Only one team in the West is worse than the Memphis Grizzlies. The Dallas Mavericks are keeping the Grizzlies from being in the West cellar. But Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies GM, is blind to binary calculations, or he’s living in fantasy land, or he’s not paying attention. Wallace, laughingly said after he fired David Fitzdale, the firing was “to save the season”. Now he says the season is not lost, just wait until Mike Conley returns. Mike Conley is a very good player but last I looked he’s not LeBron James. Only LeBron makes a difference between winning and losing that is particularly dramatic.
It has been 52 days since the Grizzlies won two games in a row. It’s been 42 days since they won a road game. November and December, they have won 4 games and lost 19. They are 1-11 against the East. That 1 win being the worst team in the East, the Hawks. They can’t score, rebound, make a play via the pass, make a play via iso, create steals, generate fast breaks. Their defense is above average until you look at what they are doing on the perimeter. It’s atrocious. So by every measure they are a lottery team. But a lottery team with two max contracts, one that is impossible to move. How did we get here?
Like most teams get here. Front office (Chris Wallace) mistakes. The three most notable are drafting, overpaying and not having a plan.
Drafting: The Grizzlies drafted Mike Conley in 2007, a great pick up on both sides of the ball although he’s never been an All-Star. That’s less on Conley and more on the tough guard class in the West. The next year after Conley, they drafted Kevin Love and traded him to Minnesota for O.J. Mayo. Mayo is currently out the league. The Grizzlies didn’t draft Eric Gordon, Brook Lopez, Serge Ibaka, George Hill, who are currently in the league.
The next year with the number two pick, they drafted Hasheem Thabeet, a bust. They could have had James Harden, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan to pair with Mike Conley and their backcourt would have been set for a decade. In 2010, they drafted Xavier Henry and guess what? He’s not in the NBA. Henry had a shortened career because of injury. Get the Grizzlies theme here? Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley are still in the league and were passed up by the Grizzlies.
They drafted Tony Wroten in 2012, Jordan Adams in 2014, Jarrell Martin in 2015. And so it goes. After the Conley gem, the Grizzlies have been awful on draft night, getting nothing in return for their troubles which has led to this. 9 wins and it’s halfway to January.
Overpaying: The Grizzlies handed Marc Gasol a max deal in 2015 when he was a free agent and it was the right and wrong thing to do. The first year of the deal (’15-’16) Gasol was 16 and 7. That year, the Grizzlies were swept out the first round. Last season, Gasol was 19 and 6 and the Grizzlies lost in the first round. This season, Gasol has the baggage attached to him that he got David Fitzdale fired and fans are pretty disgusted with him. He is a 19 and 8 player but his 42% field goal percentage is career low. Gasol is 32 and good luck anyone taking him off the Grizzlies hands for $49 million the next two years when certain parts of his game are eroding.
The overpayment of Mike Conley made more sense but Conley struggles with Achilles injuries. When he plays, he turns the Grizz season around. But knowing he is always hurt, and the Grizz always failing the NBA draft without an adequate sub for Conley, only puts them behind the eight ball over and over and over agin. Is Conley worth the $30 million he will get paid next year? Not really. He can’t stay healthy. Even when he is healthy, Conley keeps the Grizzlies out the lottery but he doesn’t propel them into contenders. The Grizzlies are in the middle, they are stuck.
Instabiity: After the 2012-13 season, Lionel Hollins contract was not renewed after four years and a record of 183-129. All Hollins did was deliver the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in their history. The Grizzlies claimed “philosophical differences” with the front office, meaning Hollins wasn’t a puppet to their whims.
Next on board was Dave Joerger and frankly, he knew what was coming. He was Hollins assistant. He was up close and personal with the drama. His last season with the Grizz, he informed a Commercial Appeal beat writer Gasol was trying to get him fired. Can’t blame it all on Gasol when Joerger saw what happened to his predecessor. Joerger lasted three years with a record of 147-99. If two 50-win seasons can’t keep you employed, nothing will.
But here is the Grizzlies trend on coaching. Each new coach, one year less. They have consistency. Four years for Hollins, three years for Joerger and two years for Fitzdale. J.B. Bickerstaff is perfect for the Grizzlies pattern, 1 year. And then who knows.
So, no. Wallace and syncophants, the Grizzlies season is not saved. Not hardly. Not in anyone’s universe. The Grizzlies season is comatose with last rites happening in the next 20 days or so. While the lottery and this year’s crop of big men is something to gear yourself up for, with the Grizzlies reputation for ruining draft night, the winter and spring feels like a chilly one with no pot of gold at the end of the losing/tanking Grizzlies rainbow. Thanks a lot.