The Memphis Grizzlies opened up their championship window last season with their huge leap. They made such a leap with the status quo — relying on development, making moves to free up opportunities for other young players on the roster, and building through the draft. They’ve kept up their momentum from last season, as they’re ending the 1st week of 2023 tied for the 1st seed in the Western Conference.
As the Grizzlies ride through the Western Conference, 2023 will be a big year to test the status quo.
A couple of weeks ago, Ja Morant said the Memphis Grizzlies are “fine in the West.” It’s a statement you want to hear your star player say with that platform, and that confidence is expected from this Grizzlies team. Though we saw the “meme” or “cold take” potential with bad losses to the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, the Grizzlies are backing up their claims with a 5-game winning streak — including two wins against Western Conference foes, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Phoenix Suns.
Morant is right in a sense. The Grizzlies are “fine” in the Western Conference because of their talent and system together. When it comes to their Western Conference opposition, I’d consider them to be “fine” due to how wide open it is — no slight to their talent.
Technically holders of the 2nd seed in the Western Conference, there are 5 games that separate the 1st and 6th seeds. One bad slide, and any team in the Western Conference could go from “homecourt advantage” to “barely dodge the play-in” real quick. And on the flip side, there are only 2 games separating the 6th and 10th seeds, so any hot and cold stretch could add or remove a team from the mix.
With the state of the Western Conference, there will likely be a bunch of rumors around different teams looking to bolster their depth for a push towards the NBA Finals.
Could the Memphis Grizzlies be one of those teams?
The Grizzlies haven’t made a trade deadline deal since 2020 when they flipped a no-show Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill for Justise Winslow, Gorgui Dieng, and the waived Dion Waiters. They tend to stick with their roster through the season, avoiding midseason move to disrupt their flow, then they make necessary adjustments to their roster.
Will 2023 be the season they make a deadline deal?
The clamor for a trade has risen amongst Grizzlies faithful, as the depth looks a bit murkier than usual. They have their top 7 solidified for a playoff rotation:
- Ja Morant
- Desmond Bane
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Dillon Brooks
- Steven Adams
- Tyus Jones
- Brandon Clarke
Is that 8th man on the roster? Everyone, Grizzlies included, expects it to be Ziaire Williams. He’s struggled to get into his flow since his return from a near 2-month absence, but he’s coming off his best game of the season against Orlando where he simply looked more confident and active. He played big minutes last year’s postseason, and the expectation is for him to do the same this season.
Other than that, John Konchar has had little postseason minutes. Santi Aldama or David Roddy have zero playoff experience. Danny Green has a wealth of experience, as he’s been a part of 3 championship teams. Will his body hold up for him to contribute?
It’s fair for the Grizzlies to ride out Ziaire Williams — and to an extent, Desmond Bane — shaking off the rust. In addition, they could consider Danny Green’s return as the right move for them.
However, they have the assets to make a move if they feel it’s present — and Zach Kleiman says he doesn’t make moves for the sake of it. The trade market hasn’t completely shaped out yet, but we’ll likely hear more about the Grizzlies’ willingness to make any moves to bolster their depth over the next few weeks. If anything, they may seek additional firepower of the bench, but any targets are all hypothetical until more rumors spark up.
Or will they stick to the status quo?
Fivethirtyeight projections give the Grizzlies’ the second-best chances of getting to (33%) and winning the NBA Finals (18%), only trailing the Boston Celtics. Their chances of representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals 12% higher than the next West team, the Denver Nuggets, in these projections.
While actual basketball is to be played, the Memphis Grizzlies have a shot of winning a championship. And it’s by Zach Kleiman’s terms — scouting evaluation, player development, team culture, and not rushing a second of the process.
In 2023, now more than ever, the status quo for the Grizzlies and Zach Kleiman will be tested with bringing the organization its first NBA title.