For a small market team like the Memphis Grizzlies, getting it right on draft night and pulling off the right trades are essential in establishing their relevance as a franchise. That has been the dilemma of the Grizzlies throughout its history, even dating back to its days in Vancouver, the place it called home from 1995 to 2001. Since its relocation from a disaster stint on the West side of Canada, the Grizzlies have found more success in the southwest end of Tennessee.
Part of this has to do with better management and sound decision-making from their front office throughout the years. After a successful Grit-and-Grind era in the 2010s that featured the likes of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph, something special may be brewing in Memphis once again with a special talent in Ja Morant leading the way.
The Grizzlies are still constructing the right roster around Morant, and they have pulled off some pretty solid deals that could eventually turn them into legitimate title contenders. For this article, we will look into the archives and list the best trades the franchise has pulled off. With that said, here are the seven best trades in Grizzlies history.
7. Rudy Gay
Memphis Grizzlies received: Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift
Houston Rockets received: Shane Battier
The Grizzlies acquired Rudy Gay on draft night after the Houston Rockets selected him with No. 8 overall pick. Along with Gay's draft rights, Memphis received Stromile Swift and sent Shane Battier to Houston.
The UConn standout made an immediate impact in his rookie season for Memphis, where he made the 2006-07 All-Rookie First Team. He emerged as one of the team's leading scorers and proceeded to average at least 18 points per game from the 2007-08 season to the 2011-12 season.
Gay was only there for one of Memphis' playoff runs during the 2010s. But he still had some of his most productive years as a member of the Grizzlies and helped establish that Grit and Grind culture as the team made its way up in the late 2000s.
6. Jason Williams
Memphis Grizzlies received: Jason Williams and Nick Anderson
Sacramento Kings received: Mike Bibby and Brent Price
In 2001, the Grizzlies acquired the flashy and flamboyant Jason Williams from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Mike Bibby, their No. 2 pick in 1998. The Kings grew frustrated with Williams' development as a complete point guard and they needed more stability at the one position. With the Grizzlies still building for the future, they took a chance on White Chocolate and his presence instantly brought excitement to the franchise.
With Williams manning the point, the Grizzlies hiring legendary coach Hubie Brown as its head coach, and the emergence of a young Spanish prodigy in Paul Gasol, the franchise finally turned for the better. In the 2002-03 season, Memphis won a then-franchise record 28 games. By the next campaign, the Grizzlies nearly doubled their win total and broke through with 50 wins.
Williams ended up playing just four seasons in Memphis. But he was a key piece in the franchise's first real taste of winning basketball.
5. Marcus Smart
Memphis Grizzlies received: Marcus Smart
Boston Celtics received: Kristaps Porzingis, 25th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, 2024 first round pick (via the Warriors)
Washington Wizards received: Tyus Jones, Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, and 35th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft
It may seem a little bit premature to include the Marcus Smart acquisition on this list even if the former Celtic hasn't even played a single second with the Grizzlies. But given what they gave up to get him, it makes sense to put this trade as one of the top-5 deals the Grizzlies have made. Smart is a massive upgrade from Dillon Brooks, who the franchise grew tired of because of his questionable antics and ill-advised shot selection.
The 6-foot-4 guard is one to instigate things as well at times, but he is able to back it up with his intensity and terrific hustle. By bringing in Smart and pairing his pesky defense with Jaren Jackson Jr.'s interior presence, the Grizzlies now have the last two Defensive Player of the Year winners. With Smart wrecking havoc on the perimeter and Jackson patrolling the paint, opposing offenses could have a nightmare dealing with the Grizzlies defense.
His arrival could signal the second coming of the Grit and Grind era in Memphis. It may be early to tell, but Smart could be one of the key pieces that can elevate this Grizzlies team to championship contention.
4. Pau Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies received: Pau Gasol
Atlanta Hawks received: Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Jamal Tinsley
This trade signaled the change of an era in Grizzlies history, as it coincided with the team's relocation from Vancouver to Memphis. Looking for a new direction as a franchise, the Grizzlies took a chance on a Spanish prodigy in Pau Gasol, who already had quite the international career in Europe. The team acquired Gasol, who was taken third overall by the Atlanta Hawks in 2001, by trading their franchise star Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who emerged as a nightly 20-point scorer during his time in Vancouver.
The Grizzlies instantly saw the fruits of the trade as Gasol became the first foreign player of win Rookie of the Year on averages of 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds. A couple of seasons later, the Spaniard led Memphis to a 50-win campaign, its best season at the time. Under Gasol's watch, the Grizzlies made three consecutive playoff appearances from 2004 to 2006.
Pau was later traded in February 2008 to the Los Angeles Lakers, and was surprisingly dealt in exchange for the draft rights to his brother, Marc, along with several other pieces. At the time of his departure, the older Gasol finished his Grizzlies career as the franchise leader in points, rebounds, blocks, field goals made, and win shares — all of which have been surpassed by his younger brother.
3. Desmond Bane
Memphis Grizzlies received: Desmond Bane and Mario Hezonja
Boston Celtics received: Two second round picks
Portland Trail Blazers received: Enes Kanter
Honestly, what a deal for the Grizzlies. It may seem premature as well to put this trade this high up on this list already. But looking at the pieces involved, it's easy to see why. Memphis only needed to give up two second round picks to acquire Desmond Bane, who is now one of their franchise cornerstones moving forward. Bane has emerged as one of the brightest young stars in the league. He is one of the top perimeter shooters in the NBA and is the perfect backcourt partner for Ja Morant.
You don't really expect much from players picked at the very end of the first round. For the most part, they may be just fringe NBA players at most. But not Bane. This man has turned into a max-level player for the Grizzlies, who paid the 25-year-old stud a fat $207 million contract extension — the largest in franchise history — just this summer.
In his rookie year, Bane instantly broke expectations, earning All-Rookie Second Team honors, despite being the 30th pick. He doubled his scoring average from 9.2 points per game in his debut campaign to 18.2 points per game in his sophomore season. In year three, he averaged 21.5 points per game as his offensive arsenal evolved from being just a spot-up shooter early in his career to now becoming a scorer who can create his own shot off the dribble.
Some people may have a gripe on Memphis giving him the max. Bane is a star, for sure. But he isn't a superstar-level player. Still, these are the kind of moves the Grizzlies need to do to build a winning team in Memphis. They found a gem in Bane at No. 30 and he is getting rewarded for exceeding expectations in becoming such an important cog in this franchise's hopes of one day bringing a title to Memphis.
2. Marc Gasol
Memphis Grizzlies received: Marc Gasol, Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, and two first round picks
Los Angeles Lakers received: Pau Gasol and a second round pick
It's easy to forget that when the Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol in February 2008, the team also received one of its future franchise cornerstones in Pau's brother Marc Gasol. Everyone knows this deal as the trade that propelled the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers into a championship-caliber team. Heck, most even associate this trade more with this epic Stephen A. Smith rant on Kwame Brown.
Nonetheless, this trade actually made the Grizzlies into a perennial playoff team in the 2010s and ushered in the franchise's most successful and iconic era yet: the Grit and Grind. Gasol became their defensive anchor and his elite skills as a passing big man gave the team a unique dynamic on offense.
The younger Gasol arrived in Memphis during the 2008-09 season and instantly made an impact. He earned All-Rookie Second Team honors and broke his brother Pau's franchise rookie record for field goal percentage in a season at 53.0 percent. Gasol earned three All-Star appearances and two All-NBA nods, including a First-Team selection in 2015, as a member of the Grizzlies. He also won the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award. Under Gasol's leadership, Memphis made seven straight postseasons, including a Western Conference Finals trip in 2013.
Gasol owns several franchise records for the Grizzlies. He is the franchise leader in win shares, total rebounds, total blocks, and field goals made. With everything he accomplished in Memphis, it's arguable that Marc Gasol may be the greatest player to ever don a Grizzlies uniform. The fact that he was quite an afterthought in this trade is pretty baffling.
1. Zach Randolph
Memphis Grizzlies received: Zach Randolph
Los Angeles Clippers received: Quentin Richardson
Pennies for a dollar — that's what Memphis acquired from this deal that landed them one of the most important figures in franchise history. Zach Randolph has a case for being the greatest Grizzlies player of all time, though most would argue that distinction belongs to Marc Gasol or even Mike Conley. Regardless, what's certain is that landing Randolph in this deal is the best trade the Grizzlies franchise has ever made.
In exchange for the hefty lefty, Memphis only gave up Quentin Richardson, who never played a single second for the franchise. They acquired Richardson beforehand by trading Darko Milicic to the New York Knicks, essentially turning the infamous draft bust from 2003 to a franchise icon in Randolph.
Randolph embodied every bit of the Grit and Grind culture, more so on the offensive side of the floor. His play was the very definition of bully ball. He did not possess much athleticism, but he used his heft to his advantage, enforcing his way in the paint with his brute strength.
Randolph made two All-Star appearances with the Grizzlies and made the All-NBA Third Team in 2011. His iconic No. 50 jersey deservedly hangs in the rafters of FedExForum.