This time last year, I created a hashtag on Twitter that would serve as a coping mechanism for fans who were left to deal with the doom and gloom of that losing season. As a play on words, based on the rallying cry for the Confederate statues to be removed — “Take ‘em down 901” — as coined by former Grizz head coach David Fizdale — #TankEmDown901 was my personal attempt to get fans on board for the team's tanking.
Last year, it made perfect sense. A team that was aging and filled with mediocre young talent in need of a potential young star had the opportunity to position itself to do just that. Mike Conley had suffered a severe heel injury, so sitting him for the season gave the team an out. The Grizzlies were so bad without him that it was second nature to do as little as possible to try to actually win games. It was clear what the best course of action was. The “tank” was full of gas — locked and loaded.
This season, things are a little different. The Grizzlies owe a conditional first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics from the Jeff-Green-for-Tayshaun-Prince trade. So, it would be a little haphazard to go into what is an imminent rebuild for the franchise without a strategic plan.
It was no secret that Grizzlies ownership and management were doing everything they could to make this season’s team the best it could be in order to convey the worst pick possible to Boston. If this plan also resulted in a playoff berth for the Grizzlies, it would be a win-win for the organization. Regardless of the spiel coming from the front office, coaching staff, players, and even the owner, the main goal was always to get off of the trade obligation to Boston with the least amount of damage.
This plan looked like it had a great chance of working, earlier in the season, but now that the Grizzlies sit at 19-24, 14th in the Western Conference, and with the eighth worst record in the NBA, the question of whether or not to tank again this season is not as simple as it seemed, even a few weeks ago.
There are a few things of which many fans don’t really have a clear understanding. So, it’s been entertaining to see those who fought the #TankEmDown901 movement last season until the bitter end, now turn bloodthirsty over the chance of taking another high pick this year. Tanking has an odd thrill to it.
But fans need to understand what is at stake in totality and not what is just in front of their faces. For one thing, the pick that the Grizzlies owe Boston is top eight protected this season, top six protected in 2020, and unprotected in 2021. If the Grizzlies are bad enough to finish in a position in which they draft in the top eight this season, you can expect that they will be bad enough again next season to be among the top six picks.
The kicker is that in the 2021 draft, which is most certainly going to be a bad one for the team, the team is staring at the possibility of not only being bad but having to surrender their pick, regardless of position, to Boston. Most who are for tanking this season are basing that position on the team getting one of the projected top four picks, including Duke Freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. The reality is that the Grizzlies would more than likely, based on current odds and record, draft outside of the top four — in a draft that is weak, except for the studs at the top.
I would prefer the Grizzlies just let the season play out and not do anything drastic to put themselves in the best position to neither win nor lose. The reality is that with proper planning and execution of the pending cap space, good things could become available over the next two years. I know that asking for proper planning and execution from Pera and company is basically like asking for consistent weather in Memphis. But regardless of what they do, a lot is at stake regarding the draft this season and the next few to come.
There are too many question marks about how tanking this season could turn out. I would prefer to see the team finish outside of the top eight picks, but with the way things have been going lately, the Grizzlies may not have a choice.