The Memphis Grizzlies are waiting for a future that may never come

Feb 2, 2023 - 2:40 PM
NBA: Indiana Pacers at <a href=Memphis Grizzlies" src="" />
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the brother of the most famous man to ever live wrote: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

A few decades before that, the famous man himself said: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

To be sure, the application is simple: Don’t worry about the future at the expense of the present. We should, of course, plan for the future and seek to make it as bright as possible. But we should never obsess over its potential problems and possibilities to the point where we neglect the problems and possibilities that we currently face. Because as we are reminded far too often, life is fleeting, and we aren’t promised tomorrow.

If you’ve been paying any significant attention to the Memphis Grizzlies, then you already know where I’m going with this. Time and time again, the Memphis front office has made it abundantly clear that they are focused on building a sustainable future rather than going all-in to win in the present. Zach Kleiman in particular has emphasized that growth isn’t necessarily linear when building a championship contender. And to be clear, I have generally agreed that these are wise guiding principles to have when building a championship contender.

However, here’s the problem: Kleiman and the rest of the Grizzlies front office have already built a championship contender; they just really don’t want to acknowledge that they have. In their moves and transactions, they continue to operate like rebuilders rather than contenders, even as the team is second in the West just as it was last season. Kleiman in particular seems less like the next Red Aurerbach and more like the next Georges Rouault, constantly denigrating his own otherwise beautiful artwork because it didn’t fit his vision of perfection.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Or maybe that’s not entirely the case.

I want to wind the clocks back to 2012 for just a minute. In December of that year, Robert Pera hired Jason Levien to be the new President of Basketball Operations to replace Chris Wallace. If you’ll remember, Levien’s biggest splash was when he traded Rudy Gay in what amounted to be a glorified salary dump to keep the Grizzlies out of the luxury tax. This move, of course, only happened about a week after Levien traded key role players Mareese Speights and Wayne Ellington for Jon “Tennessee Dirk” Leuer in what was yet another salary dump.

So I want to pose a question: Are we to believe in 2023 that Robert Pera wants to win so badly that he’s willing to spend big to do it? Or he could be strongly encouraging Zach Kleiman to move off of pricier veterans and replace them with cheaper rookies and young players? And in the process of doing so, the organization can manage fan expectations in the present while preaching hope for an even brighter future?

Regardless, the priority remains the future at the expense of the present. The front office doesn’t want to reduce future flexibility and trade some of their 9 first-round picks over the next 8 years to benefit the present team. So the Grizzlies—who are, again, second in the West—must be hamstrung by a terrible offensive wing rotation of Ziaire Williams, John Konchar, David Roddy, 35-year-old Danny Green, and Dillon Brooks (yes, Brooks has the 2nd lowest eFG% in the NBA among rotation players, and he belongs on this list).

Why worry about contending with the great team you have in the present when Ziaire Williams and John Konchar need developmental minutes? They could even be as good as Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton down the line!

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Oh sure, I get the vision to a certain extent. Over the last two drafts, the Grizzlies have acquired upside swings that (in theory) bring versatility, size, and shooting, which will hopefully empower the team to reach new heights in the future. David Roddy is still raw, but I like his size and ability to create rim pressure off the bounce. Jake LaRavia has an undeniably sweet stroke and a solid 3-and-D skillset, albeit one that that exists more in theory than reality at the moment. Ziaire Williams...shows flashes sometimes.

But if I’m being completely honest, do I see any of these player growing into borderline stars or even elite role players in the next 1-2 years to push the Grizzlies over the championship hump? I don’t, and I suspect that if everyone is being honest with themselves, most feel the same.

No matter how good an organization is at player scouting and development, the draft remains a fickle beast. In the Kleiman era, the Grizzlies have proven to be as good as anyone at evaluating talent (Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, Santi Aldama). Yet no matter adept a team is, they’re still going to have some misses.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you want about Ziaire Williams, he has been vastly disappointing for what you would normally expect from a former top-10 pick in his 2nd year. The Grizzlies drafted him with the hopes that he could grow into the versatile three-level scorer on the wing that they need. That’s still not an impossibility, but it appears quite unlikely considering that he currently has no business being in the rotation of a championship contender. Missing on lottery picks hurts, and he currently represents the first big miss of the current Grizzlies front office.

The players they selected in the 2023 draft, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily misses, but they haven’t proven themselves ready to contribute. Roddy and LaRavia both show promise, but they wouldn’t be vying for rotation minutes on any other contender. And there’s also no other contender that would have drafted four players in the same draft like the Grizzlies did this past summer.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Now I don’t say all of this to declare that the Grizzlies front office has lost their touch in the draft; no one shoots 100%. But the fact remains that it’s extremely difficult to build a complete championship roster purely through the draft without putting any emphasis on acquiring outside proven pieces to fill holes on the roster. That’s not even to mention that the Grizzlies likely won’t even have the roster space for 3 first-round picks over the next 2 years.

Whether the motivation is truly strategic or financial, the Memphis Grizzlies shouldn’t stand pat at this deadline. They should absolutely make a trade to shore up the bench and maximize their championship potential this season. No one is demanding that they truly nuke their future flexibility and send 3-4 first round picks to Toronto for OG Anunoby, but there is a middle ground between doing nothing and going all-in.

The problems that the Grizzlies face are obvious, as they are currently 24th in half-court offense and 24th in 3PT%. And there are plenty of names on the market (i.e. Gary Trent Jr., Malik Beasley, Alec Burks, etc.) that could help address these issued and be acquired at a reasonable cost.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Whether in life or in the NBA, the future is not certain. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. both have checkered injury histories, and there’s no guarantee that their bodies hold up over the next 5-10 years. The NBA has also generally been dominated by dynasties, and it may never be as wide open again as it is right now.

The Memphis Grizzlies must take advantage of their present, or they may find themselves waiting for a future that may never come.

Follow Grizzly Bear Blues on Twitter and Instagram. For more Grizzlies talk, subscribe to the Grizzly Bear Blues podcast network on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and IHeart.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!