Memphis Grizzlies Future Remains Unclear

Mike Conley
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 10: Mike Conley (11) of the Memphis Grizzlies passes as Torrey Craig (3) of the Denver Nuggets and Nikola Jokic (15) play defense during the first half on Monday, December 10, 2018. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Memphis Grizzlies at the Pepsi Center. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The future of the Memphis Grizzlies is unclear. The offseason will answer several questions and set the Grizzlies on a new trajectory.

The “Grit and Grind” era in Memphis is over. Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph are no longer roaming Beale Street. David Fizdale is virtually an entire planet away in New York City. Mike Conley is the only familiar face that remains, and he may soon be on his way out. A team that was once a playoff regular and occasional contender now sits in the gutter of the NBA. 

So, now what?

Memphis Grizzlies Future Remains Unclear

The Grizzlies were awarded the second overall pick in the 2019 Draft, coming in as first-loser in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. Early speculation (and common sense, to a degree) insists the Grizz will take Murray State’s do-it-all superstar Ja Morant with that no. 2 pick on June 20th. He doesn’t have quite the star power of Williamson, but his skill set and heart are undeniable.

The duo of Morant and All-Rookie First-Team selection Jaren Jackson Jr. could prove to be a great up-and-coming duo in the West. Jackson (selected fourth overall in 2018 by the Grizzlies) averaged nearly 14 points on north of 50 percent shooting during his rookie campaign.

So it’s a rebuild? Simple. Except, it isn’t.

The Mike Conley Problem

Conley, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, presents a huge issue for the Grizzlies. The 31-year old point guard isn’t out of his prime yet, but he isn’t getting any younger. He embodies the Grizzlies unlike any other player on the current roster, but it may be time to shift to a new era in Memphis. 

Conley’s trade value is not what it once was, but he will undoubtedly draw suitors this summer. He has expressed his interest in leaving Memphis to join a contender sooner rather than later. The big question is whether teams will be willing to pay his hefty salary of a combined $67 million over the next two seasons. He does have an Early Termination Option for his final year, meaning he can opt-out and become a free agent after just one more season. That in itself may turn teams away from trading for him.

The 2020/2021 NBA Drafts

Another issue with Conley is next year’s draft. The Memphis pick jumped up to the two spot this year. The pick would have been shipped to the Boston Celtics if it had fallen out of the top-8. It’s a big win for now in Memphis, but next year’s pick now only holds top-6 protection. If the Grizzlies fall inside the top-6 for the 2020 draft, the Celtics will receive an unprotected pick in 2021.

What does that have to do with Conley? A lot, actually.

If the Grizzlies do in fact draft Morant, he will be the point guard of the future. There’s no harm in letting him develop under Conley, so long as Memphis doesn’t climb too high in the standings. 

If the Grizzlies hold on to Conley, whether it be by choice or through the inability to get a deal done, it seems unlikely that a Memphis team with him, Jackson Jr. and Morant falls into the bottom-6 in the league, but also even more unlikely that they notch a playoff spot.

That leaves the Grizzlies in limbo. Missing the playoffs with an aging star and surrendering a draft pick is not an ideal way to rebuild.

If Conley is traded, however, the Grizzlies will have a win-win situation on their hands. Not only will they receive compensation for their star player (whether that be through players, draft picks or both), but they will turn the team over to the young guns. If they struggle and fall toward the bottom of the league, they will likely add another top-6 talent in the 2020 draft. If they do give up their pick because they narrowly missed the playoffs, hope and hype will go through the roof for the potential of the young team. 

The New-Look Memphis Grizzlies

All signs point to a Memphis devoid of local legends next season. Morant and Jackson Jr. will likely be the future of the franchise, not to mention Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and newly acquired Jonas Valanciunas. But what does that mean for the Grizzlies?

When Memphis was announced as the runner-up for the first pick, the initial reaction was a gut-punch. They were this close to getting Williamson. Morant may be the best “consolation prize” in recent memory, though.

Morant has a pro-ready skill set and the second-most star power in the 2019 class. He won’t sell as many jerseys and tickets as his counterpart from Duke, but he could turn Memphis into a playoff team once again. His athleticism and ability to do literally anything and everything on the court sets him apart from the rest of the class. He would be an easy choice at the top spot in most years.

Last Word on the Memphis Grizzlies

Keeping Conley is not the worst option an NBA team can face and could lead to a playoff berth if the stars align. After all, this team is just a two years removed from the postseason, six removed from the Western Conference Finals.

Dealing him away for the right price would set the stage for future expectations, whether that be complete rebuild, or putting pieces around a young core. Morant may not even end up in Memphis. Perhaps RJ Barrett, Jarrett Culver or someone else completely will be taken second overall.

All the possibilities in the world are floating around the FedEx Forum. Now, the Grizzlies have to choose which direction to go.

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