By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
MEMPHIS – What’s next for the Memphis Grizzlies?
Who stays? Who goes?
How will the Grit’N’Grind era continue to evolve?
Those questions and more face the Grizzlies as they embark on an offseason destined for change after their seventh consecutive playoff trip ended in a six-game series loss to the Spurs in the opening round. There’s plenty of optimism moving forward. There’s also clearly something most fans, players, coaches and executives agree on: 43 wins, a No. 7 seed in the playoffs and a first-round exit aren’t good enough.
Over a stretch of 17 weekdays, we’ll dive into our ‘Offseason Outlook’ series that breaks down my personal analysis as to where each player on the Grizzlies’ roster stands, in addition to coach David Fizdale and general manager Chris Wallace, entering a potentially pivotal offseason.
Player: Brandan Wright, 29
Measurables: 6-10, 210 – 9th NBA Season
2016-17 Stats: 6.9ppg, 2.8rpg, 61.5 FG% (team high), 16.0 mpg
Status: Due $5.9 million for 2017-18 salary in final season of three-year deal.
Wright’s 61.5-percent shooting from the field this season would have ranked fourth-best in the league behind DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez and Al Horford had he played in enough games to qualify. But Wright missed a total of 54 games, including 49 after undergoing arthroscopic left ankle surgery. Wright has played in only 40 of a possible 164 regular-season games in his two seasons with Memphis.
I definitely want to know how I fit into this team going forward. At this point, and how inconsistent it was this year, (I) definitely want to find out where I fit. It’s tough because we’re still trying to decide how we want to play. Do we want to be fast? Do we want to throw it in the post? What do we want to do? That’s the question moving forward, then I’ll see where I fit in with this team.
There’s no denying that when Wright finally got healthy after coming back from the November ankle procedure, he infused the frontline with a much-needed jolt of energy and athleticism. Coach David Fizdale said the boost Wright brought had the feel of a midseason trade. Point guard Mike Conley said he felt like a kid with a new toy at Christmas when he was able to execute pick-and-rolls by tossing lobs toward the rim for Wright to finish with dunks. With a condor-like wingspan and quick feet, Wright is interchangeable at power forward and center on both ends, and he proved he can play alongside Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph or JaMychal Green. Wright is a unique, above-the-rim threat on this roster.
We’re still talking about Wright’s potential. That’s because he’s largely been a tease. There’s no other way to put it when he’s been on the inactive list for almost four times as many games as he’s played. Wright’s frustrations with his limited role and lack of playing time in the postseason resonated more clearly than anyone’s in last month’s exit interviews. But in all honesty, it’s not as if Wright has been available and healthy during his Memphis tenure to be relied upon at a position where the roster has been stocked with alternatives. He’s also a big who’s made it clear he prefers to play in the paint and hasn’t exactly expanded his shooting range much beyond dunks, hooks and layups to stretch the floor.
Wright was understandably upset when he played a total of 12 minutes through the first two games and didn’t play in the final four against the Spurs after Fizdale suggested otherwise after Game 1. So that was likely the source of Wright’s discontent and repeated quest in exit interviews for a defined role moving forward. I view this one of two ways. He’ll enter next season on an expiring contract, which makes him a prime trade option as soon as next month’s draft if the Grizzlies seek to deal for a pick or create more cap space for free agency. Or, Wright is bargain insurance on the front line and could see his role expand next season if Randolph and/or Green depart in free agency this summer.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.