A potentially momentous offseason for the Memphis Grizzlies commences this week with the NBA draft. Picking an unlucky fourth after posting the league's worst record a year ago, the Grizzlies may have missed out on a sure thing (in the form of elite prospects Greg Oden and Kevin Durant) but now find before them a dizzying array of options. Here's an attempt to see through the rumors, smoke screens, and general uncertainty for a glimpse of what might happen Thursday night and what it might mean — in the form of three key questions.
If the Grizzlies pick fourth, what are the options?
The Grizzlies are held hostage somewhat by the Atlanta Hawks, who pick third. The Hawks are likely to tab Florida power forward Al Horford, who has emerged as the consensus number-three prospect in the draft. Then again, the Hawks have shocked us before.
The Grizzlies love Horford and would pick him if he somehow slips past number three — and I wouldn't be surprised if a trade led to Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr. or Chinese forward Yi Jianlian going third instead. But, assuming Horford is off the board, the Grizzlies are likely to choose among four prospects: Conley, fellow Florida players Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer, and North Carolina's Brandon Wright.
The thought here is that Conley — a pure point guard with the quickness, handle, poise, and court vision to be a star — is the prospect with the highest ceiling.
Noah seems to be a perfect fit for the Grizzlies. He's an active rebounder and defender who doesn't need a lot of touches to be effective. The hitch: He may not be quite good enough to pick at number four. If you're picking that high in a good draft, a team should be looking for a star. Noah reeks of role player.
Brewer and Wright are long shots that shouldn't be counted out. Brewer is perhaps better equipped to impact the game on both ends of the floor than any of these players and fits new coach Marc Iavaroni's preferred style. Wright is raw and would seem to duplicate Gasol's strengths and weaknesses but has as much raw talent as anyone in the draft after Oden and Durant.
The hunch here? Conley gets the nod over Noah.
Will there be any trades?
Draft day trades could turn everything upside down, but right now a truly major trade — i.e., dealing Gasol — seems unlikely. New lead executive Chris Wallace scouted Gasol heavily while in Boston and Iavaroni is a noted big man's coach. It seems unlikely the new regime will deal Gasol before having a chance to work with him.
More likely would be a trade involving another established player — with Mike Miller, Hakim Warrick, and Stromile Swift the likely subjects — to acquire either a young power player to pair with Gasol (Denver's Nene and Utah's Paul Millsap might make some sense) or another draft pick.
What will the pick mean?
The week after the rookie draft, the NBA's free-agent period will begin with the Grizzlies poised to be one of the few teams with significant money to spend. And make no mistake, the draft and free agency are connected. What the Grizzlies think they can do in free agency is likely to influence what they do on draft day. For that reason, the Grizzlies' draft pick should be a tipoff as to what player — or at least what type of player — the team will target in free agency.
If Noah, Brewer, or Wright are the pick and no other trades are made to net a point guard, then expect the Griz to target Milwaukee Bucks point guard Mo Williams, long thought to be the team's preferred free-agent prize.
But if Conley is the pick (as I suspect), then the Grizzlies will look elsewhere in free agency. Addressing the long-acknowledged need for a more physical presence in the paint would seem to be most likely. But the options among power players in this free-agent class are meager. Instead, don't be surprised if the Grizzlies go after one of the talented young swingmen available, such as Charlotte's Gerald Wallace or Seattle's Rashard Lewis.
Chris Wallace seems to prefer accumulating the best talent available for the Grizzlies rather than focusing on positional needs. Iavaroni prizes versatility. In Phoenix, Iavaroni was used to working with unconventional lineups. So, don't assume the Grizzlies do the obvious this summer.
For up-to-date news and analysis before, during, and after the draft, go to Beyond the Arc, the Flyer's Grizzlies blog at MemphisFlyer.com/grizblog.