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The Memphis Grizzlies are up to something

The Memphis Grizzlies’ recent trade has an eye on the future, and this draft highlights the many directions they could take.

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

We already knew that coming into the offseason that the Memphis Grizzlies could be offseason movers and shakers. They have their franchise player in Ja Morant, and his co-star Jaren Jackson Jr. has sky-high upside as well. They’re one of the youngest teams in basketball, and they’re full of really good young role players that could fit into the long-term build for this team. They also made the playoffs in the 2nd year of a rebuild behind this cast and the bright Taylor Jenkins.

But now, they’re really up to something.

The Grizzlies front office shocked many people by flipping Jonas Valanciunas and this year’s draft assets (the 17th and the 51st picks) for Eric Bledsoe (who won’t report to Memphis), Steven Adams, the 10th and 40th picks in this year’s draft, and a 2022 first-round pick — top-10 protected from the Lakers.

It’s a bombshell.

I understand how it stings. Jonas Valanciunas was awesome here. He was a real rock for this young team to rely on that, and a key building block that helped expedite this rebuild. Sure, he has his defensive woes — which were exposed in the playoffs — but he was incredibly valuable for this team. On the other side, this front office had to look in the mirror and ask how Valanciunas fit in the long-term picture. They decided to capitalize on his value, and they turned it into value in the form of large contracts for possible salary-matching and better draft assets.

This trade might come across a step back in the short-term, but the long-term benefits are just too good to ignore.

This trade was with an eye for the future — and it all starts with this draft.

Nigeria v Australia Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The immediate value is moving up from 17 to 10. That changes the dynamic of things for the future.

As extensively as we covered the 17th pick, and as much as I genuinely liked the prospects in that range, it’s a lot to ask any of these players to be potential starters down the road for the next iteration of contending Grizzlies teams. At the 10th pick, you get that realistic opportunity.

Josh Giddey was the initial rumored name. He fits my desired vision of finding a backup point guard who can play next to Ja Morant. I worry about his off-ball transition, as you’ll want him to play some wing minutes, but his playmaking instincts at his size and age are too tantalizing to ignore.

Franz Wagner has been mentioned as a favorite, and he gets this “safe prospect” label that’s mistaken for a prospect not being that good. That’s not true with Franz. Wagner has the tools to be a good role player out the gate, in the same mold as the recent Grizzlies picks, and his defensive tools and playmaking could be major keys down the road.

Moses Moody has worked out for Memphis, and he’s a fan favorite target. He’s the cleanest fit of the mentioned prospects here, as he’s a 3&D wing with a massive 7’1” wingspan with the potential to add more to his game. Already at 19, he’s shown upside as a live-dribble creator, especially in the pick-and-roll (98th percentile in PNR points per possessions, per Synergy Sports). After watching a Finals series with Khris Middleton and Mikal Bridges featured in big roles, taking someone in the similar mold with Moody is enticing. I think he can fall into the same archetype.

The Grizzlies want to trade up even higher with James Bouknight and Jonathan Kuminga in mind. Bouknight probably won’t be it; Oklahoma City seems locked in. Kuminga is the fascinating one though. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft, and has the physical tools and the framework to be an awesome scoring wing. He’s raw, but he has one of the highest upsides in this class, outside the consensus top 4.

Any of those players can be key building blocks next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. down the road. Is it a given? No, but they have a higher possibility at 10 than at 17.

2020 NBA Draft Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Grizzlies also moved up 10 spots in the second round from 51 to 40. It’s not sexy in the grand scheme of things, but they can get pretty creative here.

Do they attach Tyus Jones (a rumored trade candidate) and 40 to trade up into the late first round for a young combo guard like Jaden Springer or Jared Butler? Or they could even do that with another upside swing that gets a lot more Memphis Hustle reps than main roster minutes next season — Josh Christopher, JT Thor, or Josh Primo are interesting there.

They could even stay at 40 and take a prospect of that upside-swing caliber. Being the team wiling to take a chance on BJ Boston, a highly-touted prospect coming into the season, seems fun and worth it. Draft Twitter darling Vrenz Bleijenbergh would be a sweet upside pick too.

Or it’s another opportunity to stick to the status quo and get a rock-solid college veteran that can contribute immediately. Joel Ayayi, Ayo Dosunmu, or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl fit that mold.

It’s nothing too big that could alter the franchise’s trajectory harmfully, but another chance to take a swing — while getting creative with it — could be a fun, impactful ploy there.

The biggest thing is just the accumulation of more assets.

The Grizzlies now have 3 first-round picks that don’t belong to them directly — 2022 picks from the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, and a 2024 one from the Golden State Warriors. That could be impactful in a draft night trade up the boards, maybe for a Kuminga, Bouknight, or even (but not likely) Evan Mobley.

The rich get richer, as the saying goes. The Grizzlies can now get super creative with these new piece to the treasure chest of assets.

The Memphis Grizzlies Introduce Taylor Jenkins Photo by Justin Ford/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies are big-game hunting here.

This trade up into the draft gives them a better shot to go get a potential third guy next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., as this will likely be the highest pick they make in this era going forward. While the 10th pick could be that guy, he could also be the potential centerpiece of the trade to go get a big fish.

Coupling that, 1-2 extra role players, those 3 picks owed to them from other teams is a fantastic starting point to do so. It’s not foolish to say that either.

The Grizzlies being on the right side of a star blockbuster trade is as likely as it’s ever been in the franchise’s history, and it wouldn’t be shocking if those moves are being made to align them to do so.

They’ve positioned themselves quite well with this recent trade, even if there’s potential for a short-term sting. They can gain a potential fixture in starting and closing lineups alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. down the road. They have the assets and the creativity to go up the draft boards to go get their guys.

The Memphis Grizzlies are up to something. This front office is going to keep making big moves for this team’s future, and it’s continuing with this year’s draft.

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