With another week gone by, we’ve officially flipped the calendar over to August. Preseason football is starting up, as is Team USA Basketball practice, which signals that fall is right around the corner. It also means NBA Training Camps are somehow only a month or so away. Can you believe it?
So what better way to get you ramped up for the return of the association than by revisiting Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series? We’ve already covered 12 teams to this point, so let’s get back to it with a breakdown of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Coming into the 2018-19 campaign, questions surrounded the organization: When is Memphis going to finally end the Grit-N-Grind era? Are Mike Conley and Marc Gasol really going to want to stick around for a rebuild?
The chatter was fair. This would be the Grizzlies’ third season in four years with a new head coach. J.B. Bickerstaff officially was named head coach after taking over interim duties the previous year.
The organization could be described as anything but stable. Other than being loyal to the city that took them in, there was reason to believe those two All-Star-caliber franchise cornerstones would desire greater things than another portion of their careers being spent at the bottom of the standings.
When the Grizzlies got blown out in their opener, it looked like the season would be a long and strenuous one. It ironically turned out to be a small blip early, as they had a respectable 13-8 record through November. Gasol commandeered the offensive load while Conley ran the sets and rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. showed why he was the fourth overall pick of his draft class. Garrett Temple proved to be one of the better veteran pickups of the summer. Things were looking up for a brief moment.
It didn’t last, though. Unfortunately, those four made up the majority of the Grizzlies’ attack…literally. They got stops often and did a solid job on the defensive end of the floor by forcing their slower pace on the opposition. The problem was they couldn’t keep up if those teams figured out a way to break that strategy—which tended to happen more often than not.
Going into the New Year, Memphis sat at 18-17, but January derailed whatever glimmer of hope the team had of salvaging a successful turnout. Eventually, then-general manager Chris Wallace moved Gasol in a trade deadline deal with the Toronto Raptors. The same fate awaited JaMychal Green and Temple, who were sent to the Los Angeles Clippers. Shelvin Mack was also dealt to the Atlanta Hawks.
New acquisitions like Delon Wright and Jonas Valanciunas came in and immediately injected some fresh life into the team. Avery Bradley produced his best numbers since his last stint in Boston. Conley stayed put and played the rest of the way, perhaps putting forth some of the best efforts until he was rested from March 31 to the end of the season.
Originally signed to a 10-day contract, Bruno Caboclo vaulted himself into a multi-year deal. Ivan Rabb received valuable experience as a second-year big man trying to learn the league. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, Joakim Noah had a career resurgence that Grind City won’t soon forget.
While the 33-49 season wasn’t a complete waste, it was, again, one with a head coach who is no longer there and a front office structure that is no longer in place.
The Grizzlies had some major turnover right off the bat this summer. Owner Robert Pera reshaped the front office with sweeping changes.
With Wallace demoted to a role in the scouting department, Jason Wexler and Zach Kleiman were named president and executive vice president of basketball operations, respectively. Moreover, Memphis brought in two former NBA general managers to assist Wexler and Kleiman—Rich Cho as vice president of basketball strategy and Glen Grunwald as a senior advisor.
The brand new executive combination quickly canned Bickerstaff as head coach and replaced him with a relatively under-the-radar candidate, Taylor Jenkins. He was a top assistant under Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee and Atlanta, as well as a former head coach and assistant with the Austin Toros (Spurs G League affiliate) before that.
What was the new regime’s first priority on the list? Trading Conley. They struck a deal with the Utah Jazz, with the Grizzlies receiving Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder in return. In addition, they acquired the No. 23 pick in the draft and a protected 2020 first-rounder.
According to David Cobb of The Commercial Appeal, the selection will only convey in ’20 or ’21 if it lands between No. 8 and No. 14 in one of those drafts. He predicts it will convey in ’22 when the pick is top-six protected.
Re-signing Jonas Valanciunas was next on the docket following his opt-out, and a verbal agreement came quickly on three-year, $45 million terms at the end of June.
The NBA Draft followed, and it sure looks like Memphis set its path forward with two impressive young additions.
At No. 2, the organization pegged exciting Murray State sensation Ja Morant as its next “guy” to usher in the new era of Grizzlies basketball. Later in the first round, they traded the Jazz pick and a future-second rounder to the Oklahoma City Thunder and moved up to take Brandon Clarke, a highly-touted prospect who had an impressive single season at Gonzaga following a transfer from San Jose State.
Memphis continued the transformation of its roster soon thereafter.
C.J. Miles was traded to the Washington Wizards for Dwight Howard. Prior to his contract guarantee date, Avery Bradley was waived in correspondence.
The Grizzlies decided to make another change, too. Despite their high hopes for Delon Wright, they elected to sign-and-trade the 27-year-old guard to the Dallas Mavericks for a pair of future second-rounders and the rights to Satnam Singh. Instead of Wright, the front office inked restricted free agent Tyus Jones to a three-year, $28 million offer sheet, which the Minnesota Timberwolves declined to match.
There was also a trio of trades that occurred in July.
Maybe one of the more overlooked deals this summer, Memphis acquired Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and two more future second-round picks in exchange for Korver and Jevon Carter.
The franchise finally found a taker for Chandler Parsons and his albatross contract in the Atlanta Hawks, who sent back Solomon Hill after absorbing his hefty deal from a previous trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Miles Plumlee was also included in the return.
Perhaps the best get, however, was Andre Iguodala. The Golden State Warriors had to pick someone to move in order to create enough flexibility salary-wise and make a D’Angelo Russell sign-and-trade – in addition to other moves in the offseason – work for them. The Grizzlies stepped up as the ones to take on Iguodala, plus a top-four protected 2024 first-round pick. All they had to do was send Julian Washburn to the Bay Area.
To fill a two-way contract slot, Memphis agreed with John Konchar during NBA Summer League. Last week, the team signed international guard Marko Guduric.
Monday morning, Jenkins announced his coaching staff. There are a number of notable hires – Niele Ivey, who spent 12 seasons as one of Muffet McGraw’s top associates at Notre Dame and as a former player, will join the Grizzlies as an assistant coach. Ohio State director of player development Scoonie Penn will come aboard, too. Vitaly Potapenko returns to help in development with a specific focus on his old playing position at center.
Furthermore, the organization named Jason March as the head coach of the Memphis Hustle, the team’s G League affiliate.
As you can plainly see, there is a tide turning from the top down on Beale Street.
PLAYERS IN: Jonas Valanciunas (re-signed), Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill, Miles Plumlee, Marko Guduric, Satnam Singh (draft rights) John Konchar (two-way)
PLAYERS OUT: Mike Conley, Justin Holiday, Avery Bradley, Chandler Parsons, Delon Wright, Tyler Dorsey, C.J. Miles, Julian Washburn, Jevon Carter
A brand new direction. Consider it intriguing that we’re going to see the first iteration of Gasol/Conley-less Grizzlies basketball for the first time in over a decade. Yes, it’s really been that long.
They’ve got the a couple of veterans to pave the way. Iguodala will prove to be incredible in the locker room and, in spurts, on the floor. If he’s kept around, Howard has been around the block enough to be a guiding voice. You can certainly say Valanciunas, Crowder and Hill are well-seasoned having been in the league for six to seven years.
Those guys can set the table, but it will be the “kids” turn to take over now. We only got a taste of what JJJ is capable of last season. With a core of fresh faces to grow next to, the best is most definitely yet to come for the soon-to-be 19-year-old forward.
Morant’s resume spoke for itself in college. He is capable of the flash and the fundamental, a deadly combination to have as an IQ with so much more to learn as it is. Clarke wowed those in attendance in Las Vegas at summer league with his tenacity on the glass and finishing at the rim.
Think about the players aching for a fair opportunity, too. Jones had dealt with inconsistent playing time for all but his fourth year with the Wolves. Allen, albeit controversial on the floor with his questionable temper, hasn’t really gotten real experience at the pro level. Melton displayed moments of promise when the Suns were looking for production out of their backcourt. One could also argue that Jackson – also coming from Phoenix – has an opportunity to soar in his third year with a concrete role. Granted, he needs to figure things out off the court, first and foremost.
Despite being an all-around jack-of-all-trades player, Kyle Anderson will need to bring a more consistent offensive effort if he wants to get the playing time he desires. There will be a flat-out competition internally with the abundance of forwards this team has.
Jenkins will have his work cut out for him in year one as head coach. The roster is filled with youth and guys who mostly haven’t been a part of this organization. At the same time, it’s exciting to think about doing things basically from scratch.
Grit-N-Grind is officially in the past. It takes a village to start anew.
Let’s see what Jenkins and these players can do with the opportunity.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B-