The Memphis Grizzlies are stuck. They are a bad, aging team with big contracts in a small market. The Grizzlies are already over the 2018-19 projected salary cap of $101M ($103.4M committed). They fired a well respected coach at the behest of their star, who himself has stunk it up all season. Their other star only played 373 minutes because of an Achilles injury. Both are on the wrong side of 30. So how do they start to turn this ship around?
Well to start we need to understand where they are now. The Vegas over/under for wins this season for the Grizzlies was 37.5 wins, which was the 11th highest in the Western Conference. Under Coach David Fizdale to start the year, the team was playing like a 36.1 win team. The team has dropped to just a 26.0 win team under interim Coach J.B. Bickerstaff. They are fighing for as good a draft pick as they can, much to the disappointment of Marc Gasol.
Statistically, the best player on the team has been Tyreke Evans. Evans leads the team in nearly every advanced stat. The way Evans has resurrected his career will get him a nice payday this summer. Surprisingly, the Grizz held on to him at the trade deadline because they weren’t able to get enough in return. It was a mistake, but ultimately not a huge one as a decent 2nd round pick only has moderate expected value.
My 5-Step Plan to Rebuild the Grizzlies
1. Suck the rest of the season. Per Basketball Reference, the Grizzlies currently have a 56.1 percent chance at landing a top-5 pick and are nearly guaranteed a top-8 pick. They need to keep being bad. My personal simulations have their likely pick as the 4th overall selection. The Grizzlies own their own pick this year and need to use it on an elite talent.
2. Sucking next season would also help, when they own their 1st round pick if it finishes 1-8 (otherwise it goes to the Celtics). The front office might feel the need to give it one more go building around Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but this would be a horrible mistake.
3. Speaking of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, let the grit-and-grind era end. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are two of my favorite players, both have been underrated nearly their entire careers, but it is time to let the grit-and-grind era come to a real end. The Grizzlies need to at least move Gasol, who at 33 this year will be owed $24.1M in 2018-19 with a player option for $25.6M in 2019-20 that he is likely to accept. Looking at the career arc of both players using Player Impact Plus-Minus, it is clear they are both past their peaks:
Mike Conley is clearly just at the end of his, but Gasol’s most statistically impactful season (per Player Impact Plus-Minus) were a half-decade ago. If the Grizzlies are going to be bad, there is no reason to be bad while paying two aging stars a combined $55.6M in 2018-19. Make a deal, even a 50 cents on the dollar deal, and get this rebuild going.
4.Chandler Parsons has got to go too, maybe. This will likely be the toughest to pull off, and it would not be worth it if an opposing team wants serious draft assets attached to take on Parsons. Parsons is owed $49.2M between 2018-19 and 2019-20. Ultimately, not being able to move him would not be the end of the world. Parsons is a decent player when he plays, but not good enough to win you many games, and he can not stay healthy anymore. If the Grizzlies have to just eat this salary while they rebuild, that would be fine so long as they rest of the team is on budget contracts or rookie deals. A big no-no would be the temptation to stretch Parsons’ contract. He is owed $49.2M over the next 2 seasons, so stretching it would convert to about $10M over the next 5 and unless the team can get him to agree to a buyout where he gives a large percent of that back, it would be a horrible mistake. Just ask the Pistons how it feels having large chunks of dead money on their books for many years.
5. Last, but not least, hire a new GM and let them hire a new coach. Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace has signed multiple bad contracts and held off on other good trades. We know what kind of team Wallace can build, and it was really fun while it lasted but he never made the right final moves to shape a true contender. Ownership needs to bring in some new blood who are not attached to any of the current players and really build from the ground up once again. And with a new GM comes a new coach. I doubt Fizdale would be interested in coming back, but the team needs to hit the restart button. Replace Wallace before he hires his own coach. The worst case would be letting Wallace hire a new coach this summer only to replace him come next year with a new GM who might be stuck with a coach he does not want to work with.
The Grizzlies are in a tough spot, in a tough market, with no easy answers. A big change to their status quo is just the thing they need to restart their engine.
All stats from my own database, unless otherwise noted.