In the summer of 2006 the Memphis Grizzlies were a team that had just completed the most successful four year run in the franchises history. Four consecutive playoff appearances, a coach of the year, executive of the year and sixth man of the year were all part of a the stretch that helped Memphis begin their love affair with the franchise. However, 12 consecutive playoff loses left the fan base unsatisfied. A team built around Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Pau Gasol was just not good enough.
So on draft night in 2006 Grizzlies President of Basketball Operations Jerry West took the first step of what would end up being a total rebuild. Popular forward, and one of the faces of the franchise, Shane Battier along with important bench player and former overall number 2 draft pick Stromile Swift were traded to the Houston Rockets for the rights to the number 8 overall pick Rudy Gay. The ensuing season did not go well with the Grizzlies ending the season with a league worst record 22-60. Coach Mike Fratello was fired, and in the summer of 2007 Jerry West left the franchise. Finally on February 1, 2008 franchise player Pau Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and the first golden era of the Memphis Grizzlies came to a close.
As we all know the Grizzlies got the 4th overall draft choice in 2007 and drafted future franchise favorite Mike Conley. This combined with the acquisition of Marc Gasol in the Pau Gasol trade laid the groundwork for the future, but that would take years and some good luck. Hitting the hard reset on any franchise can lead to a bright future with grit and grind, Grindfathers, neck tattoos and trips to the Western Conference Finals. However, it is fraught with dangers. Don’t believe me? Ask the Orlando Magic how that rebuild from their trip to the finals in 2009 has been going. The New York Knicks have been rebuilding since Phil Jackson was playing.
So why are so many Grizzlies fans in such a hurry to hit the hard reset? This would presumably involve trading Marc Gasol and Mike Conley for draft picks/young talent as well as moving off of any long term contracts currently on the books. The impatience with current President of Basketball Operations Chris Wallace is growing by the day. However, before we push that button lets take a minute and look at the current situation.
Marc Gasol is entering the 4th year of a 5 year extension with a player option for year 5. The deal is scheduled to pay him $24M this year and $25M next year. Marc will be 33 entering this season, which can be the point players statistics begin to wane. Still his stats have been remarkably consistent. Similarly Mike Conley is entering the 3rd season of a 5 year deal. However, Conley’s deal guarantees him $30M, $32M, and $34M and Conley will be turning 30 this year. If Conley’s health holds neither of the big extensions the Grizzlies signed have been detrimental.
The albatross on the books is the 4 year $96M free agent signing of Chandler Parsons in the summer of 2016. Parsons was 27 at the time of the signing and it was basically perceived as a coupe by the Grizzlies. Two injury filled seasons later the signing looks like a colossal disaster. Parsons is guaranteed $24M and $25M the next two years. Without a serious contribution from Chandler, this is one of the biggest negatives in the franchise, but not THE biggest.
On January 12, 2015 the Memphis Grizzlies acquired Jeff Green and Russ Smith in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and a future first round draft pick. Yep, that’s the draft pick that is due next year assuming it is not in the top 8. That pick would be conveyed in 2020 top 6 protected, and if not then 2021 where it is unprotected. The bottom line is that the Grizzlies are going to lose a first round draft pick sometime in the next 3 seasons.
Now this is not to say there are no assets. Dillon Brooks and Wayne Selden look to be strong rotation players. Of course recent number 4 overall selection Jaren Jackson Jr. will be counted on as well, but the simple fact is this Grizzlies team is ill prepared for trading away its two biggest assets, Gasol and Conley. I know that owner Robert Pera has said he expects to compete for a playoff spot this season. I’m not sure that’s reasonable, but being impatient right now would be worse. A successful reset has to be done when you have the cap space and/or draft picks. Right now, the Grizzlies have neither.