Sudden upheaval in one of the NBA’s most stable franchises in recent history has caught the attention of everyone. Prior to Memphis Grizzlies firing Coach David Fizdale, the team went about its business without a lot of attention even when winning games in the early parts of the season.
The team’s low key persona is reflected directly by Point Guard Mike Conley who has the statistics to back calls for him to be named an All-Star. However, his name has been missing from the vaunted list since he started to produce as an elite NBA Guard.
Somehow the team’s eight game losing streak has gone largely unnoticed by the media until Fizdale benched star player Marc Gasol in the fourth quarter in a loss to Brooklyn Nets.
With the glitzy Los Angeles Clippers losing seven straight games in the same conference, it is not surprising Memphis losing run played on the blind side of the spotlight. But benching Gasol out of desperation to ink a win and break the run, ended Fizdale in hot waters with the team’s sole star player.
Gasol voiced his frustration about the move and a few hours later Fizdale lost his job. Losing a player of Conley’s quality was bound to affect Memphis who have lost games since the mercurial Guard got injured.
The Clippers went through a similar cycle after losing starting Point Guards Milos Teodosic and Patrick Beverley through injuries.
Kudos to the Grizzlies for putting in maximum effort to avoid going through a rebuild and stay competitive though its postseason run was limited.
However, the team must embrace reality and hit the reset button. Following an offseason where members of the famous Grit and Grind era were shipped out to create a new identity, the team failed to complete the process entirely. By keeping Marc Gasol and Conley and filling out the rest of the roster with second and third tier talent like Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore was bound to run into problems.
After the departure of Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter prior to this season, the tone was set for an overhaul but management tried to work around the situation by building a new unit on Conley and Gasol’s talent. Perhaps the team should have learnt from the mistakes of Chicago Bulls last season when the Windy City’s franchise was primed for a rebuild to fit Coach Fred Hoiberg’s free flowing three point shooting heavy system without Jimmy Butler.
However, Chicago’s management retained Butler’s service and paired him with veteran players Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The team made it to the postseason after missing out the season before but adding two poor three point shooters to Butler made Chicago beatable in the postseason.
Following a first round exit at the hands of Boston Celtics, the Bulls pulled the plug on the experiment by buying out Wade’s contract, not picking up the second year on Rondo’s contract and dealing Butler to Minnesota Timberwolves for three young players. It is hard to envisage JB Bickerstaff doing a better job than Fizdale to achieve a playoff spot with this team. After all Bickerstaff couldn’t propel a more talented Houston Rockets team to a higher regular season standing as Houston made the postseason as eighth best in the conference following Kevin McHale’s sack early in the 2015-2016 season.
With valuable assets, a big payroll for a team that is going nowhere and young players on cheap contracts, the Grizzlies have the makings of a team ready for a rebuild. Trading Conley and Gasol will land Memphis with a lot of draft picks and players who could help the team lose a few more games to score big in the draft. Boston Celtics are ready to give a lot of players like Guershon Yabusele, Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Smart for Gasol.
Swapping Al Horford with Gasol is highly possible and Conley’s skills can make Orlando Magic a permanent postseason team for the next three seasons. Memphis management will have a difficult time moving Chandler Parsons $23 million contract due to the former Houston Forward’s extensive injuries. Before his career got hit by ailments Parsons looked the part of a third force in a “Big 3”. Should his fragile knees continue to bother him, Memphis can buy his contract out and look to get as many first and second year players without much experience to clinch wins.
Losing games could land Memphis with the rights to top tier talents in the draft to pair with young studs Dillion Brooks, Jarell Martin and Andrew Harrison. Memphis missed the chance to see out a complete phase out before. Now it has another chance and can’t miss again.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter