This could be the beginning of the end for the “grit and grind” era in Memphis. Right now, the Grizzlies are in the midst of a crossroad – fighting an uphill decision of whether or not to commit to an elongated rebuild – one that could spell the end to a handful of franchise favorites.
After giving up on the organization’s most winningest coach per win percentage (58.8) David Joerger, to an expired three-year contract last May. Several eye brows were raised in inquiry of which direction the Grizzlies were heading towards. For better or worse, their streak of six straight playoff appearances remained intact but with an aging roster that soon to be abiding streak suddenly becomes in jeopardy.
Memphis used 28 different players in 2016, which broke the record for any team that made the playoffs. Considering how many injuries the Grizzlies endured last season, the firing of Joerger last month sounds more of a head-scratcher than a comfort, especially after making the playoffs all three seasons.
With David Fizdale at the helm in Memphis, the roster he’ll have to work with next year could seek out a drastic makeover, as the Grizzlies feature five players who will be free agents this summer. Out of all of them, the most notable ones are 28-year old PG Mike Conley and 36-year old SF Matt Barnes.
It wouldn’t make sense if all five were to be resigned, as retaining Conley and the element of P.J. Hairston leaves a reward that’s somewhat minimal with how strong the Western Conference is. Another roster blemish Fizdale will have to deal with is center Marc Gasol. Gasol is on the wrong side of 31 and his receding production admits no way that Memphis will be willing to latch onto his contract after 2017.
For a considerable amount of franchises, making the playoffs is a credible benchmark and is seen as an accomplishment. But for Memphis, who’s appeared in the playoffs every year this decade and have totaled only four series wins, the epitome of “just making it” is overdone. Simply put, the Grizzlies need to get younger. Free agents are already hard to come by and Memphis’ meager $8 million to spend this off-season puts them as a distinct disadvantage compared to most NBA payrolls. Likewise, Memphis’ priorities forces them to build from the draft. And that starts now.
Memphis drafts 17th this year. According to nbadraft.net, their latest mock has Memphis selecting 6’7” SG Furkan Korkmaz from Turkey. In their streak of making the playoffs, the annual misstep was never obtaining a “good” shooting guard. Yes, defense wins championships, and for the Grizzlies, team defense alone has carried their ship to shore many times. But in order to branch out and compete with the NBA’s best, you must first shoot like the NBA’s best. Case in point, a sniper from the perimeter can alter how Memphis’ offense is run in 2017, especially when they shot the second worst from 3-point range per percentage in the league, connecting on just 33.1% in the regular season.
Building through the draft won’t happen overnight. But it’s a path Memphis must take in order to prosper. Dark days of rebuild could be in store for the Grizzlies, however this is where championships are won and lost. Fizdale has a chance to change Memphis’ entire culture. One move at a time.