Trust is an unforgiving currency. It often takes a long while to build up, but it can be lost in a moment. And once it is lost, it is almost impossible to regain.
In the world of sports, how much a fanbase trusts a particular player, coach, or even front office executive often appears to be almost totally dependent on their recent performance, rather than their total body of work. Granted, I’m going mostly by Twitter, which to put in the polite terms of Obi-Wan Kenobi, is “a hive of scum and villainy”, but sports fandom does appear to expose our worst impulses to be prisoners of the moment.
For example, there has been plenty of recent criticism of the Memphis Grizzlies front office for their perceived inaction during the offseason so far. And with that criticism has come an undeniable undercurrent of discontent that they just don’t really want to win right now.
Now to be fair, this resentment is a bit of a carry-over from the last few years, in which there’s been a perception that the Zach Kleiman-led front office isn’t concerned enough about winning in the present as compared to winning in the future. But that perception has proven to be ridiculous with the benefit of the hindsight, as the Grizzlies have vastly overachieved every single year, culminating in a phenomenal 2021-22 season in which they finished with the second-best record in the NBA while being the second youngest team in the NBA.
Trust may be easily lost, but it’s also earned with great difficulty. And whether you like it or not, the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies has earned a trust and equity that can’t be simply tossed to the side because of a frustrating offseason.
To be sure, the frustration in question has been a result of there being a perceived disconnect between the words of the Grizzlies front office and their actions to this point. During their season exit presser, Kleiman said their goal was to now aggressively compete for championships, signaling a shift from the more conservative, developmental approach they have had the last few years. However, the Grizzlies have yet to make a single free agent signing much less a splashy one, all while many other teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves have taken decisive, bold steps to improve their rosters.
So let me qualify what I’m about to say with this: If the offseason ends generally like it looks today — with nothing more than five new rookies added to the roster — for the Grizzlies, then I think it will be fair to strongly criticize the front office.
The Grizzlies have assembled a superb young core, but there is a clear need for more high-end talent on the roster to win a championship. And the time to acquire that talent is now; this is the last summer before Ja Morant’s rookie max extension kicks in and eats up much of Memphis’ future flexibility.
There have also been plenty of big fishes available on the trade market, including Dejounte Murray, Rudy Gobert, and Kevin Durant (more on him in a second). You can argue all day long about the questionable fits that each of those guys would be in Memphis and the cost of attaining them, but I’d argue that waiting for a perfect fit is fool’s gold. You don’t want to be like Danny Ainge’s Boston Celtics and wait forever to make a splashy trade before finally settling on the wrong fit.
The Grizzlies claim to be a championship contender, but it’s fair to say that they at least don’t appear to be moving like a contender. Contenders don’t seek to just uphold the status quo, but rather they seek to be aggressive and to improve. You’re either moving forward or going backward.
Now this all raises an obvious question: has the Grizzlies front office — the same one that’s been responsible for the remarkable success of the last three years — contradicted their stated process going into this offseason? Or have they simply been working silently in the dark to accomplish said process?
The Grizzlies probably aren’t going to end up with Kevin Durant (never say never!), but it’s worth noting how much of a stranglehold his trade request has on the rest of the league. It’s affecting literally everything, as there are potentially available young rising stars that the Grizzlies could target (OG Anunoby?), but a team like the Toronto Raptors is holding out all of their chips for the hopes to win the Durant sweepstakes. It also shouldn’t be ruled out that the Grizzlies could snag a quality piece by involving themselves as the third team in a potential mega-deal.
Before it was reported that Durant’s two preferred trade destinations were the Miami Heat and the Phoenix Suns, the Grizzlies had the second-best Vegas odds to acquire him. That didn’t just come out of nowhere; they have clearly had plans to make a splash this offseason, and they likely still do. Something big is likely on the horizon.
And it may just take a little more patience — and trust — before we know what it is.