March 26, 2018, 5:27 pm
It’s odd to think of the Memphis Grizzlies as a bottom feeder in the West when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, the two most successful players in the young franchise’s history, are still around.
After spending years as one of the least accomplished franchises in the NBA, the duo took over and turned Memphis into what became known as the “Grind City” thanks to their grit-and-grind style of play that led to seven straight playoff appearances and endeared the fans to the team.
That streak has broken this year as the Grizzlies suffered injuries, veteran departures and internal drama. Sitting at 19-54, the Grizzlies have the second-worst record in the NBA and have fully embraced the tank, hoping to secure a top draft pick and infuse the roster with youthful talent.
There is some hope, though, that this won’t be a downturn into the depths of the West for long. As mentioned above, Gasol and Conley are still around and remain productive players when on the floor. Both players are showing noticeable decline and certainly staying healthy will be a major question mark, but the reality is both guys are locked in to long-term contracts and the team will still do their best to extract value out of them.
The hope is that adding an impact player in the draft, perhaps one of the young bigs DeAndre Ayton or Marvin Bagley, can infuse some youth and energy into the club and slot next to Gasol and Conley. Add in the resurgence of Tyreke Evans, if they can bring him back as a free agent, and continued development of the current young guys like Dillon Brooks and Deyonta Davis and maybe the Grizzlies can fight off their old ghosts of a team that is perennially mired in the losing cycle.
It’s a risky approach. Relying on the two stalwarts to lead another extended playoff resurgence seems unlikely at best. Conley is coming off an Achilles procedure and has played just 12 games this year, and has been dealing with the injury for a couple of seasons now. He heads into his age-31 season. Gasol’s efficiency is at an all-time low and heads into his age-34 season.
On the other hand Conley is a year removed from his most productive season in his career and the Achilles injury wasn’t a tear, which derails the most promising of careers, and just a “cleanup” procedure. Gasol remains one of the top defenders at his position and could improve his offense with more talent surrounding him.
Whether or not they can bounce back, the Grizzles may not have much of a choice. They are married to the duo, as Conley has $62 million and two guaranteed years remaining (the third becomes guaranteed with 55 games in either of the next two seasons) and Gasol has one year guaranteed at $24 million, with a player option for $25 million which looks more than likely to be exercised.
The Grizzlies showed an unwillingness, to the media, about trading Gasol at the deadline, but even so it would be tough to find a partner for that salary when the landscape of the league is leaning towards savings and avoiding the luxury tax. Perhaps they couldn’t find a partner and that’s why they backed their franchise icon.
However it shakes out in the future, they are committed to climbing the draft boards now and getting a talented young player. That involves being as bad as possible and they have certainly achieved that. The Grizz have won just one game in their last 24, including 19 losses in a row.
This is a bad basketball team. They can’t score, having the second-worst offensive rating and fewest points per game (the only team below 100). They hardly defend, having the seventh-worst defensive rating (though still ahead of the Wolves).
The Wolves should have no problem winning this one, especially on their own floor. Their next three games are against actively tanking teams, and after their embarrassment in Philadelphia they should be eager to blow some steam on the bottom feeders. The Wolves need to take all three, although they do lose to Memphis earlier in the season, breaking their 11-game losing steak.
Nothing is a guarantee in this league.
Jeff Teague – PG
Andrew Wiggins – SG
Nemanja Bjelica – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Andrew Harrison – PG
Dillon Brooks – SG
Jarell Martin – SF
JaMychal Green – PF
Marc Gasol – C
Jimmy Butler (knee) – OUT
Derrick Rose (ankle) – OUT
Mike Conley (Achilles) – OUT
Tyreke Evans (personal) – OUT
Chandler Parsons (knee) – QUESTIONABLE
Ivan Rabb (heel) – OUT
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
When: 8:00 ET/7:00 CT
How: Fox Sports North