What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where I normally look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship, but I’ve already talked about all of the bad and middling teams, so now I’m looking at the contenders. Today, I’m covering a team that often gets overlooked in the title race, despite always being in the mix during the Western Conference playoffs: the Memphis Grizzlies.
For whatever reason, the Grizzlies are often ignored when we talk about the title contenders. They’ve consistently been a tough out in the playoffs for the past five years but have only reached the Conference Finals once in the history of their organization.
Is there anything they can do to finally break through?
Memphis didn’t make a lot of changes this past offseason. They traded Luke Ridnour for Matt Barnes and signed Brandan Wright. But for the most part, they’re bringing back the same players they had last year. Being a perennial playoff team in the West is nothing to sneeze at, and the Grizzlies are a good team, but the problem is that the teams they’ve gone up against in the playoffs have been better.
The Grizzlies are not going to win the championship or the West, or even make it to the Conference Finals. They’re, realistically, the sixth-best team in the Conference, and it would take a lot of luck for them to win three straight playoff series in such a tough field. That being said, they shouldn’t consider blowing it up anytime soon.
As much as I agree with Ricky Bobby’s “If you ain’t first, you’re last” mentality, Memphis is much closer to being first than last right now, and they can’t even benefit from being last just yet.
The Grizzlies currently owe two first round draft picks to other teams— one to Denver in 2016 and another to Boston in 2018 (which will be conveyed two years after the Denver pick). The pick going to Denver is protected 1-5 and 15-30 this season. The pick is then top-five protected until 2019, where the pick loses all protections and goes to the Nuggets regardless of Memphis’ draft position.
The only way the Grizzlies could benefit by trading off players and tanking would be to tank hard enough to consistently be at the absolute bottom of the league. And even then, they’d only be improving the picks they’re giving Denver and Boston, unless they could shoot up from the bottom of the league back into the playoffs as soon as the protections ran out.
It makes more sense to stay competitive, pass along their non-lottery draft picks, and take their chances at beating the other teams in the league. The draft isn’t going anywhere; there will always be new players coming in just as surely as old players will be leaving. The Grizzlies should ride it out with the players they have now and worry about rebuilding once they have all of their draft picks for themselves.