Mike Facci (Follow @_facci on Twitter)
Mike Facci is a contributor to The Five By 5.
Let’s set the stage. The year is 2010. Tik-Tok by Kesha is the top performing song of the year, Blockbuster has yet to file for bankruptcy and Kobe Bryant has just won his last NBA title after topping the Celtics in seven games.
What does this have to do with the Memphis Grizzlies? It happens to be the last time that the Memphis Grizzlies have missed the NBA playoffs (3rd longest active streak in NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks).
For a team that adopted the motto “Grit and Grind” back in 2011 to symbolize their tough and relentless style of play, they have fallen on tough times this season and risk going into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak. Sitting at a current record of 18-37 and averaging just 98.9 points per game, the Grizzlies rank second to last in the league in scoring and wins this season. Those numbers trail only arguably the most dysfunctional run franchise in all of sports (not named the Cleveland Browns), the Sacramento Kings.
Just like someone staring down at the 2016 presidential ballot, you might ask yourself “how the hell did we get to this point?” Some could say it started when the Grizzlies let fan favorites Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph and defensive stalwart Tony Allen walk during last years free agency. Others could point to massive swing and misses by general manager Chris Wallace in handing out hefty contracts to the likes of Mike Conley Jr. and injury plagued small forward, Chandler Parsons (both players have struggled to stay on the court but continue to soak up most of Memphis’ cap room for the next 2-3 seasons).
The summer of 2016 NBA Free Agency proved to be arguably the wildest in recent memory. There were ludicrous contracts being handed out left and right as the NBA’s salary cap ballooned from roughly $70 million to just over $94 million due to the NBA’s new $24+ billion television deal.
Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace signed guard Mike Conley Jr. to a 5-year $153 deal, making Conley the highest paid player at the time. Conley and Wallace have a close relationship because Conley was Chris Wallace’s first draft pick back in 2007. Although Conley Jr. has been an underappreciated player, he has never been named an All-Star. This was a huge amount of money to invest in someone, but with the market being the way that it was, Memphis felt they had to overpay Conley to keep him. It’s still a bit of a headscratcher, but you can see why Memphis made this move.
Exactly seven days prior to the Conley contract extension, the Grizzlies landed their prize free agent acquisition in 6’10 scoring wing, Chandler Parsons. After relatively successful stints in Houston and Dallas, Parsons inked a 4-year $94M deal. Memphis felt like they had hit a homerun by signing their first premier small forward since trading Rudy Gay to Toronto in a three-team deal involving Detroit back in 2013(Rudy to Raptors). After just 34 games in Memphis last year and career lows across the board, Parsons was shut down for the season in hopes of coming back at 100% for the 2017-2018 NBA season. With current averages of 8.8 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game, noticeable boos can be heard by the home crowd at times when he touches the ball. The return on these contracts has been far from justified as both Conley and Parsons are due just under $147M combined over the next 2-3 seasons, widely regarded as the worst two contracts in the league and something you would only wish upon your enemies.
Memphis, whom is labeled as a “small market team”, is roughly $19M over this seasons salary cap of $99M and does not have much to show for it. In the era of looking to form a “Big 3” to compete with the likes of the Warriors or Cavaliers, general manager Chris Wallace did everything in his power to field a winning franchise, but maybe not all the blame should fall on the players.
In the franchise’s 23-year existence, they have yet to capture a division title and have only drafted one All-Star, Kevin Love. However, Love was dealt to the Timberwolves on draft night in an eight-player deal centered around O.J. Mayo, (Pau Gasol made the all-star game with Memphis in 2006 but was traded to Memphis on draft night in 2001 via the Atlanta Hawks).
To take it one step further, the Grizzlies only have one player in the Hall of Fame to have ever even suited up for them. Hall of Fame point guard Allen Iverson was a part of the Grizzlies for a forgettable three-games. Iverson refused to come off the bench and elected to retire instead of taking on a lesser role at this point in his career.
Let’s not forget the 1997 trade that landed Otis Thorpe (so close yet so far) in Memphis (for just 47-games). In this trade the Grizzlies were forced to trade their 2003 first-round pick to the Detroit Pistons. If you recall, the 2003 NBA Draft was full of stars such as: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. So, the Grizzlies could have had the chance to draft Wade, Anthony or Bosh to a long term deal, but elected to trade for Thorpe for a lousy 47-games.
With that being said, the past is the past. Let’s turn our attention to the present day, Memphis Grizzlies. After 19 games into the season, with a 7-12 record, head coach David Fizdale was fired after just a little over one season with the team. With veteran leadership from the past now gone, the Memphis Grizzlies sport an average age of just 24.9 years old (7th youngest in the NBA).
Franchise cornerstone, Marc Gasol has seen his shooting percentage dip in each of the last four seasons, currently sitting at a career low 41% shooting this season. The two bright spots on the roster this season for Memphis have been: 2017 second round draft pick, Dillon Brooks (who has started 47 games for them), and the low-risk, one year $3.29M dollar deal that Tyreke Evans received as he aimed to revive his career after up and down stints in Sacramento and New Orleans. Evans is having arguably his best season to date, but with Evans set for unrestricted free agency this offseason, the Grizzlies are already over next years expected salary cap and a long-term deal for Evans to remain in Memphis is unlikely.
The fact that Memphis was unable to yield a trade return for Evans after they sat him out for a full week prior to the deadline to preserve his value, is a head scratcher for a team that has not shown too much life this season. As is traditionally common in the NBA, Conley, Parsons, and Gasol are set to see their salaries rise each of the next 2-3 seasons further questioning the direction of this franchise.
So, what is the outlook of this team moving forward? Can they get back on track and be a mainstay in the playoffs again? Well it doesn’t take a genius to know that it won’t be this season. Trading Evans would have helped their chances at securing the #1 overall pick as the #2 overall pick has not been too kind to them in the past having selected Stormile Swift, Mike Bibby (best years were in Sacramento), and Hasheem Thabeet (drafted one pick ahead of James Harden, I am so sorry Grizzlies fans) second overall in the past. The fact of the matter is that Memphis has struggled to attract free agents in the past and will need to nail this draft pick similar to when general manager Chris Wallace drafted Paul Pierce 10th overall during his stint with Boston back in 1998. However, that was 20 years ago, and this is a “what have you done for me lately” era that we live in now.
With money being tight and the need to develop younger talent moving forward, the Grizzlies elected to buy out veteran power forward Brendan Wright and trade 6’7 small forward James Ennis III for seldom used second year pro Brice Johnson, in hopes of opening up additional minutes for Dillon Brooks as Ennis is set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer.
The sad conclusion of where Memphis stands moving forward is that the overspending of the summer of 2016 is starting to unravel at the seams and the man who may pay the ultimate price is the face of the franchise and arguably your best player ever, Marc Gasol. At age 33 with a professional playing career that stems back to 2003 when he was an 18-year-old playing for FC Barcelona of the EuroLeague, it is safe to say that after 3 all-star births and a defensive player of the year award, his best years may be behind him. With Memphis’ attendance ranking 27th in the league (its lowest since the 2012-2013 season), serious cap concerns moving forward, and the belief that Chandler Parsons may never return to his 2013-2014 season form, Gasol may serve as Memphis’ best chance at shedding salary and bringing in younger talent through a trade. Memphis fans have already seen one Gasol brother leave town (Gasol for Gasol) and while they have been reluctant to entertain Marc’s name in any trade talks this season, general manager Chris Wallace sure has his work cut out for him moving forward.
Photo Credit: BleacherReporter.net
We do not claim ownership of any of the photo's. All photo's have been used under the "fair use" guidelines.
Rob is an NBA capologist, CBA savant and contributor to The Five By 5.
The Big Move:
The Cleveland Cavaliers stole the headlines on trade deadline day by trading 40% of their roster, many of which were key players in their rotations. At around noon eastern time, they began with a fury of moves and by 3 pm’s deadline, their roster had 4 new players coming in and 6 rotational players going out, including their own lightly protected 2018 first round pick. This was a total roster shake up. The 6 players the Cavs sent out have a combined 56 NBA seasons of experience and an average age of 30.6 years old. What did the Cavs get in return? 4 guys with 21 combined seasons of experience (George Hill has 10 of those years) with an average age of 26.7 years old amongst the group. In layman’s terms, the Cavs went to the fountain of youth to try to re-establish their chemistry and re-prove their dominance in the eastern conference. But with only 29 games left on the schedule, building chemistry and understanding of how each new player fits in will be tough.
New Name Tags:
With the additions of Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, the Cavs got 3 fairly versatile players that can all play the wing positions. Each have legit NBA wing size: Clarkson 6’5’’, Hood 6’8’’ and Nance Jr 6’9’’ per basketballreference.com. Their size and length was something the Cavs sorely needed. With Cleveland's former roster construction, they just didn't have the wing depth, length or versatility to hold a candle to the Warriors, this will really help. George Hill, the veteran of the group, is a 6’3’’ guard who is also very versatile as he can play on or off the ball, and when healthy, he’s a big plus on the defensive end. And although he’s just an average athlete, he makes up for it with basketball IQ and by having a ridiculous 6’9’’ wingspan (per draftexpress.com). The combination of size, smarts, and the ability to shoot the 3 ball at the best clip in the league (46% from the corner and above the break 3 pointers cleaningtheglass.com) will be a lethal threat when LeBron penetrates and looks for open shooters.
Of the group of players that the Cavs shipped out (Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Jae Crowder) only Jae Crowder was part of the Cavs most used and successful lineup (Calderon, Crowder, James, Love, J. Smith). That lineup played 253 more minutes together than any other Cavs lineup, and sported a +8.1 net rating. Shumpert, Rose and Frye were essentially out of the Cavs rotations, so the Cavs really didn't lose that much as far as what has made them successful. What about Isaiah Thomas? Well, he just wasn't fitting in. His individual numbers have plummeted this season, and out of the two lineups that the Cavs used him in the most, both of them averaged a net rating of net -22.3. No words are needed to state just how bad that is. Additionally, the chemistry amongst the Cavs was visibly broken. Even from the outside looking in this was apparent, and IT wasn’t helping resolve those issues. If anything, he was causing many of them by constantly calling out his teammates and the coaching staff behind closed doors and in the media. But what about the great Dwayne Wade? How will his loss effect the Cavs? Well, even though Dwayne Wade was a positive spark for the Cavs off the bench, let’s be honest: come mid June, with where Wade is at in his career, he’s not going to be the reason you win or lose the finals. And with the Cavs ultimate goal to be competing for a championships, moving on from D-Wade and sending him back home to Miami was fine.
Once The Dust Settles:
The NBA is ruthless and gives no breaks to anyone. But the Cavs need to find a way to put things back together again quickly. Obviously, it will take more than one game to figure everything out, but with the Cavs next 3 games being: @ Boston, @ OKC and then at home vs the Wizards, the schedule doesn't give the Cavs much time to readjust. They best make the most of their few remaining games before the all-star break, and then milk the all-star break for all it’s worth. They won’t have the time to try and figure things out once the last leg of the season begins post all-star break. The Cavs are already in danger of losing a top 4 seed, and they still have a long playoff push ahead of them.
The "X" Factor:
There is this dude from Akron, who’s kind of a once in a life time talent named LeBron James. You might have heard of him before as he’s one of the leagues most talented players ever. But for this challenge, it's not going to be about the King’s talents; it’s going to be about his leadership. In the past, LeBron has typically been best when he’s surrounded himself with savvy vets who could take on the leadership roles, which allowed him to power the team with his overwhelming talents. For example, in Miami he had Dwayne Wade, Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. In Cleveland, at least up until recently, he had James Jones, Dwayne Wade and Channing Frye. All of these guys are vets that know their limitations and abilities, and despite not having the bounce of their youth, they were able to provide consistent leadership both on and off the court when LeBron couldn’t, wouldn’t or wasn’t able to. Hood, Clarkson, and Nance Jr. all have the young talent and bounce, but they also lack the savvy and experience of a typical LeBron cast. This is a whole different challenge that we haven't seen LeBron accomplish yet in his career. These guys are nothing like the 2 prime hall of fame versions of Wade and Bosh who LeBron joined in Miami all those years ago. These are 3 solid to good rotational players who LeBron will have to elevate to something more if he intends on competing for another ring come June. If they are to be successful, it will be because LeBron will get these younger guys to lock in on defense and relentlessly chase the Warriors smooth flowing offense. I don't worry about Hill fitting in, as he’s the constant pros’ pro and should blend in with LeBron seamlessly, but everyone else? We’ll see.
This was a great trade deadline for the Cavs, even if I think some of the deals were a little off. They got better, younger, quicker and hopefully they got a better locker room. My vote for optimism is because of one factor: These 3 dudes (Hood, Clarkson and Larry Nance) grew up watching (and to a certain extent) idolizing LeBron. With that mind set, hopefully it will allow LeBron to better lead them, and get them to the spots where he needs them on BOTH ends of the floor. LeBron is the smartest player that I’ve ever seen.
You also can’t discredit the “playoff LeBron mode” factor. Laugh at his D this year if you want, that’s probably fair and acceptable (to an extent). But go back to LeBron’s Miami years and the first two finals vs the Warriors and you’ll see a man playing possessed. When the calendar turns over to spring, I’m willing to bet he’ll have the ability to elevate his game (even on defense).
In the end, we’re talking about a LeBron James led team. The results won’t be known until playoff time. And while the new Cavs new front office didn't completely knock it out of the park at the deadline, they did a pretty good job given the circumstances. A good enough job to give LeBron a better shot of making it out of the East then they had the day before the deadline. Now it’s on LeBron. And if there’s one thing that I know, it’s that myself and the rest of the league will tune in closely to see how this chapter of LeBron’s career ends.
Photo Credit: CavsNation.com
We do not claim ownership of any of the photo's. All photo's have been used under the "fair use" guidelines.