The Memphis Grizzlies have been a pretty consistent franchise, at least recently.
The Grizzlies franchise has only been around for 25 seasons, as they began in Vancouver as one of the two Canadian franchises in the NBA. In the early 2000s, the Grizzlies franchise was led by dynamic center Pau Gasol, though they didn’t win lots of games. Gasol was drafted as the third pick in the 2001 NBA draft and was immediately traded to the Grizzlies in exchange for Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
Gasol and the Grizzlies had only one successful season in the early 2000s, winning 50 games in 2003-04. The team featured the dynamic duo of Gasol and Jason Williams. Their supporting cast included James Posey, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier. Williams was known for his electric passes, while Miller and Posey provided some shooting.
The Grizzlies would later trade Miller, Williams, and Gasol. In 2005, the Grizzlies were involved in a five-team trade deal that sent Williams and Posey to the Miami Heat in exchange for Eddie Jones.
The Grizzlies then were part of a big trade in 2008 with the Los Angeles Lakers, moving Gasol for the draft rights to his brother Marc Gasol, Javaris Crittenton, Kwame Brown, and two first-round draft picks. Pau helped lead the Lakers to championships in 2009 and 2010.
In 2008, the Grizzlies completed their overhaul by trading Miller, their fifth overall draft pick, Jason Collins, and Brian Cardinal to move up to the third overall pick, as well as acquire Antonine Walker, Greg Buckner, and Marko Jaric.
From these trades, the Grizzlies were able to rebuild their franchise and start a new era. That rebuild really began in the 2007 NBA draft with the selection of Mike Conley with the 4th overall pick. Marc Gasol and Conley would go on to lead the Grizzlies to 7 straight playoff appearances, even reaching the conference finals in 2013.
Those teams featured the Grizzlies’ “big three” of Zach Randolph, Conley, and Gasol. This era of Grizzlies basketball is lovingly known as ‘Grit n Grind’, based on the team’s reputed defensive prowess (led by Gasol and Tony Allen) and slow, methodical offense. The 2013 Grizzlies were able to win 56 games in the regular season, going 8-3 in the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing to a great San Antonio Spurs team.
The defensive-minded Grizzlies have been a tough opponent in the playoffs for many seasons. In 2015, Grizzlies won 55 games in the regular season, and went on to beat the Trail Blazers in five games in the first round. In the second round, they were able to push the 67-win, eventual champion Golden State Warriors to 6 games in the second round. Aside from Memphis’s big three, the team featured Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter, and JaMychal Green.
For as long as he was with the franchise, Marc Gasol and Conley defined the Grizzlies offense and defense. Memphis became known for their toughness, and while the team struggled from three-point range, they were great in a half-court setting. Their emphasis on scoring in the paint made them very different in an increasingly three-point-happy league.
The Gasol and Conley duo was one of the most effective center-guard combinations in the NBA. On the defensive end, Gasol made it very difficult to score in the paint. On offense, his ability to pass out of double teams in the post created scoring opportunities for others. Conley was also a great passer and able to ignite the Grizzlies offense from the perimeter, using his quickness and feathery soft floater to keep defenses off balance. On the defensive end, Conley was an elite perimeter defender and leader. The Grizzlies were able to slow down the game and were known known for making their opponents play their style of basketball.
Once Gasol, Conley and Randolph got a bit older, the Grizzlies needed to rebuild. Memphis drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. as the 4th overall pick in the 2018 draft and Ja Morant as the second overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Conley was traded to the Utah Jazz for Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, and a first-round pick, while Gasol was traded in a large deal with the Toronto Raptors for Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles, Delon Wright, and a second-round pick. Like his brother Pau, Marc would go on to win a championship with the Raptors.
These trades have enabled the Grizzlies to build around Morant and Jackson, who look like future stars. Valanciunas (acquired from Toronto) would also sign a three-year contract with the Grizzlies. Already, in just his first year, Morant has provided a spark to the franchise. Much to many analysts surprise, the Grizzlies finished the 2020 season as the ninth overall seed in the Western Conference and were 1 win away from making the playoffs.