I have a confession to convey. I’ll admit it. I’m legit afraid of what lies beyond the Grizzlies' last two games of the season and the pending 2019 NBA Draft lottery, and that's because I have real memories of previous pain and disappointment.
I was visiting a family member in the emergency room while watching the 2003 NBA draft lottery. My older brother and I were sitting in the waiting room as the draft order was unveiled, team by team. I can remember the anxiety that I carried that evening. The Grizzlies had been terrible the previous season, and here they stood with a chance to add a player from a draft that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. Admittedly, it was a slim chance, because the Grizzlies entered that year’s draft lottery owing a pick to the Detroit Pistons that was only protected if the Grizzlies landed the number-one overall pick. This was a result of a trade that the Grizzlies had made six years earlier with Detroit for the then 35-year-old, 13-year veteran, Otis Thorpe.
I don’t recall the reasoning behind the then-Vancouver Grizzlies trading for Thorpe, since they were never close to being a playoff team, but regardless of what made or didn’t make sense back in 1997, the Grizzlies had to pay their debts on lottery night 2003. The lottery went to commercial break and the number one pick literally came down to two teams — Memphis and Cleveland. The Grizzlies would either win LeBron James or they would go home with nothing but remorse. We all know how history would play out as the Cavaliers would indeed win the lottery and James would play two stints in Cleveland, including an NBA World Championship run.
The feeling I had as a fan of the still-new franchise in town was sickening, but not nearly as bad as it could have been if I had a long-term investment in the team, like I — and many others — do now. I also didn’t know that the 2003 draft class would end up being one of the best ever, with four NBA championships being won by teams led by players from that class. The protection on the Grizzlies pick that they sent out for Thorpe decreased year by year, and by the time that 2003 draft rolled around, the Grizzlies had to pay the ultimate price for the bad decisions of their previous management.
I’ll be honest. I sway back and forth between whether or not I want the Grizzlies to convey or not convey — to pick or not pick — in this year's draft. I understand all of the benefits of adding another potential star, or even a role player, beside Jaren Jackson Jr. to build for the future and show Jackson, as well as the fanbase, that the organization is headed in the right direction. I am also admittedly crippled by the fear of reliving that 2003 draft, the one that saw the future of the NBA handed over to Cleveland, and saw Detroit use their Grizzlies pick at number two for Darko Milicic.
The Pistons didn’t need Wade, Bosh, or Anthony, to win a championship and could afford to take a risk with Milicic, but the Grizzlies couldn’t afford that luxury. They desperately needed another star on that young team with Pau Gasol and Shane Battier, and they were not able to acquire one. I fear going through that again. I fear the Grizzlies being the laughing-stock of the NBA – giving the Boston Celtics, who are already a contending team, a chance to add a top-three pick to their team, while the Grizzlies remain searching for answers. I can see and hear the local and national backlash if something like that happens, and I’d rather avoid it all at all costs. Is this a gloomy, worst-case scenario way of thinking? Sure, of course it is. But is it that far-fetched to see Jeff Green as the reincarnation of Otis Thorpe?
As not only a journalist, but an actual native Memphian and day-one fan of the team, I can’t always think with a rational mind. I fear the worst. I hear, “Don’t worry about it! With this team, plus a draft pick, we will convey next season!” and that sounds good. But its nowhere close to a given. The draft lottery will be here sooner than we think, and the ping-pong balls will be randomly sorted and sifted through. The Grizzlies will have their name called on that night and I am scared to death that they might be handing over a future star to someone else — again. I watched it, lived it, and endured the ripple effect of not having a pick in the 2003 draft. And I’m not sure that I'm ready to go through that again.