSJ, and he may simply benefit from a change in scenery.
The Oklahoma City may be interested in sending out the extra year on George Hill’s contract, and if Memphis were straining towards a playoff berth this season, he would be an excellent veteran to add, however his price will most likely be more than an expiring contract, as he will be in high demand.
Another external approach would be to cut Sean McDermott, who has looked quite rough thus far, and sign a two way point guard. Here are a list of players eligible for a two-way contract and available:
- Ellie Okobo
- Breein Tyree
- Ahmad Caver
- Gary Payton II
The list is not extensive and not attractive. Emmanuel Mudiay is currently still a free agent, but he is ineligible for a two-way contract and would require the waiving of someone like Dieng or Porter.
In the first game sans Morant, Coach Jenkins opted to move Tyus Jones to the starting lineup and the Grizzlies proceeded to get blasted by Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics. The next game in Charlotte without Grayson Allen as well, rather than starting Desmond Bane, Jenkins ran with a starting five of Tyus, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke and Jonas Valanciunas.
Without roster changes, Coach Jenkins will have to get creative with lineups, staggering minutes of the playmakers he does still have. While Tyus and Kyle start, Kyle will likely sub out first, then come right back in to spell Tyus as the back up point guard. When Tyus is out, Kyle, DB, Desmond Bane and John Konchar will all have to split the play making responsibilities.
Returning soon is De’Anthony Melton, and while the bubble proved being a true backup point guard is not his strength, he is another hand on deck to split the responsibilities. Grayson Allen will be yet another wing that can shoulder the load when Tyus is catching his breath.
The main internal solution all depends on the timeline of Justise Winslow. The rumor heading into the season was that Winslow would return within the first few weeks, and if that rumor holds true, it could be any day now. The most fun and perhaps successful stretch of basketball in Justise’s career was as the starting point guard for the Miami Heat in place of an injured Goran Dragic.
Winslow would be an obvious answer to plug and play in the starting lineup. This allows Memphis to put Tyus and Brandon Clarke back with Melton on that dangerous second unit and start Winslow alongside Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon, Kyle and either Grayson or Bane. Winslow would also get a feel for playing with the starters and give the coaches a gauge for what his role should be upon Ja’s return.
Similar to the internal option, where you make no external moves for a point guard, this option is for the pro tankers. Just think about it, Ja- Jalen Green - Jaren Jackson Jr. big three for the next decade plus. Now wipe the drool off your keyboard/smartphone and snap back into reality.
This front office will not intentionally throw games for a high lottery position. Heck, the Grizzlies got Ja with odds outside the top 5. However, we know that Kleiman will not rush Ja back in an attempt to win now and mortgage the future to do it. Ankle injuries tend to linger and Morant will not return until he is 100%.
This would be an excellent time to for Memphis to evaluate the young players and spotlight potential trade pieces for future assets. Why not see what Bane, Jontay Porter and the other young guys really bring to the table. It’s not intentionally losing games, but it won't win many either.
It is probable that Memphis just rides with who they have currently on roster and let the chips fall where they may. This season will be a weird one and Memphis may be able to stay afloat until Ja returns, and even if they do not, who is to say he and Jaren can’t lead them back into the play in picture? Never count out 12.