With the Grizzlies projected to be a middle-of-the-pack team heading into the 2017/18 season, I wrote last September that there was little chance of the club bottoming out entirely as long as Mike Conley and Marc Gasol stayed healthy. But Conley didn’t stay healthy, appearing in just 12 games. And sure enough, the Grizzlies bottomed out without him, firing head coach David Fizdale and finishing with a 22-60 record, the NBA’s second-worst mark.
Conley and Gasol can still be a very productive duo, but they’re both getting older and health will remain a concern going forward. Of course, it goes without saying that the same caveat applies to the team’s other maximum-salary player, Chandler Parsons, who has appeared in just 70 games since signing with the Grizzlies two years ago.
Armed with a top-five pick and a few standout veterans, the Grizzlies could bounce back in 2018/19 if they have better health luck, but given the ages and injuries histories of their core players, it may be unrealistic to bank on that.
Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:
1. Is this the start of a rebuild or a blip on the radar?
The most favorable way to frame the Grizzlies’ 2017/18 season is to compare it what happened to the Spurs in 1996/97. After seven straight playoff appearances, San Antonio lost David Robinson for the season, went 20-62, nabbed Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick in the draft, and immediately returned to title contention with Duncan and a healthy Robinson the following season. The Spurs won the NBA Finals two years later, and haven’t missed the postseason since.
Like those Spurs, the Grizzlies had earned seven consecutive playoff appearances prior to last season’s disaster. And with Conley on the way back, Memphis doesn’t view itself as a rebuilding club. The Grizzlies probably won’t follow in the Spurs’ footsteps by winning a title anytime soon, but they figure to focus on getting back into the playoffs immediately, which means we shouldn’t expect the team to sell off pieces this summer.
2. Will the Marc Gasol trade rumors start up again?
If the Grizzlies expect to rebound rather than rebuild, any Gasol trade rumors that surface in the coming months figure to be shot down just like the ones during the season were. Still, this is an issue that could extend into the regular season if Memphis doesn’t get off to a good start.
Gasol’s contract calls for a $24MM+ salary in 2018/19, with a $25.5MM+ player option for 2019/20. That’s a high price tag, but it’s one that plenty of teams would be interested in taking on. The Heat, for instance, would likely jump at the chance to swap their similarly-priced center, Hassan Whiteside, for Gasol.
The Grizzlies don’t have a ton of appealing trade assets under team control, so if they do decide to take a step back and rework their roster at some point within the next year or so, shopping Gasol may represent their best chance to pick up young players or picks. His status will be worth watching.