The Memphis Grizzlies and going all-in during the shifting trade market in the NBA

The NBA trade landscape always has something going on, but it seems to be at a pivotal standstill this offseason.

Kevin Durant’s trade request is the primary source of it. However, the Rudy Gobert is another catalyst for it as well. Everyone probably had the same reaction for the trade:

WAIT, THE TIMBERWOLVES TRADED HOW MANY PICKS FOR RUDY GOBERT?

The Timberwolves traded away 4 unprotected picks and a pick swap between 2023 and 2029 — along with 2 starters (Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt), Malik Beasley, and 2 of their first-round picks from 2020 and 2022 (Leandra Bolmaro and Walker Kessler) . Whether you think it’s too much or not — I personally respect the effort to bolster the team in this capacity — you can’t deny the market disruption it’s caused.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe excellently broke down this new league-wide trend in a recent column. In a recent report from Matt Moore on “The Action Network,” executives are mad at the Timberwolves for this new market they’ve set.

Then, there’s the Dejounte Murray trades with the Atlanta Hawks. We knew the Spurs were seeking a package similar to the one the Pelicans acquired for Jrue Holiday. They asked and they received — as the Hawks traded (recently waived) Danilo Gallinari, a protected 2023 first-round pick, a pick swap, and 2 unprotected first-round picks in 2025 and 2027.

With the truckload of first-round picks in these All-Star transactions, the market has shifted, leading to questioning regarding the true value of these treasured assets. And though we’ve seen teams sell off a gaudy amount of first-round picks before, this time feels different. The trades for Murray and Gobert come at a time where a generational talent in Kevin Durant and an All-Star approaching his prime in Donovan Mitchell are on the trade market as well. So the question lately has been — if Rudy Gobert is netting that many picks, then how many will it take for Kevin Durant or Donovan Mitchell? Hell, there’s talk of the Jazz wanting 6 draft assets from the Knicks for Mitchell.

It’s truly remarkable!

There are several questions I have with the market at the moment.

For starters, how much did the 2023 draft impact these discussions? It’s shaping up to be a loaded draft, centered around 7’4” French center Victor Wembayama — who looks more and more like a basketball demigod by the highlight. When teams are scouring the market for the return on their All-Star talent, they might seek more draft compensation rather than proven players. They want good luck with the ping pong balls with these new lottery odds.

For example, both the Hawks and the Timberwolves had players on the trade block that weren’t in the deal. There were early discussions on the Murray deal involving a swap with John Collins, and they also could’ve added someone from their talented pool of young players to save a couple picks. In addition, D’Angelo Russell was on the trade block as well, but stayed out of the Gobert package. They also managed to acquire Gobert without giving up an emerging young talent in Jaden McDaniels.

So with those bits of information, it begs the question on if selling teams preferred picks instead of proven players in order to bottom out for this draft. Are we having this same discussion if the trade involved Danilo Gallinari, DeAndre Hunter, and 2 first-round picks for Dejounte Murray? Or how much does the package change if the Timberwolves threw D’Angelo Russell or Jaden McDaniels in the Gobert trade? We’re also seeing this happen with the Donovan Mitchell discussions, as RJ Barrett is being left out of the conversation with Utah’s minds set on a treasure check of picks.

The packages seem to be a blend of sellers wanting to build a massive portfolio of draft assets, and the buyers putting together packages centered around those desires and expendable players — adding a bonafide All-Star talent to a team’s existing core.

There’s a final question, this landscape poses that hits home a little more. How does the current trade landscape impact the Memphis Grizzlies?

Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Whenever it comes to stars hitting the trade market, recent analysts have pointed to the Grizzlies as a potential destination for that player. In a recent episode of “The Lowe Post,” Zach Lowe briefly mentioned Memphis as a Donovan Mitchell destination — but quickly debunked it from a fit standpoint. Former Grizzlies exec, Senior NBA Columnist at The Athletic, John Hollinger mentioned them as a possible destination for Rudy Gobert earlier in the offseason. Before more smoke blew about Kevin Durant’s trade demands, and the potential packages from other teams, the Grizzlies were a trendy favorite to land the generational scorer.

The Grizzlies have the assets to make a splashy move:

  • Secondary players with All-Star potential (Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr.)
  • Good role players on team-friendly deals
  • Expiring contracts (Steven Adams, Dillon Brooks)
  • All their first-round picks, including the Warriors’ 2024 first-round pick

The narrative with them to make this all-in move is a matter of when — not if — and now one of the those questions is becoming should.

Before you rush to the comments, the Grizzlies should absolutely pounce at an offer they cannot refuse. Those opportunities can be vital in pursuit of a championship. However, given how the market has shaken out, there might be a more hesitation to pull the trigger on these type of deals — not just for the Grizzlies but league-wide.

And for the Grizzlies, a team that’s built this current iteration organically through the draft, do they want to “mortgage their future” and surrender a bunch of picks in an all-in effort? Granted, the front office has found a way to extract value in a manner of ways — trading 2nd-round picks to position themselves to draft Desmond Bane, using two-way contracts on rotation players like John Konchar, or taking on “bad money” for a desired asset. Again, the right opportunity might be there, but the recent moves are going to force them to be a bit more calculated in these all-in efforts, especially for a small-market team with an emphasis on the draft.

Still falling in line with the current trade landscape of the NBA, a similar path the Grizzlies could take is the one Brad Stevens’ Boston Celtics have taken over the past year. They’ve made 3 trades — identifying fringe rotation players or bad fits, attaching a first-round pick, and bolstering their top-8 for deep playoff rotations.

  • Kemba Walker, a first-round pick, and a late second-round pick for Al Horford
  • Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, 2 first-round picks for Derrick White
  • Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, a bunch of end-of-the-bench players, and a first-round pick for Malcolm Brogdon

That’s a powerful way to bolster a championship contender without entirely gutting out depth or future flexibility. With the construction of this team, this route feels like a viable one for the Grizzlies’ path towards contention.

The Grizzlies have a lot of different directions they could pursue. Right now, they’re sticking to the status quo from the past few years — drafting and developing talent, clearing the way for prioritized players, and relying on the team’s culture and system. That could be a default route as well, given the standstill with the Durant situation leaguewide.

They could bolster their depth by adding great role players that fit in a championship rotation, similar to one of the NBA finalists. Or, they could do what’s expected from them on the national media and go all in on a star talent to pair next to Ja Morant.

Who knows, but at this moment, the trade market and demand has shifted over the past month. The ripple effects are something to monitor not just for the Memphis Grizzlies for the league as a whole, as it nows impacts how teams navigate their way towards an elusive NBA championship.

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