30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Grizzlies get deeper in backcourt

Adding Marcus Smart to Memphis' core may prove to be a vital offseason move for more than 1 reason.

Marcus Smart should bring defensive acumen and intangibles to the up-and-coming Grizzlies.

Key additions

  • G Marcus Smart (trade), G Derrick Rose (free agency)

Key subtractions

  • G Dillon Brooks, G Tyus Jones

Last season

It was a bittersweet experience for the Grizzlies, who put themselves in position to go further than ever in franchise history, only to crash and burn in the end, with the central figure being the franchise’s best player.

Ja Morant delivered a solid season, only to be undone by his immaturity. After being caught on social media twice displaying a firearm — which commissioner Adam Silver described as “reckless” — Morant put himself and his team in a tough spot. He was suspended eight games in March for conduct detrimental to the league, and when a second such incident later came to light, it spoiled what the Grizzlies managed during the season.

They won 51 games and nearly overtook the Denver Nuggets for best record in the West. When Morant returned from his first suspension he was once again an elite performer, with help from Kia Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., among others.

But immaturity once again doomed the Grizzlies, this time from Dillon Brooks, who turned mouthy during the playoffs and did nothing to back it up. It all took a toll inside the locker room and on the court, where the Grizzlies fizzled in the postseason and faced a summer of soul-searching.

Summer summary

The commissioner’s hammer came down on Morant in mid-June: a suspension for 25 games to start the 2023-24 season, punishment for repeated questionable behavior. For a team with big plans next season, the damage was considerable and the Grizzlies needed to find a way to ease the pain.

Which they did. Getting Smart from the Celtics was both uplifting and helpful. He’s tough, clever and capable of holding down the point guard spot until Morant returns. Really, all things considered, the Grizzlies couldn’t do much better than that. 

The trade cost them Jones, who did solid work over the past few seasons whenever Morant was out of the lineup. But Smart is a far better defender and in that sense, getting him was a no-brainer. Smart should go over well in the locker room and, for the Grizzlies’ sake, they would be wise to follow his leadership.

Speaking of that: Memphis wanted no part of continuing its relationship with Brooks, who left without resistance in free agency for Houston. Brooks was part of the young core the Grizzlies spent the last few seasons grooming, then the club decided he wasn’t worth the price or the headache. Besides, Smart is twice the defender and will now assume all Brooks’ tough assignments. 

Marcus Smart may prove to be a vital voice in the Grizzlies' locker room this season.

Finally, a sense of nostalgia will accompany Rose as he makes his return to Memphis. No, he doesn’t have a history with the Grizzlies, but did captivate the city when he starred in college for the Memphis Tigers. The years and the injuries have stolen his burst, but the former Kia NBA MVP can still manage a decent performance occasionally. A backup role should be exactly what he and the Grizzlies need.

Memphis also gave Desmond Bane a five-year, $207 million extension, the richest in team history. Bane, like a handful of extension-eligible players around the NBA, had the great sense of timing and cashed in. He’s a solid shooter with range and a crucial core piece along with Morant and Jackson Jr.

Assuming Morant is fit both physically and emotionally when he returns, the Grizzlies assembled a sneaky-good offseason to give him all the help he needs, both on the court and in the locker room. The three-guard rotation of Bane, Smart and Morant should be a problem — in a good way.

Up next: Miami Heat | Previously: Houston Rockets

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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