The Memphis Grizzlies have found themselves in a strange place — where their wins and loses are suffering from an identity crisis.
Times were so much simpler this time last season for the Grizzlies. It was cut and dried, to say the least. A win equaled “bad.” A loss equaled “good.”
Jaren Jackson Jr.
That’s how things are when you are clearly in the middle of a dead-end season, facing one of the best draft classes in recent years. You want to position yourself to get the best draft pick possible. You knew you had Mike Conley and Marc Gasol coming back, in addition to a potential top-five draft pick, so it made perfect sense to place yourself in a position to umm … well, increase your odds of winning as few games as possible.
The formula worked as planned. Well, sort of. The Grizzlies ended up landing the fourth overall draft pick, which turned out to be Jaren Jackson Jr. Pretty good, so far right? They added an elite-level, potential two-way star player to the combo of Conley and Gasol.
But the second half of the Grizzlies plan is where things began to falter. The assumption was that the team would be good enough this year to possibly contend for a playoff spot and, if not, to be able to convey the team's first-round draft pick that is owed to Boston. This has been explained ad nauseam, but here is the condensed version.
The Grizzlies owe Boston a draft pick. If it's in the top eight picks this year, the Grizzlies keep it. If it’s in the top six next year, they keep it. The year after that, it goes to Boston no matter what, if it hasn't already been conveyed to them.
Got it? Good.
But yeah, back to the whole plan not really going according to plan thing.
It didn’t work. The wheels fell off of the Grizzlies season very early, and all hopes of having a playoff team were deflated. After Gasol was traded, General Manager Chris Wallace announced that the team still planned on attempting to convey its draft pick to Boston, and ever since, the Grizzlies have found themselves in an odd place, where wins and loses are becoming one and the same.
They aren’t bad enough to catch the five teams below them in the reverse standings, and they can’t string enough wins together to make it seem like they will finish 9th or better — or worse — or however it works. It's confusing.
Injuries to Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jeran Jackson Jr. have also put a damper on things; the team can’t evaluate how their young, potential core players will perform with the veterans acquired in the Gasol trade. With all of the accolades that Jonas Valanciunas has received, it’s truly unfortunate that we won’t get to see him play with Jackson this season.
Things were so much simpler last year, when all you wanted the Grizzlies to do was lose — just lose as many games as possible. Simple. That’s all changed this year. The team sits in a peculiar place — where their highs aren’t high enough and their lows aren’t low enough. For every three-game winning streak against playoff teams, there are losses to Atlanta and Washington. Both of the team's options lack appeal.
It's makes you yearn for the good old days, when tanking made everything so simple.