On April 11, 2019 the Memphis Grizzlies greatly altered the course of their franchise. Shortly after wrapping up the postseason media session, it was announced that JB Bickerstaff was not going to return as the head coach. Why was that? Zach Kleiman was now in charge after being the assistant GM to Chris Wallace, whose talents were being “reallocated” to the scouting department. In actuality, the Grizzlies were paying Wallace to go on vacation and quit ruining the franchise while having no vision beyond the remnants of the Core Four.
Since that fateful spring day Kleiman has made 18 trades, and nine of the players acquired (outside of the swapping of draft rights) never even sniffed the sweet aroma of Rendezvous ribs marinating on the grill in the morning before they were moved elsewhere. Four of those players were bought out: Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters, Rajon Rondo and Mario Hezonja.
In this series, I take the time to trace out all the moves made by Kleiman in his short tenure thus far and evaluate what the outgoing players have done since their departure as well as those that took their place on the court in Memphis, have produced. Almost every move made is either a part of the Conley Trade Tree or the Gasol Trade Tree and today we start with Michael Conley Jr.
In terms of Mike Conley and how his replacement is filling his shoes, we will not spend much time on that because Ja Morant is a budding superstar in a way that Mike Conley never was. But, in his two seasons in Utah, Mike has averaged 15 points and 5 assists on near 40% shooting from three, playing a nice complimentary role alongside Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. While Ja was drafted in the same summer of the Conley trade, he is not a branch on that trade tree.
Branch 1 - Grayson Allen
Grayson Allen to the naked eye was a presumed throw in, but there is little doubt that Memphis coveted him as potential roster piece. During Allen’s two year stint on Beale Street, he averaged 9.8 points on 39.5% shooting from deep in 22.5 minutes per contest, proving his was more than a simple toss in. Grayson is extension eligible this summer, and while he obviously won’t command the max, he will get more than the 4 million due him this upcoming season. With Memphis already committing to an extension with De’Anthony Melton, resigning Allen did not make much sense.
Allen will now play for the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks as Kleiman sent him in exchange for Sam Merrill and two future second round picks. At the very least, Kleiman restocks the shelves with second round picks after expending them the last two drafts to obtain Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman and Santi Aldama. Merrill is no slouch himself. Assigned to the Memphis Hustle in the G League Bubble, he is a player in the mold of Allen that has a chance to stick, for cheap. The 6’4 guard played in 30 games last season, shooting 45% from three. In college, Merrill scored 16.6 points over the course of his career on 42% shooting, he fits the “mold” Kleiman has been hunting: an older college player with some shooting pedigree. Even if Merrill does not stick, this branch still has opportunity to sprout further with the second round picks still alive.
Branch 2 - Darius Bazley
Draft night trades can get confusing. The trade between Memphis and Oklahoma City involving Darius Bazley actually happened after the Mike Conley trade was made official. Darius Bazley was officially an Utah Jazz pick at pick 23. On a depleted OKC Thunder team last season, Bazley exploded with 13.7 points and 7 rebounds in 31 minutes of play. Many people do not actively compare Bazley to Clarke, but it might actually be interesting to see how their two careers pan out as they play the same position but Bazley is three years younger.
The Grizzlies did in fact send Bazley and a 2024 second round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Brandon Clarke. Clarke has averaged 11 points and 5.8 rebounds in his first two seasons, setting efficiency records during his rookie campaign. Summer 2022 is Clarke’s extension summer and Kleiman will be looking for a healthy BC to bounce back this season as they entire those discussions. This branch could officially stop here, but Clarke could be a piece in a potential blockbuster trade down the road.
Branch 3 - Kyle Korver
The acquisition of Korver was quite the fun hypothetical. The Memphis Grizzlies finally possessed a dead eye shooter, but it was only the next day that he was ultimately dealt away, breaking the hearts of Grizzlies fans everywhere. Korver was combined with Jevon Carter and sent to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton a 2020 second round pick and a 2022 second round pick. Korver went on to the Bucks playing 16 minutes per game before finding himself out of the league this past season.
Jevon Carter was one of the few Chris Wallace picks I personally liked. He still had that Grit and Grind feel to his game with the insane point of attack defense, but never seemed to fully find his footing offensively in Memphis. Carter was recently shipped to the Brooklyn Nets by Phoenix after two seasons of limited action. He showed flashes for the Suns and has a chance to be an important defensive piece for a contending Nets team.
Everyone knows about the Josh Jackson saga by now. He was the first real home run swing by Kleiman, at no cost. It is kind of insane that Kleiman got a former top-5 pick and rotation player plus two picks for a veteran they did not keep and a fringe rotation guy they shipped off two seasons later. For the cost of nothing, Memphis got a chance to see a lanky wing player and how he might fit between Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Jackson had started to pick things up before the pandemic shut down but ended up signing with the Detroit Pistons the following offseason after Memphis decided to take another home run swing — to be discussed later. Jackson had his best season of his career for the Pistons in 62 games last year and hopefully gets the opportunity to build on that.
Like Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton was largely seen by the outside as a throw-in. Josh Jackson was the prize, or so we thought. Melton has lived up to the potential he showed in high school and at USC. His improved shooting mechanics paid massive dividends as he lit it up from deep this past season and his defensive prowess covers up the loss of Jevon Carter’s stingy play. However, like Brandon Clarke, he is either longed to be an important rotation piece on a contending version of the Grizzlies or an important cog of a future blockbuster deal.
The 2020 second round pick from Phoenix in this deal was used to select Robert Woodard, and that matters because paired with the 2022 second rounder from Phoenix, Woodard was sent to the Sacramento Kings for Xavier Tillman Sr. Tillman has been phenomenal thus far in Beale Street blue. From hitting a clutch three against the Golden State Warriors in the Play In to leading the Summer Grizz in Vegas, Tillman is a bonafide rotation player for this team while Woodard may never crack an NBA rotation.
This branch has been bountiful. Taking on a veteran that will not play here turned into two vital rotation pieces in Tillman and Melton.
Part 2 will explore the fourth branch of the Mike Conley trade that is ultimately married with another type of trade tree Kleiman loves to grow.