It’s hard to believe, but the Memphis Grizzlies have nearly 23 years to their credit as an NBA franchise. The Grizzlies started off in Vancouver, Canada back in 1995 before moving to Music City in 2001. And like most expansion teams, the Grizzlies faced their struggles as they were unable to secure a winning season until 2004 which was also their first taste of the postseason. Since then the Grizzlies have been a consistent playoff team which included making the Western Conference Finals for the first and only time in 2013. During the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, Memphis had developed a reputation around the NBA as a “tough out” due to their ability on defense, as well as a pair of quality big men in center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph who possessed different skill sets which made them very difficult to defend.
However the dominance of Randolph and Gasol is now a distant memory. Randolph left Memphis last summer in free agency and he signed with the Sacramento Kings. And an Achilles injuriy to point guard Mike Conley Jr. has now left Gasol as one of the few viable scoring options for the Grizzlies who are on pace for one of their worst seasons in franchise history.
This season never got off on the right foot for the Grizzlies as just 19 games in, head coach Dave Fizdale was fired. The Grizzlies have endured multiple losing streaks of 10 games or more which included a 19-game slide that stretched from the end of January until St. Patrick’s Day. In all Memphis has lost 14 games by 15 points or more since November 11, while they’ve only won a single basketball game since late January. And it’s hard to believe that the Grizzlies actually began the season with a record of 5-1. The ultimate sign of the Grizzlies struggles came last Thursday when they were destroyed by the Charlotte Hornets 140-79 as the 61-point blowout was one of the most lopsided defeats in NBA history. And with a record of 19-53 while also possessing the worst offenses in the NBA, the Grizzlies are looking at their first 60-loss season in a decade. But is there any end in sight to the Grizzlies futility?
After this terrible showing by the Grizzlies, you can expect a shakeup in their front office as longtime general manager Chris Wallace should be worried. And since Fizdale was already relieved of his duties, you know that Memphis will be looking for a new head coach as well. But whomever will be running the show for the Grizzlies next season needs to assess the team’s roster from top to bottom as it is time to part with as many valuable assets as possible.
Hands down Gasol is one of the best players in Grizzlies franchise history, but it is not wise to hold onto an aging player with a hefty salary for a team that is not going to compete. Gasol is set to earn more than $24 million next season, while he has a player option for the following season that will pay him more than $26 million. Gasol is 33-years of age and he can still get it done at a quality level as he is averaging 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists, while he is one better passing big men currently in the NBA. There will be teams around the NBA this summer who will be seeking to get the services of a player like Gasol, and getting draft picks as well as young players in exchange for Gasol would be the best possible thing that Memphis can do.
The Grizzlies are also stuck with the contracts of Conley and small forward Chandler Parsons which appear to be dead money. Conley is recovering from surgery on his Achillies tendon, while Parsons have never been the same player since he originally injured his knee several years ago. And together Conley and Parsons represent more than $51 million in salary this season that has unable to consistently contribute this season for Memphis, while together they will earn more than $54 million next season. Conley has been one of the best players in the Grizzlies franchise history, but he will never live up the billing of his current contract that pays him nearly $30 million per season, and attempting to comeback from his injury will only make it more difficult.
Then there is the case of swingman Tyreke Evans who signed a one-year deal with the Grizzlies last summer. Evans is in the midst of one of the finest seasons of his career as he is averaging 19.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 5.1 rebounds. By far Evans has been the Grizzlies best player as he’s been extremely underrated throughout his NBA career for his ability to score and facilitate. But a decision needs to made within the team’s front office soon if Evans will be in their long-term plans.
This upcoming off-season will be the most important one for the Grizzlies in a very long time as they must address what kind of team that they want to be over the next few years. Memphis must decide if they want to fully rebuild, or are they going to give one try with Gasol, Conley, and potentially Evans as their core. But make no mistake about it that what we have seen from the Grizzlies this season has been painful to watch as they’ve given the people of Music City nothing but the Blues.