MikeCheck: Grizzlies Offseason Outlook – Chris Wallace
MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies entered an opportunistic May – the first full month of their offseason – with significant traction toward addressing some of the biggest questions looming over the franchise.
They’ve already resolved the ownership issue, with Robert Pera maintaining controlling interest in the franchise and a commitment to keeping the Grizzlies in Memphis.
They’ve already conducted exit interviews, with key players, veterans and young prospects set to distance themselves from a 22-60 season and embark on a summer of healing, conditioning, development and improvement in hopes of a return to playoff contention.
And they’re also solidifying a front-office plan that included formalizing a multi-year contract this week to retain J.B. Bickerstaff as head coach. Now, the Grizzlies are just days away from learning their fate in the May 15 draft lottery, where they are assured of a top-five pick in the June 21 NBA Draft as well as the No. 32 overall pick in the second round.
Expect the Grizzlies to be active in league-wide trade discussions surrounding the draft and July free agency, with key decisions looming on several of their own players.
So after covering the coaching situation, returning roster veterans, young/developing assets and pending free agents the past few weeks in Grind City Media’s ‘Offseason Outlook,’ we wrap up with my personal analysis of the job facing the Grizzlies’ front office and general manager Chris Wallace.
General Manager: Chris Wallace
Measurables: 11th NBA Season with Grizzlies
2017-18 Outcomes: The Grizzlies finished 22-60 and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. The run of seven straight postseason berths was the longest in franchise history and was the third-longest streak in the NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks.
Status: Wallace, along with front-office executives John Hollinger and Ed Stefanski, will enter the 2018-19 season having reached the midway point of three-year contract extensions signed in December 2016.
The Grizzlies endured their first 60-loss record this season since also finishing 22-60 after the 2007-08 season, which was Wallace’s first with the team. Memphis is a combined 441-445 in that time, with three season of 50-plus victories and a 2013 appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
Wallace has never possessed more assets and upside than he now has entering this offseason. Yes, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are in their early 30s and have had injury issues. But they’re still two of the top-40 players in the league, with another couple of seasons of prime production ahead. The Grizzlies also have a potential All-Rookie Team member in Dillon Brooks, snagged with the No. 45 overall pick in last year’s second round. Memphis has two of the top 32 picks in next month’s draft, guaranteed to finish no worse than fifth in the lottery. Wallace has the continuity of controlling owner Robert Pera remaining intact, and he has retained J.B. Bickerstaff as coach. With the full midlevel exception to spend in free agency, there should be significant momentum to dig the Grizzlies out of a demoralizing season.
The Grizzlies are basically in a boom-or-bust situation. The credibility Wallace established during the formation and development of the Core Four era that featured seven straight postseason runs has faded. Grit N Grind is essentially grounded. Even Gasol repeatedly points out the Grizzlies can no longer “live off the credit” they established in past years, and that “a new deposit” must be made on their account. There’s a recent trend of bad luck and/or clear misses in free agency (Ben McLemore, Chandler Parsons, Brandan Wright) and first round picks (Wade Baldwin, Jordan Adams). There also has been a revolving door in the coaching office, with three in a span of the past four seasons. Wallace is now tasked with swinging his way out of a jam largely created on his watch.
Wallace isn’t running from the responsibility for the Grizzlies’ predicament or the challenge to restore order. Memphis is positioned better than any top-five lottery team to make the playoffs next season. But there’s no guarantee even a healthy Grizzlies’ team jumps past playoff participants in the Timberwolves, Spurs, Pelicans or Jazz, let alone squads that just missed out in the Nuggets and Clippers. Wallace lacks the time and interest in a slow rebuild, with Memphis locked in to nearly $80 million in 2018-19 salary alone for Gasol, Conley and Parsons. It’s one reason the Grizzlies must consider trading down into the lottery if it returns a high quality veteran contributor and helps shed an unfavorable contract. Wallace once worked his magic to steer the Grizzlies to their most successful stretch in history. Guiding them out of the malaise and quickly back to prominence might even be a more impressive feat.
It was certainly a difficult situation this season. But we are optimistic about next year. We are going to have a top-five pick or whatever that brings you on the trade route. We have a lot of options. We’ll have the mid-level exception. I think we’re going to be good next year. It’s rare to have a team that’s been in the playoffs for seven straight years, still have their key players coming back and several more years of productive play in front of them and get a chance to make a top five pick.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.