Is this the most important draft we've had?" an excitable — and worried — Grizzlies fan asked me Tuesday morning. With a franchise as troubled on and off the court as the Grizzlies, aren't they all?
The Memphis Grizzlies off-season begins with Thursday night's NBA draft, where the Grizzlies pick 5th and 28th. One way or another, it's imperative for the team to come out of the draft with a core long-range piece for a team that currently might only have two: forward Rudy Gay and point guard Mike Conley. How that goal is accomplished is uncertain given a draft situation that looks much more volatile than normal. As Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace told the Flyer on Monday, "Everything's in play." Here are three directions the team might take:
Moving Up: The draft lottery left the Grizzlies with the misfortune of picking fifth in what many consider a two-person draft: Memphis guard Derrick Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley standing apart from lesser prospects. But in the days leading up to the draft, there's been growing speculation that the Grizzlies might be able to swing a deal with the Miami Heat (picking second) to obtain Beasley.
On Monday, I heard suggestions that a trade for Beasley was being seriously discussed, something seemingly confirmed Tuesday with a column from ESPN.com's Chad Ford, which reported close talks between the Grizzlies and the Heat.
In addition to the number-five pick, the Grizzlies have lots of assets the Heat may covet — Mike Miller and point guards Conley and Kyle Lowry chief among them. If the Heat do decide to make Beasley available, the Grizzlies will have to ask how much is too much to obtain a potential star. The latest suggestion is dealing the number-five pick and Conley to move up. That's an awful lot to give up, but given Beasley's tremendous upside and the publicity he would generate, it might be worth it.
Staying Put: The most likely scenario has the Grizzlies staying put and selecting a player at number five. If that's the case, expect Rose, Beasley, and guard O.J. Mayo to be off the board and look for the Grizzlies to choose among three players: UCLA forward Kevin Love, Indiana guard Eric Gordon, and Italian forward Danilo Gallinari.
There is strong sentiment for Gordon among some elements of the organization, but the thought here is that Love is both the more talented all-around prospect and a better fit for team needs. Love's unusual combination of rebounding prowess and three-point shooting suggests he could be a dynamic presence in the NBA despite subpar athleticism. The biggest questions about Love could be whether he has the stamina and conditioning to hold up under the long grind of an NBA season and whether his Shane Battier-like persona is too good to be true.
Gordon, on the other hand, projects to be a more prolific scorer, but nothing about his physical make-up (undersized) or college production (one-dimensional) suggests he'll be the all-around talent typical of star NBA guards. There are scouts who disagree with this assessment, including ones for the Grizzlies.
And don't rule out Gallinari. The versatile 6'-10" forward has excelled against much older competition in Europe and may well be the best prospect of the trio, but he also happens to play the same position as the Grizzlies' best player, Rudy Gay.
Down or Out: If a deal can't be worked out for Beasley, don't be surprised if the Grizzlies move down or out of the draft. There is some thought in the team's front office that Rose and Beasley may be the only future all-stars in this draft. If the team isn't entirely sold on its options at number five, they could decide to explore offers involving later picks and/or established players. Wallace seemed to be preparing the public for this possibility Monday in an interview with the Flyer and later at a "chalk talk" event for season ticketholders. If such a move didn't bring back a young player with as much chance of being a core piece as the options at number five, the feeling here is that trading out of the pick would be a bad decision.
For more detailed coverage of the draft, see "Beyond the Arc" at memphisflyer.com/grizblog.