No matter what the perspective, it’s become almost impossible to see the upside of this Memphis Grizzlies team as currently constructed. Clearly nowhere near the title contention conversation with a roster that simply isn’t good enough to contend with the elite teams, the Grizzlies are staring another disappointing season directly in the face. As a result, it’s time to seriously consider expediting the makeover of a team that has needed one long before this season’s arrival.
Mike Conley, who is on course to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, has a very uncertain future with the only team he’s ever known. Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes—all of whom were acquired to add shooting to a team that still needs it—are set to hit the open market. Zach Randolph, who will be entering the final year of his deal, should be on the trade market despite his history with the franchise and Marc Gasol, who just re-signed on a max contract through 2019-20, could very well be the only man remaining from a core that has seemingly played together forever. With so much up in the air and likely to be changed, Memphis needs to be realistic about where it stands in the present in order to correctly assess its future.
Despite the need to look forward, it’s extremely difficult to see where this team can extract value from its current group. There is almost no scenario where the club would trade Conley regardless of whatever his future may hold, and none of the Barnes-Lee-Green trifecta is going to command enough for a potential deal to make much sense. Without roster flexibility or a clear direction, this is an underperforming team that will be stuck in NBA purgatory until some uncomfortable decisions are made.
The climb to the top of the Western Conference is only going to get steeper over the next several seasons. The Golden State Warriors are poised to be an elite team for the majority of MVP Stephen Curry’s prime, the San Antonio Spurs’ next era is already here with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and the list goes on from there. Even toward the bottom of the standings, you can point to Anthony Davis’ takeover, Karl-Anthony Towns’ rapid ascent or even Damian Lillard’s Portland squad to see the impressive talent that is distributed throughout. Without an emphatic roster reshuffling, attempting to carve any kind of path back to the top of the pile would be like trying to dig a tunnel to China using a wooden spoon. It’s just not going to work.
“The paint is a zoo,” Conley recently told ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz. “It’s clogged. It’s hard for guards to drive, hard for our big guys to have room to make plays.” If that sounds like a familiar refrain from a team that has struggled to try and solve the same issue time and time again, that’s because it is. And while the club has never been an offensive juggernaut by any means since this core was put in place together, it’s the once rock solid defense that has really turned this group into a Charmin-soft pretender. Previously able to rely on an identity that would frustrate the opposition and routinely stymie their best player, the Grizzlies can no longer call defense the backbone of their team.
For so long, this is a front office that has refused to tweak its approach as the league has evolved around them. Without major changes in both personnel and roster construction, the Grizzlies are in firm danger of being left behind.
There is a point when continuity becomes staleness and a commitment to old-school smashmouth basketball becomes a willful ignorance of league trends and the premium on spacing in today’s NBA. The only way to reverse direction is with a thoughtful reconstitution of the roster, or at least some careful additions that sincerely address need.
In any field, it’s critical to understand where you excel and where your strengths lie, something that Memphis has been able to do. It’s even more important to properly understand and evaluate your weaknesses, and that’s where the Grizzlies’ roster flaw is exposed. Unless there is a change in how business is conducted, the same Memphis team we already know isn’t good enough will continue to remain the same.