#IMHO: The Nuggets, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley
Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.
From: Lang Whitaker Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2019 10:26 AM To: Michael Wallace Subject: #IMHO
Mike, let’s start out West this week, where I want to know if the Denver Nuggets are for real. They don’t get a lot of pub because they live kinda in the middle between the Cali teams and the East Coast media elite, but the Nuggets have been winning games, and they keep on winning games. They’ve won 7 of their last 10, and are an impressive 20-4 at home this season. The Nuggets are a solid second in the Western Conference right now with a 31-14 record.
All that said, they got a chance to show their mettle when they played the first-place Warriors last week, and they got thumped pretty hard, giving up 48 points in the first quarter. The Nuggets are the second-best team in the West, but are they good enough to give the Warriors any real trouble in the postseason?
From: Michael Wallace Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2019 10:56:25 AM To: Lang Whitaker Subject: RE: #IMHO
Considering the first-quarter barrage you referenced, it’s completely understandable you missed seeing one of the Warriors’ 10 made treys go through the net. They actually torched the Nuggets for an NBA-record 51 points in that first quarter. Golden State coach Steve Kerr called it “a fireworks show” but Kevin Durant had the best line of the night regarding whether the Warriors sent a message to the second-placed Nuggets. “They know who we are,” Durant said.
The Nuggets may very well be this year’s version of last year’s Rockets, the team that pushed the Warriors to the brink in the playoffs, but ultimately ran out of gas and healthy bodies to finish the job. That said, I don’t discount the fact that Denver is the most improved team in the league this season. They’re ahead of schedule. And they’re also just starting to get healthy and whole. We’ll see how they hold up to postseason adversity, considering this will be their first ride together.
Speaking of adversity, Lang, we don’t have to look any farther than home to find one of the NBA’s biggest doses of it. The Grizzlies are hemorrhaging losses right now. Three times in four games they’ve trailed by 20 or more points, including 30 twice. Mike Conley called Monday’s MLK Celebration Game home loss to the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans “embarrassing” and Marc Gasol is speaking as if the season is a lost cause. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff alluded to a spiritless squad. We’re not even at the trade deadline yet, let alone the All-Star break. It’s clearly time to at least redefine realistic expectations for the rest of this season. But what are they?
From: Lang Whitaker Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2019 8:57 PM To: Michael Wallace Subject: #IMHO
(First of all, my bad on the Warriors. They had 48 and I flipped it off because I knew there was no return for the Nuggets.)
On to the Grizz. You asked what expectations should be realistic? I think back to before the season when I thought if everything clicked together perfectly and everyone stayed healthy, this team should win 45-plus games. And then we got off to a 12-5 start and I thought we still had room to grow. Things seemed good! And then more recently the schedule got real, and injuries started to hit, and it became clear, to quote a certain Mr. Jordan, that the ceiling was the roof.
By which I mean, I don't know what realistic expectations should have been, but apparently whatever expectations we had were too high. Because what this team is has been disappointing. We are a team that loses by twenty at home to an opponent missing their best player. It seems like every night we come out for the third quarter and each guy plays liked they just scarfed down a rack of ribs. And it's not just the third quarters. Guys don't take open shots. Guys pass the ball directly to the other team. Guys don't pass the ball to open players. Fast breaks are more often fast breakdowns. I know there's a new offense being installed and I know J.B. has talked about this being year one in a three-year process, and I also understand the value of patience, but I think we can all agree that right now, halfway through the season, this thing ain't working. And not only that, it ain't getting better.
Oh, and in the time between you sending me your email and me responding, an elephant just strolled into the room via Woj:
So if The Powers That Be are listening to trade offers, what should they be asking for in return? And with the trade deadline like two weeks away, should such a franchise-altering move even be on the table right now?
From: Michael Wallace Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2019 4:45 PM To: Lang Whitaker Subject: #IMHO
Even in the face of the recent struggles, the events of this week regarding Conley and Gasol are still somewhat numbing. Those two guys are the fabric of this franchise in ways that no other set of players have been. As they’ve both said, Memphis is all they know as NBA players. And Memphis, by and large, feels the same way about Marc and Mike.
That said, this season has proved that, while still productive, they are no longer building blocks or foundational pieces. They are high-end complementary players who are best suited for helping a serious contender get over the top. I’m not sold on the notion that both Mike and Marc must go to help the franchise move forward around Jaren Jackson Jr. I think Mike can still be the veteran presence and scorer to help transition both the franchise and Jaren into the next phase of development.
But any package that comes back must include, A) a first-round draft pick, B) a young-to-mid career player to pair with Jaren’s trajectory and C) expiring contracts that clear the path to financial flexibility.
We’ll stay here to wrap up, Lang. My question is, how long should it realistically take to get the Grizzlies back into playoff contention?
From: Lang Whitaker Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2019 5:11 PM To: Michael Wallace Subject: #IMHO
I thought we were going to be in playoff contention this season!
I look at all of this two ways:
1. It really stinks to trade two players who have such a rich history with this franchise and with this city, and who clearly mean a ton to so many people. I coach a little kid’s basketball team on the weekends, and last weekend every kid had on either a Mike or Marc shirt. These guys are the Memphis Grizzlies, and I get it, it’s scary to pivot and have to gaze into a hazy future without two mainstays who have been around for over a decade.
2. That said, we’ve had a healthy Mike and Marc as our cornerstones all season and we are not a playoff team.
You used the word “numb,” and that’s a good way to describe how things feel right now. I don’t know if either guy will get moved between now and the trade deadline in a few weeks, but I guess the possibility is something we should probably at least start considering.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. Their sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and they have no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.