The Memphis Grizzlies started the second half of the NBA campaign with a win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. With 39 regular-season games remaining, they once again find themselves gearing up for what will be an absolute battle for the final Western Conference playoff spots.
At this point, it’s not surprising they’re back in this situation despite the things they’ve dealt with all season, such as Jaren Jackson Jr.’s absence. Instead, it’s the Grizzlies’ natural progression from last year to this year that is center stage. In short, they’re an extremely well-built team that has one of the most promising young cores in the NBA today.
It happened so quickly that it’s almost as if the decision-makers that led this efficient rebuild haven’t gotten the credit they rightfully deserve. That needs to change before the Grizzlies sit atop the conference year after year and people completely forget the gloomy outlook they appeared to have just a few short years ago.
Zach Kleiman took over as the Grizzlies Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations on April 11, 2019.
Kleiman was announced as the man in charge of the Grizzlies organization to little fanfare. Most were either indifferent or simply shocked by the decision to hire the then 30-year-old former lawyer.
The questions and concerns were quite reasonable: Kleiman was taking on a massive responsibility at a young age and hadn’t spent the years in front offices that most do before being offered a job to totally run one themselves.
But it didn’t take long for Kleiman to prove he was the perfect hire. After taking the job, he aggressively pursued all avenues to build the team in his vision. His willingness to act quickly on the trade market has been the backbone of the ultra-quick rebuild in Memphis.
Early luck must be mentioned as well. The Grizzlies moved up in the lottery in his first draft leading the charge, jumping up to second overall in a draft that had two clear-cut top prospects with Zion Williamson and Ja Morant.
Obviously, the Grizzlies selected Morant and instantly became the franchise cornerstone. But Memphis’ first trade in year one under new management saw them ship out fan-favorite Mike Conley for what wound up being crucial assets later – returning Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Draft Rights to Darius Bazley, a Traded Player Exception and a 2020 Conditional First Rounder.
Allen remains on the team to this day and, as of late, has stepped into a bigger role for the team. Crowder and Korver were assets used in trades that’ll be covered shortly. The first-rounder did not convey for the 2020 draft and isn’t going to convey in 2021, either. That said, it will be added to the Grizzlies’ chest of assets in one of the following three drafts.
While the pick is huge and at this point offers tremendous upside, the draft rights to Bazley were quickly used in a trade for the Grizzlies to jump up a few spots in the draft and get the rights to forward Brandon Clarke instead. So far, that’s worked out very well.
Not only has Clarke been a great player in the occasional absence of starters such as JJJ, but he’s also quickly developed into a key part of the team’s young core.
More Trades, More Assets
Andre Iguodala was then added to the roster in a salary dump move for the Golden State Warriors. For the Grizzlies’ troubles, they added a future first-round draft pick from the Warriors.
An underrated trade followed that move when Memphis sent out Javon Carter and Korver and took back De’Anthony Melton and Josh Jackson. Though Jackson has since moved on, he helped rejuvenate his NBA career during his short stint with the Grizzlies.
Melton is a valued piece of the team’s future, having signed a 4-year, $32 million deal this past offseason. Fast forward through a few awkward moments along the road between the team and Iguodala, who never actually joined his teammates, and the Grizzlies had made one of their savviest moves yet under Kleiman.
Instead of releasing the veteran or reaching a buyout like many assumed would be the inevitable conclusion, the team held out and found incredible value on the trade market.
In a massive three-team trade, Memphis sent out Iguodala, Crowder and Solomon Hill in a deal that brought back Justice Winslow, Gorgui Dieng and Dion Waiters.
Waiters was cut, Dieng remains a key part of the teams’ rotation as their backup center and Winslow has been an intriguing flier.
The 2020 NBA Draft saw the Grizzlies hit on two more selections to add to their promising core
Just when it seemed like Memphis may slow down some in terms of making great roster moves they struck again. With the 30th pick and 35th pick in the 2020 draft, Memphis added two players who have already given the team productive minutes in meaningful games.
Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman Sr. are both averaging over 20 minutes per contest on this playoff-hungry Grizzlies team. That’s rare in the NBA to find in one player, yet Memphis did so with both of their not-so-high draft selections.
The rich get richer as the two rookies will now have years to develop alongside players such as Morant, Jackson Jr. and Clarke among others. Most importantly, they’ll all be developing while playing meaningful basketball as they contend for a western conference playoff spot. All of sudden, Memphis has one of the best and brightest futures league-wide – and it’s no accident why.
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