It feels like a while since the Memphis Grizzlies have been the belle of the NBA ball. Sure, Ja Morant will go viral with a dunk attempt every once in a while, and they capped off a strong season with an upset victory of the Utah Jazz, but the NBA media tends to stick their heads in the mud and focus on the franchises playing in larger markets. Come the NBA Finals, look how well that turned out. If the Grizz’s next move is any indication, basketball talking heads may have to learn their lesson shortly, as they’re laying the foundation for a ferocious push a few years out, not unlike the Phoenix Suns of this year. Less than a week out from the NBA draft, and the Grizzlies are already making headlines.
Per Adrian Wojnarowski, Memphis is shipping out Jonas Valanciunas and picks 17 and 51 to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams, picks 14 and 40, as well as a 2022 protected pick from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Right off the bat, a few wrinkles become clear. First, this trade makes the Grizzlies decidedly older and more experienced. It was just a few weeks ago that Valanciunas was the oldest player on Memphis’ roster at 28–while Adams is the same age, Bledsoe, 31, instantly becomes the Grizzlies’ oldest player. As such, both of these veterans bring valuable experience to the table, having each made at least one run to the Conference Finals in their careers (Bledsoe with the Bucks and Adams with the Thunder). Additionally, they’ve each gotten an up-close view of the work ethic of some of the NBA’s greats, watching the development of guys like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Giannis Antentokoumnpo. Having them pass those values on to the Grizzled Young Vets would be nothing short of invaluable.
However, I can’t help but feel that the move is at odds with the Grizzlies’ philosophical shift. This is a team that embraced three-point shooting as the season developed, shooting their best from deep in April and May on unprecedented volume. Bringing in Bledsoe, a career 33.3% three-point shooter, and replacing Valanciunas with Adams, who was quite literally the worst free-throw shooter in the entire NBA last year, seems like a counteractive move to the team’s advances of last season.
While that dynamic brings up one red flag with the initial trade, the actual draft picks being swapped raises another alarm bell for me. While acquiring an extra first-rounder is obviously beneficial, moving up from 17 to 10 is…curious to me. By all accounts, the Grizzlies will be looking to target an impact player on the wing or guard slots, and while this draft possess forwards and playmakers aplenty, moving up those seven slots doesn’t mean an upgrade from potential role player to superstar. Instead, that move just ensures that Memphis gets their pick of the role player litter, a price that might not be worth taking on the near $60 million in salary.
Memphis Grizzlies’ Headlines of the Future:
Let’s make this nice and simple: Zach Kleiman ain’t done making moves. This might be some hometown bias speaking, but there’s an obvious trade partner at pick seven with Golden State. Most mocks have Jonathan Kuminga falling to the Blue and Gold, but the limitless potential of the rangy wing doesn’t fit their timeline whatsoever. That said, Memphis has time to incubate the Congolese native into a superstar player in several years’ time. In fact, that’s when the Grizzlies will probably start peaking, as opposed to when the Dubs might end up tapering off. Golden State could use a solid role player or two, and they’d certainly be able to grab a solid pair at 10 and 14.
Here’s the kicker–Memphis needs to give up something in order to coerce the Warriors out of their spot at seven. They just so happen to hold the Dubs’ 2024 first round pick, a piece that the one-time dynasty would certainly like to regain control of. Throw in one or two of the Grizzlies’ effective pieces on relatively cheap deals like Grayson Allen and Xavier Tillman, and it becomes easy to see that Memphis has the assets needed to sweeten the pot.
Of course, the Grizz may not stop there. Reports are already swirling that at least Bledsoe is on the move, and after the Suns acquired a veteran point guard to rousing success, there could be somewhat of a market for an experienced facilitator. Regardless, Memphis is stocking up for a run in two to three years, stockpiling future picks and slowly but surely composing a godfather offer. While Beale Street may not turn into Beal Street any time soon–it’s possible the FedEx Forum might experience an even more monumental acquisition in the coming seasons.
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