The final two days before the start of the NBA draft is typically a time filled with lots of noise and little activity.
But when the smoke settled and tea leaves were sorted from yesterday, it’s hard not to note that it was a pretty rough day for the Memphis Grizzlies.
We’ll get to the potential machinations above them in the draft order in a bit, but first, a couple of reports from ESPN/Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony, one on local radio:
And one one Twitter last night:
The Bamba news was greeted with something of a shrug: As noted in this space a few weeks ago, Bamba is just a bad fit now for the Grizzlies and vice versa. Of course he’d rather go to Dallas to pair up with Dennis Smith or to Atlanta to be the centerpiece (no pun intended) of a fresh start than to Memphis to back-up Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies would have liked access to Bamba, but were almost certainly never going to take him.
But Jaren Jackson making a workout leap over Memphis, from Atlanta to Dallas, was already a bad look. If he intentionally withheld medicals from the team, that only compounds it.
As has been widely noted, the Grizzlies have had only one lottery prospect in town for a workout, Duke’s Wendell Carter. (Of note: Top prospect Deandre Ayton has only met with the Suns at pick #1, Luka Doncic has been playing overseas, and Michael Porter has been accessible to all, but only on his home-turf terms.) (Also of note: Givony has also reported that Bamba and Jackson similarly shunned Sacramento.)
This for a franchise only one year removed from a seven-year playoff run and only a few years removed from being touted as the best franchise in all of pro sports by ESPN The Magazine. What’s up?
Market size undoubtedly is a factor, but I don’t think it’s a determinative one. Instead, I’d point to three other factors: Ownership/front office perception, competitive trajectory, and the specific make-up of this roster. Let’s take them in reverse order:
- Roster considerations: As noted with Bamba, the Grizzlies present a blockage at point guard and center next season. This makes it a bad landing spot for Bamba or Trae Young. It makes it a debatable landing spot for Carter (who came in), Jackson (who didn’t), and Bagley (who hasn’t visited below #3 as far as I know). I would make the case that Memphis is actually the best fit for Bagley, who is more of a four than a five.
- Competitive trajectory: All the teams in the high lottery are bad; that’s how they got there. But the Grizzlies are probably perceived as just beginning a likely-to-be arduous rebuild they’re intentionally tapping the breaks on at least for one more season. Despite the recent histories of the Suns, Kings, Mavs, and Magic, and the scorched landscape in Atlanta, it’s easier for objective parties to see sustained bright times ahead in those situations. These teams are further into their rebuilds and thus likely presumed to be closer to emerging from them. (Though past performance tells us that rebuild attempts often stall out.)
- Ownership/front office perception: This is the big one. The franchise’s ownership status was unsettled until very recently, and though Robert Pera has emerged with an even firmer grip on the franchise, he remains something of a cipher to most. As lead basketball executive, Chris Wallace has a track record so long that it’s well-populated with both successes and failures. But among the latter are some very damaging blown draft picks (Hasheem Thabeet at #2), free agent signings (a damaged goods Chandler Parsons on a four-year max), and trades (a still outstanding future first-round pick for Jeff Green). One imagines the perception is that Wallace remains in the pilot’s seat not on the merits but out of a lack of ownership-level will to make a change. When Pera did re-emerge briefly this month, he promised to be more visibly involved going forward. This is needed, whether that’s to bring change or better explain a commitment to stability.
Anyway, back to the draft:
What are Sacramento and Atlanta doing?: The Grizzlies decision at #4 will obviously be limited by what’s happened ahead of them. A day and a half out, it seems pretty clear that Deandre Ayton is going to Phoenix at #1, but Sacramento and Atlanta, at #2 and #3 respectively, remain a mystery.
Sacramento seems likely to pursue one of three scenarios: Reports are bubbling that taking Marvin Bagley is their most likely move. Bagley is a big college star (see: Hield, Buddy) who seems likely to be instant impact (Sac has been out of the playoffs for a long time and doesn’t own their 2019 pick; they want to be a playoff contender next season) and may play the Kings’ position of greatest immediate need (if Bagley is a “four,” and I think he is). Makes sense.
Still, the Kings braintrust has been to Spain recently to meet with Luka Doncic, and context clues suggest he’s an option. The Kings are also said to be enamored with Michael Porter, which could be a trade-down option.
What about Atlanta? How’s this for a smokescreen season special:
Followed by this last night:
For what it’s worth, I believe the Givony side of the coin on Jackson.
As for Doncic, maybe the Hawks are moving in that direction, but it also feels like a way to ring the bell for trade offers. It may still be Jaren Jackson or a trade.
For the Grizzlies, is Bagley/Doncic coming off the board ahead of them a worst-case scenario? That will be the perception, at least.
While I don’t think there’s an obvious long-term talent drop-off from 3 to 4 in that scenario — I have Jackson in the same tier as Doncic and Bagley — I do think there’s a drop-off in fit, instant impact, and fan-base enthusiasm.
In this scenario, the Grizzlies options seem four-fold: Jackson, Carter, Michael Porter (if that’s really even an option), or trading down.
Who’s trading up?: If Sacramento or Atlanta are willing to move down, who’s most likely to jump the Grizzlies? If the Grizzlies find themselves unhappy with their options at #4, who’s likely to make them an offer?
On the former, Dallas, currently at #5, could be a candidate to jump the Grizzlies. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has suggested that the Mavs are high on Doncic and could be willing to try to move up for him. The Mavs also have pick #35 in this draft, but that’s not enough. More likely would be adding future draft assets (they own all of their future first-round picks) or taking on unwanted contracts.
No-one has really reported on the Magic being interested in moving up, but they have enough asset flexibility to add value to their pick at 6 and move up a little if they want to.
The most likely trade partner for the Grizzlies has always been the Bulls, armed with picks at 7 and 2w, and that seems even more true today.
From K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune this morning:
There’s a sense around the league that if the Bulls want Bamba, they’d have to trade up to the fourth pick and perhaps the third pick to land him. The Grizzlies have been trying to unload Chandler Parsons’ cumbersome contract in any talks about surrendering their fourth pick.
I’m skeptical about Parsons being involved in a trade with the Bulls, but you can build plenty of smaller deals around 4 for 7/22, including moving Ben McLemore in the deal.
There’s also been talking of the Clippers as a trade-up candidate, with picks at 12/13 as a foundation.
The Michael Porter Question: At least a couple of national NBA media types have hinted this week about Porter perhaps needing another surgery or taking a “redshirt” rookie season, but teams (including the Grizzlies) have been mum on what they learned from evaluations in Chicago last week. But what is leaking out sounds pretty pessimistic:
I’ll get into more on the Grizzlies’ apparent options and make some predictions tomorrow.