The Unfortunate Sacrifice of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are on the trading block for the Memphis Grizzlies. Never thought I would ever have to type that one day. I always thought that either one of two things were going to happen. Everyone would ride off into the sunset happy and retiring as Grizzlies, or that they would leave in free agency through the power of free will. Nevertheless, the “Woj bombs” never fail to surprise even those who are most bunkered down.

Before this season, you couldn’t have told me that it would come to this point. You couldn’t have told me that two weeks into the season, two months in, or, even, two weeks ago. You just couldn’t have. But, to put it in Mike Conley’s own words that he told the media Wednesday, January 23, morning, “That’s where we’re at I guess.” Yep, a “crossroads.”

Both players addressed the media following shootaround before their game against the Hornets. Mike and Marc said, as always, that there was still a job to do and they still had games to go out and compete to win. The two cornerstones also said that franchise majority owner, Robert Pera, called both to inform them of their standing in this year’s trade market.

Yes, that same Robert Pera, who was seemingly “never” involved, is now very much involved.

How did we get to this point? For years, the equation for success in Memphis has been “healthy Mike + healthy Marc = winning basketball,” but that is a bit of a loaded statement to begin with now isn’t it? When’s the last time we’ve had that “equation” and it work? 2016-2017. David Fizdale’s first year of tenure led to a 43-39 season and a 7th seed playoff berth. Even then, it was only two wins better than the previous season when Dave Joerger led a 28-man roster after Marc and Mike went down in the February and March of that season.

So what’s the difference between now and 2016-17? A lot, but, primarily, the locker room. That 2016-17 team had Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen beside Mike and Marc. Tony and Zach were known for being vocal, hard nosed leaders and Vince was a veteran presence who could get the job done when it needed to be done and/or no one else would do it. Now? You have Garrett Temple, Shelvin Mack, and Omri Casspi. Two of three of those players fought each other and the other has given fans more than enough evidence to sue JB for cruel and unusual basketball viewing punishment. When they first became Memphis Grizzlies, I was personally excited, because I saw them for what they could be not what they would be: high character guys who are just as passive about the team as anyone else is now.

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This is a difficult topic. After I went to my first game, I fell in love with the Memphis Grizzlies and basketball. All because of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and the electric fans of the Grindhouse. Now… it seems that all but two are gone, and even they are possibly on their way out.

It does not take a numbers crunch to see how poor this current team truly is. Mike and Marc have had a good statistical season, but as far as the on-court product, not much has wowed anyone. They’ve taken bad shots, passed up on good shots, and have missed others for good opportunities to score. They’ve gotten older and their percentages are going down, but is it truly a good thing to trade them away?

If you were to trade them now, you might get a few good picks back, maybe some young assets, and maybe a few bad contracts to take on cap space. Supposedly, without the franchise tandem, you would lose a lot and therefore have some good lottery positioning, and plenty of cap space to reinforce Wojnarowski’s report of building around 2018 fourth overall draft pick, Jaren Jackson, Jr.

What have we done the past 8 years? Try to build around Mike, Marc, and the Core Four’s Grit-n-Grind style of basketball. How did they do that? By bringing in veterans. The funny thing about NBA veterans? They’ve been in the league for a little while, which should leave little to no doubt of what and who you are acquiring.

If the front office can not build around four players with people whose resumes and track records are near undeniable, do you really trust them to be the ones to trade away two of the franchise’s best players for picks and young assets? Do you trust them to make the evaluation of said players and to make good decisions on Draft Day when, historically speaking, have been a blight on the franchise as a whole? No. No you can’t.

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No one should trust Chris Wallace and Co. to make these decisions. Tony and Zach are already gone. Why should we continue to sacrifice these guys who have done so much for the team and city as a whole because of management malpractice? Grind City Media’s Chris Vernon essentially said it best; no one is without blame other than those who are trying to make people be someone that they are not.

Mike and Marc can be your best players on the court all day long, but they aren’t going to be the ones to keep everyone else on their A-game off of the court. That was and is not them. They need and have always needed a supporting cast who will contribute consistently.

In Wednesday’s game against the Hornets, the evening directly after Woj broke the news, Mike and Marc, together, had 53 points on 18-35 field goal shooting. Mike finished with 31 points on 10-17 from the field with a 1:3 assist to turnover ratio, 2-5 from three, and made all nine attempts of his from the charity stripe. Marc notched his 5th career triple double with a 22/17/10 line with three steals. He shot the ball on at a 53.3% clip (8-15) and had two triples on six attempts. It was easily the best collective effort we’ve seen in a long time, but it simply takes much more than that. The Hornets’ bench outscored the Grizzlies’ bench by 17, 41-24, in their 118-107 win. Jaren had 15 points of his own on only 9 attempts, which is another problem of its own, then JaMychal lead the bench with 14 points before fouling out in 27 minutes, and Justin Holliday, who is got the starting nod again, had 10 points and 6 rebounds after going 4-11 from the field.

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The problem does not lie with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, nor should the solution lie in trading them. Fans are screaming for change: whether that is the roster, coaching staff, and/or front office. Whatever it is or whomever it may belong to, there is an obvious cry for blood that has led to an aimless search of sacrifice.

GrizzEric Lentz