Losing 93-87 to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, the Memphis Grizzlies fell to 8-20 on the season.
To add insult to injury, Memphis is tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the worst overall record in the Western Conference, even behind the rebuilding Sacramento Kings (9-18) and Phoenix Suns (9-21).
As with most disastrous starts, a number of things have gone wrong for the Grizzlies this season.
Just like last year, injuries to key players have played a huge part in the team’s struggles. Star point guard Mike Conley has been limited to just 12 games with an Achilles injury. He reportedly doesn't have a timetable to return. Key rotational pieces like Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green and Ben McLemore have also missed time due to various ailments.
The team also famously fired head coach David Fizdale after center Marc Gasol publicly complained about his lack of playing time. There was reportedly a huge divide between the two behind the scenes, even dating back to last year.
Since a number of Western Conference teams bolstered their rosters over the summer, the Grizzlies simply haven’t been able to compete with them, despite solid individual campaigns from Gasol, who is putting up 19.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists, and Tyreke Evans, who has re-emerged as a valuable asset, averaging 18.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists over 29.8 minutes per contest.
However, Conley has been injured and the supporting cast has been inconsistent. At this point, it would be extremely difficult to turn things around based on the landscape of the conference.
Therefore, the team is left with two options: tough the season out or become sellers. Here are a few reasons why they should trade away Gasol, Conley and Evans in the hopes of completely rebuilding from the ground up.
Zach Lowe of ESPN recently reported that the Grizzlies finished the season $40 million in the red before revenue sharing kicked in. Therefore, offloading a few expensive salaries might end up helping the bottom line in the short term if the right deal is made.
In the summer of 2015, Gasol signed a five-year, $113,211,750 contract with the Grizzlies. Making just over $22.6 million this season, over $24.1 million next year and over $25.5 million in 2019-2020 if he accepts his player option, Gasol is still owed a ton of guaranteed money that is essentially being wasted in the current situation.
A number of teams would be willing to take on Gasol’s contract (if the financial implications work out) due to his ability to play both ends of the floor at an elite level. Although he’s played in Memphis for his entire career, he might be ready to head to a contender.
Conley is in the second year of a five-year, $152,605,576 deal that he signed in the summer of 2016. At the time, it was the richest contract in NBA history. In 12 games this season, he has posted 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, which are not up to the standards of a max player. Although it’d be a stretch to move him due to his contract, the team could potentially make something work by receiving a draft pick and a player with a huge cap hit spanning a shorter period of time (like Brooklyn Nets center Timofey Mozgov or Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng for example).
This past summer, Evans signed a one-year, $3.3 million deal with Memphis, which is now looking like a complete steal. Next summer, he should be in line for a massive, multi-year deal if he maintains his health and production. The Grizzlies presumably do not want to tie up a non All-Star level players for what Evans will most likely command on the open market. They already did that with Chandler Parsons. Therefore, Evans would be a logical trade target for any contender willing to give up a first-round pick or young player.
Lacking an identity
”We think our window is still very much open with Mike and Marc," general manager Chris Wallace recently told ESPN.com. ”I think we'll be heard from the rest of this year, and in years to come,” he told ESPN on Tuesday.
"We are not just looking to make the playoffs," Wallace explained. "We want to do damage there. We've played well against top teams. I know it's not the same as winning, but we have gone down with dignity against them in the playoffs. Maybe one year the playoff gods will shine upon us. Everybody can dream, all right?”
At this point, that seems a bit farfetched.
With Conley out, Gasol and Evans at the helm, and a slew of role players earning playing time under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, the Grizzlies seemingly have no idea if youngsters Dillon Brooks, Andrew Harrison, Deyonta Davis, Ivan Rabb, Kobi Simmons or Jarell Martin will develop into anything special.
Therefore, trading away Gasol, Conley and Evans would open up all of the playing time and all of the usage offensively, thus allowing the team to get a solid look at each of the young guys above.
Although Gasol isn’t actively calling for a trade, he recently told ESPN, “If they think it is best, I would do anything for this franchise.”
Unfortunately, all three of Memphis’ standout players do not fit the mold of a modern-day NBA star.
Although Conley has proven to be a valued floor general, he is 30 years old and doesn’t have the same level of athleticism as other top point guards in the West. Based on a number of injuries over the course of his career, wear and tear has taken a toll.
Gasol has expanded his offensive game beyond the post over the years, but he’s 32 years old and has naturally lost a step defensively, which will continue to be evident against faster and stronger modern-day centers and power forwards. Elite Western Conference teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets often times play small-ball, where the center position is basically overlooked. That diminishes Gasol's overall value.
Evans is a slashing point forward who has made his living by attacking the rim. As seen this season, he can be neutralized when squaring off against a strong opposing rim protector.
As a whole, Conley and Gasol have been a part of many successful regular-season teams and have been a staple of the playoffs in recent years. Due to the team's personnel, they've also maintained their status as one of the league's top defensive units year-after-year. But, they have never gotten over the hump. Now, with stars teaming up at the top of the conference and an obvious emphasis placed on the offensive side of the ball, it is probably time to start building for a future with a new, younger core of players.
There’s still plenty of time to go before the February 8 trade deadline, so if the Grizzlies keep losing, the franchise will have even more of a reason to blow things up.