The Grizzlies were easily the NBA’s most surprising playoff seed when the season was suspended in March. Memphis was holding down the eighth spot in the West, fighting off the likes of the Blazers and Pelicans in the process. The Grizz’s success is predicated almost entirely on their youth, with guys like Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke leading the charge. Regardless of what happens this season, Memphis’s challenge moving forward will be to properly capitalize on the promise of its up and coming roster.
The Grizzlies obviously don’t want to be a fringe playoff team forever, so how do they turn into a perennial participant and then ultimately a contender? Bringing in some veterans would help. After the trade deadline, the only 30-year-old on the roster is Gorgui Dieng. Most of the core (Ja, JJJ, Clarke, Dillon Brooks) is under 25, with Kyle Anderson there to serve as the 26-year-old wise man. By 2021, Memphis is going to have all its young players under contract and practically no one else, and the front office will have a lot of flexibility to add to that nucleus. But cap space alone doesn’t create a contender, and adding the right pieces to the current group will be easier said than done.
Memphis isn’t traditionally a free-agent hotbed. The Grizzlies’ last big signing was Chandler Parsons, and that didn’t exactly work out. The days of being in the lottery appear over as well, with the young group too talented to tank for another star. Making impactful trades, looking for bargains in free agency, and mining talent in the back half of the draft will be extra critical for Memphis over the next couple summers. Growth from Ja and JJJ will certainly help, but it’s the Grizz want to get over the hump the Grit-and-Grind teams couldn’t, they’ll have to be extra diligent in the way they build their roster. Can Memphis put around Morant and Jackson what the Bucks have put around Giannis, or the Heat around Jimmy Butler?
In a way, being successful this early in Morant’s career makes building more difficult for the Grizzlies. It’s a good problem to have, but a tricky one nonetheless. Particularly at a time when small market teams are especially fearful of their stars one day walking in free agency, Memphis does not want to waste any time in pushing what it has much further. The players on this team ended up succeeding much more quickly than outsiders would have expected. Because of how quickly the young core ramped up its development, the front office will have to do the same.