The Death of Grit and Grind: Why the Grizzlies Need to Rebuild
The Grit and Grind Era in Memphis was a fun NBA storyline. From 2010 to 2017 the Grizzlies transformed from a team perpetually in the lottery to a fun playoff team with potential. They snuck into the playoffs as the 8th seed and shocked the world when they upset the Spurs in the first round of 2011 playoffs. At the height of their success, they even managed to make it to the Western Conference Finals in 2013. The Grizzlies never got farther than that, but the sustained success was impressive considering their roster and play style. The team was characterized by their tough, physical defense and old school, back to the basket offense led by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Mike Conley and Tony Allen were the staples of the team’s backcourt and as Conley blossomed into one of the better two-way point guards in the NBA, Allen always provided suffocating defense on the perimeter and found ways to be effective despite not being a scoring threat. While the rest of the NBA was trending towards offenses that emphasized three-point shooting, the Grizzlies continued to grit and grind their way to wins.
The beginning of the end came with the hiring of head coach David Fizdale in 2016. The team’s core remained in place but the roles of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph became marginalized while Conley took on a larger role in the more modern offense. Allen and Randolph eventually signed with other teams in the 2017 offseason and it was clear the Grizzlies were going to focus on building around Conley and Gasol and hoped to stay competitive. For the first few games, it looked like they would be able to accomplish that goal. They had big wins over the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, starting the season at 7-4. Unfortunately, an injury to Mike Conley took him out indefinitely and the Grizzlies lost 11 games in a row. In the midst of the losing streak, tensions between Gasol and Fizdale grew to the point where Gasol openly griped to the media about being benched in the fourth quarter of a game against the Brooklyn Nets. Fizdale was fired shortly thereafter but the coaching change has not seemed to improve the team. Memphis is currently 14th in the Western Conference standings with virtually no chance at making the playoffs. Conley missing so much time has been a major source of the team’s struggles but even with him, the Grizzlies have a limited ceiling. Even at full strength, they certainly aren’t contending for a title and at best, are a team struggling to get the 7th or 8th playoff seed. Gasol and Conley, both in their 30s, are aging out of star status.
The good news for the Grizzlies is they control their 2018 draft pick in what should be a loaded draft class. The bad news is this team is capped out for the foreseeable future and has very few ways to improve its roster. The Gasol, Conley and Chandler Parsons contracts have limited the team’s flexibility to sign a premier free agent and aside from the Conley and Gasol, the team does not boast many high-end assets that they can trade to get better. The only path for the Grizzlies to get back into playoff contention is to draft a player capable of lifting their franchise almost immediately. The odds of that happening are relatively low and become even lower when considering the Grizzlies’ recent draft picks. Over the past six years, Memphis has not signed a single player that it has drafted to a second contract.
The best option for this team is to trade Conley and/or Gasol. The Grizzlies cannot build a championship roster around this core and soon they will not be able to build a playoff contender either. Over the summer the duo was considered to be “untouchable” by ownership but current circumstances should force the Grizzlies to reconsider this position. Gasol is still a top tier center that can contribute on a winning team but his days as a defensive force and a star caliber player seem to be dwindling. Conley, while talented, has struggled to stay healthy over the past three seasons and is not a franchise player. The Grizzlies ownership may be worried about fans losing interest if Gasol and Conley are gone and the team bottoms out. But they are just delaying the inevitable. This team is destined for a rebuild and the wisest option is to clear as much cap space as possible and pick up as many assets on the way.