The days of the ‘Grit N Grind’ Memphis Grizzlies are over. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen have long been gone. Their last chance to put an adequate wing on the floor with the ‘Grit N Grind’ group in Chandler Parsons, failed from the beginning.
The signing was even more disastrous from the standpoint that Memphis signed Parsons to a max contract, a four-year, $94 million deal. Now in his third season with Memphis, Parsons has appeared in a meager 73 games with the team and has played in just three games this year alone.
The two mainstays in Grind City, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, have enjoyed memorable careers in the city, and have become local icons to a town that has adored the way the Grizzlies play. Led by these two players, Memphis has consistently performed at a high level that saw a seven-year run of playing in the postseason, that climaxed with a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
But times have changed in Memphis. As previously mentioned, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are gone. Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger, the two coaches who led Memphis during their playoff stretch have both been fired by the Grizzlies’ front office. And now, Gasol is gone.
After an illustrious 10 and a half year career in Memphis, in which the Spaniard was named an All-Star three times, the Grizzlies traded him at the trade deadline earlier this month.
There is a new player to build around in town. Jaren Jackson Jr., an ultra-versatile 6’11” big man out of Michigan State, has burst onto the scene as one of the most promising young players throughout the entire league. With a complex offensive repertoire and the ability to move his feet and alter shots at the rim on defense, Jackson is going to be a very good player in the league one day.
Memphis should be in a full-on rebuilding stage, with the process structured around forming a team around Jackson. However, the Grizzlies have made a terrible mistake in the beginning stages of their rebuild. The team decided to hold onto 31-year-old point guard, Mike Conley, and not trade him at the deadline as they did Gasol. Memphis had numerous suitors interested in Conley, including the Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz, and Toronto Raptors.
Rebuilding is all about acquiring assets. These assets can be draft picks, young players, and expiring contracts. The Grizzlies did a respectable job of adding assets in their trading of Gasol, netting a second-round draft pick, a young guard with promise in Delon Wright, a cheaper option at center with Jonas Valanciunas, and a productive backup wing in C.J. Miles.
The return wasn’t great, but it was never going to be for a 33-year-old center due $50 million between this season and next. Memphis wasn’t willing to budge on the return they wanted for Conley, and their unwillingness to adjust their asking price destroyed the opportunity to add more assets, clear cap space, and in reality, give their team a better chance to lose games and move up in the lottery.
We know what the market was for Conley. Detroit reportedly offered Reggie Jackson and a first round pick for him. They would have had to match salary with the Grizzlies, likely with Jon Leuer. But they wouldn’t budge. Memphis wanted Luke Kennard, as well, Detroit’s top young asset on their roster. The Pistons may have been more willing to throw in a different young player, such as Khyri Thomas, but there were no reports of talks furthering after they declined to place Kennard in the trade. Detroit wisely didn’t meet the Grizzlies’ demands.
Both Jackson and Leuer would have come off of Memphis’ books a year before Conley will. As of now, the Grizzlies are on the hook to be paying Conley $34.5 million dollars when he is 32, in 2021. They also reportedly received an offer from the Utah Jazz, centered around Ricky Rubio and a first-round pick.
The market for Mike Conley was set. A cheaper point guard and a first-round pick was the price multiple teams decided equated to the value of Conley. Yet the Grizzlies wouldn’t be persuaded. Conley will be in Memphis for the rest of the year.
On the season, Conley has averaged 19.9 points on 42.7 percent shooting from the field and 35.4 percent shooting from the 3-point line. He’s averaged 6.4 assists on just 1.9 turnovers per game and is still a pesky defender, a title he’s long held.
Eventually, the Grizzlies will have to trade Conley, or at least they should. But with each passing opportunity to move him, his value decreases. He’s going to have more wear on him by the time he’s trade eligible again in the offseason. A lot can happen from now until the end of the year. There is no indication that the Grizzlies will sit him, which leaves a chance for injury.
Unfortunately for Conley, he has a history of injuries. Last season he played in just 12 games while dealing with issues to his Achilles and heel. He becomes a greater risk as time goes on. Just as Gasol’s value dropped to the point where he was no longer worth a first round pick, Conley’s will, too. Teams like Detroit and Utah wanted Conley for the now, to increase their chance of playing and succeeding in the playoffs this postseason. He is healthy now and has played in all but three games this year.
Not only does Conley give Memphis a greater chance to win, but he also keeps Delon Wright, from starting at the point guard spot. They should not be trying to win games. At 23-36, they are well out of the playoff hunt and should be focused on playing their young pieces in Wright, Jackson, and Dillon Brooks, while positioning themselves for better odds in the lottery.
On top of not trading Conley, the Grizzlies added two veterans in a separate trade at the deadline when they shipped out JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple for the highly underperforming Avery Bradley. Bradley has started in all three games for Memphis, holding down the other guard spot that Wright could have started at.
Memphis is set to pay Bradley $13 million next year, a ridiculous price to pay a not so good veteran on a team that won’t be in a position to win many games. Green and Temple had some value and likely could have netted at least a pair of second-round picks from a playoff level team. Even if that was not the case, Memphis could have done better.
It looked as if, even though it was a somber decision, Memphis was making the right decision to fully commit to a rebuild when they traded Marc Gasol. Instead, they put half a foot in and kept half a foot out by holding on to Conley. For one good move at the deadline, the Grizzlies made two bad moves.
Now, Memphis must hope that Conley not only stays healthy, but performs well the rest of the way. They still need to lose as many games as possible, but he needs to keep his value as high as it can be for their sake, and quite honestly his own. He deserves a chance to play for a team with the talent to make the playoffs. It is a situation that is best for both sides if they move apart.