At the Crossroads: The Story of the 2018-19 Memphis Grizzlies
The song Crossroads by Robert Johnson was a classic before the version by Cream made it a worldwide hit. While many people associate the crossroads mentioned in the song with the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49 in Clarkesdale, Mississippi, most people associate the crossroads with another more sinister tale. The rumor that guitarist and song writer Robert Johnson met the Devil at the crossroads and sold his soul for the otherworldly guitar skills he had.
The actual song Crossroads does not mention the Devil or selling your soul. It does not identify any particular location or even the names of any of the streets. The lyrics made famous by Eric Clapton and Cream, and written by Robert Johnson almost a hundred years ago are instead a more universal story. A story of being forlorn, passed by, of being in love and then having that love scorned. It’s a story of being left behind and breaking up. Which is ironic, because that is exactly where the Memphis Grizzlies find themselves right now. The Grizzlies are literally at the crossroads.
Early in the season the Grizzlies looked to have righted the ship after a disastrous 2017-2018 season. In fact by the end of November the Grizzlies were 12-4. Yours truly wrote a nice little story about how wrong I was and that the Grizzlies were poised to be much better than expected. Even as late as mid-December the Grizzlies were comfortably in the top 5 of the West. Then…….
To be fair a single incident probably did not cause the Grizzlies to fall off the proverbial cliff, but the descent definitely began on December 14, 2018. While the Grizzlies were playing the Miami Heat word spread that the Grizzlies had swung a deal to obtain Kelly Oubre from the Washington Wizards as part of a three team deal involving the Phoenix Suns. As part of the deal the Grizzlies would send Mar’Shon Brooks and Wayne Seldon to Phoenix, or so the Grizzlies thought. See, the Suns thought they were getting Dillon Brooks and Wayne Seldon. According to Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace, the Washington Wizards had been handling the negotiations and thus the dueling Brooks’ resulted. As word of the deal spread, the Grizzlies lost the game to the Heat. In the hours that followed the trade fell through because of the confusion over which Brooks was involved.
Including that game the Grizzlies are 3-18 since the failed trade. In fairness Marc Gasol did become hobbled with an ankle and back injury shortly thereafter, and the same Dillon Brooks that wouldn’t be traded has since had a season ending foot injury. The drama with high priced free agent Chandler Parsons, and his status didn’t help, as he eventually left the team indefinitely. Mar’Shon and Seldon were eventually traded for Justin Holiday, but the damage to the 2018-2019 Grizzlies appears to have been done. The team is spiraling in the wrong direction. Which leaves the remnants of the past, Marc and Mike at the crossroads. The crossroads of their careers and with the only team they have ever played a minute with in the NBA.
I have stated before, and I will reiterate that trading both Mike and Marc is a mistake for this Grizzlies team. You could trade one, but not both. This is not sentimentality talking. Think about the Lakers after Kobe retired. Young and talented but no veteran leadership. Unless the Grizzlies are really lucky, there is just no way to get this team back on track even if you trade both players and gut your team. Even if you get high picks or young talent, based on where the Grizzlies are, financially and the situation with their roster. First getting a big return for either player is probably not going to happen. Marc’s age and performance don’t warrant a big return, and Mike’s contract is fairly prohibitive. Add to that, this summer, with the new salary cap kicks in, and every team will have money. Even a moderate free agent talent would cost more than normal given the number of teams with cap space, especially in a small market. This will have to get done through the draft and with prudent trading. Not with blockbusters.
As I’ve previously written, the real albatross on the necks of the Grizzlies’ organization is the first round draft pick that must be conveyed to the Celtics. This year it is top 8 protected, next year top 6, and unprotected in 2021. Sigh, so much for that prudent trading thing. As many local pundits and radio personalities have shared, the reality is the best thing for the Grizzlies in 2019 would be for this team to be just good enough to convey the pick at like 9 or 10 and then have their first round picks for 2020 and 2021, UNLESS…. There is on scenario where you could come out of this better. Not great but better. That is if you could convince Boston to give you the pick back as part of a deal.
Now hear me out here. The past is the past, so you can’t look at this as the Grizzlies’ pick. It’s Boston’s pick, period. So, don’t think of it as buy your own pick back. Think of it as buying your own success or failure. Right now the failure of the Grizzlies, more or less, is to the benefit of Boston. If you can swing a deal for your own pick, then you can at least benefit from sucking. This year’s draft is pretty thin, and next years looks to be similar, but 2021 is a whole different ball game. Add in the fact that it’s entirely possible that is the year you can again draft players from high school, and it could be LOADED. Not the year you want be bereft of a draft pick.
Would Boston do a deal, maybe, but it would hurt. A LOT. This from a team that wouldn’t trade Dillon Brooks for a former first round lottery pick. Not sure they have the stomach for it. Which is the real problem of being at the crossroads. You just traveled one road, and you know how it goes. You can keep going forward, but honestly that road doesn’t look really good. So which way you want to go. The organization will have to choose a way out, or maybe a way through. This will most likely be done with a new man in charge, as Chris Makris appears to have become a much more pivotal person in the front office and Chris Wallace is being marginalized. He’ll have to use the cap space to take on unwanted contracts with picks as a bonus. Take on untapped potential and hope you find a diamond. Take on a talented but troubled vet that needs a change of scenery. The next two years are critical, and it starts between now and February 7 at 3 p.m. EST. As the Grizzlies begin to field calls for Marc and Mike. Not many options honestly, but that’s the thing about the crossroad. Pick a road and follow it, as long as you don’t go backwards you should be making progress.