The Memphis Grizzlies didn’t win on Wednesday night. Of course they didn’t: they haven’t won in three weeks, and they were playing the San Antonio Spurs, who are very good, and had no answers for LaMarcus Aldridge, who is crushing defenses this season:
A season-high 41 points on 17-for-24 shooting for the five-time All-Star, who terrorized the Grizzlies en route to a comfortable 104-95 win. Memphis sits at 0-1 in the post-David Fizdale era, which began Monday after the Grizzlies decided that “the trends” — certainly not Marc Gasol sounding off about being benched for the fourth quarter on Sunday; no, it was “the trends!” — of Fizdale’s tenure had become concerning enough to end it after 101 regular-season games.
The Grizz have lost nine straight. Mike Conley’s still going to be out for two or three weeks. Wayne Selden Jr.’s in the same quad tendinopathy Twilight Zone as Kawhi Leonard. Chandler Parsons and Brandan Wright are both expected to miss a few more games, too. Memphis’ streak of seven straight playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.
Given that, and given what looks like a frightening future facing a Grizzlies team that went all in with maximum-salaried contracts in three straight seasons and that has struggled mightily to draft and develop impact talent, many observers — including our own Chris Mannix — have suggested that the time might be right for the Grizzlies to move franchise centerpiece Gasol. If the 7-foot All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year could return draft assets, young talent or a combination of the two that could give Memphis a boost in the process of hitting the reset button, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace would have to at least consider it, right?
Not according to Wallace, he wouldn’t. From Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com:
“We have no intention to trade Marc,” Wallace told ESPN when asked if the franchise might consider dealing the 32-year-old big man. “We never seriously considered that at all. We never placed any calls to any teams in that regard. So that’s not happening.
“It’s not just Marc that this whole equation is about. It’s also Mike Conley, when he comes back. We’ve got two guys among the elite in the league at their respective positions that are still very much in their window with an awful lot of tread left on their tires.” […]
“We’re full speed ahead,” Wallace said. “We’ve been in the playoffs seven years in a row. We’ve got a team when fully healthy and we get everything together is more athletic, more versatile and more potent offensively than we’ve had for a number of years. Even though the going has been a little difficult early, there’s still 62 [games] to play. We believe in this team. We’re hoping — got our fingers crossed — that we’ll get everybody healthy soon.
“Our expectation always is to be a playoff team and have a chance to do some things when we get in there. We’re behind in the standings right now, but it’s a long way to go. When we get our guys back, I think we’ll surge.”
It’s not surprising that Wallace is doubling down on the belief that the Grizzlies can save this season; that’s one of the main reasons he gave for firing Fizdale and elevating associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to the head of the bench as Memphis’ new interim head coach. You can understand why he’s got hope. The West hasn’t been as fearsome as we’d expected from top to bottom, and pretty much everybody outside the conference’s top five is dealing with some kind of significant issue, from major injuries (Paul Millsap in Denver, Rudy Gobert in Utah, Blake Griffin and Patrick Beverley in Los Angeles) to slow integration of new talent (hello, Oklahoma City) to a lack of wing talent (hey there, New Orleans) to being young and maybe not all that good (what’s up, Lakers and Suns). Even after losing nine straight to sit at 7-13, the Grizzlies are only 2 1/2 games out of the West’s No. 8 spot. Stranger things have happened, right?
But then, there’s the glass-half-empty take. The Grizzlies are also just three games clear of the conference’s basement, with a rematch with the Spurs on deck and meetings with the raging Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors after that. It remains exceedingly possible that Memphis could be 10 games under .500 by Christmas.
Sure, the Grizzlies might wind up being pretty good again when — realistically, if — they get back fully healthy versions of Conley, Selden, Parsons and Wright to pair with a Gasol that’s sloughed off his cold shooting, a Tyreke Evans that continues to shoot at above-league-average levels while scoring efficiently at the rim, back-in-form post-injury editions of JaMychal Green and Mario Chalmers, and a wing rotation (rookie Dillon Brooks, James Ennis, Ben McLemore) that can get revved up and looking like quality NBA players at the same time. That’s the thing, though: how likely is it that all that winds up going the Grizzlies’ way, and it all does before they’ve fallen wildly behind the pace?
And if it doesn’t — if Memphis continues to sink toward the West’s cellar, even if they’ve got something close to their full complement of dudes, wouldn’t it behoove Wallace and the Grizzlies to think about the longer term and look to recoup whatever value they might be able to for Gasol, who’s about to turn 33 and has one more guaranteed year after this one on the five-year maximum-salaried contract he signed in 2015? Moving Conley would be tougher, given the additional year and higher price tag on his post-salary-cap-spike max, and the fact that he’s missed significant time in each of the past three years, but the same logic would seem to apply.
Especially considering that this is the final year in which the NBA draft lottery will operate as it has, with the team with the league’s worst record getting a 25 percent shot at landing the No. 1 overall pick. Lottery reform begins in 2019 — a year in which the Grizzlies might not even have a first-round pick, after trading a top-eight protected choice to the Boston Celtics for Jeff Green back in 2015. With a ton of enticing young talent at the top of this year’s draft, maybe it’d make sense for the Grizzlies to bottom out now in pursuit of what could be their next linchpin talent … even if it means looking to bid farewell to the guys who have occupied those spots throughout the most successful run in franchise history.
That’s not who the Grizzlies are, though. (And, for what it’s worth, as I wrote hours before Fizdale’s firing, I wouldn’t look to blow it up that way just yet either, for a number of reasons.) As Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal put it, Wallace’s quote “fits everything the Grizzlies have said for years. They aren’t trying to tank or rebuild or pick whatever verb you prefer. They want to win as much as they can for as long as they can.”
That said, Wallace saying he’s made no calls to try to move Gasol doesn’t mean he hasn’t fielded any from interested suitors. (One league executive told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News earlier this week that the Grizzlies “have had plenty of offers for Gasol.”) It also doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t move Gasol if the Spaniard asked out, as he did for big brother Pau a decade ago.
Whatever the reason why he did so — that saying anything else might’ve further cratered his assets’ trade value, that it’s what he truly wants and believes, maybe a little of both — Wallace said what he had to say when he had to say it. But if the Grizzlies continue their descent through the natural course of being hurt and bad, rather than by intentionally tanking their way out of the playoff picture, it very much remains to be seen whether he’ll be saying the same thing in the run-up to the February trade deadline.
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