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VOL. 131 | NO. 36 | Friday, February 19, 2016
Don Wade

Don Wade

For Grizz the Time Is Now and Later

By Don Wade

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Trades happen. “It’s part of the league,” said point guard Mike Conley. Major injuries happen, too. “Very difficult,” coach Dave Joerger said.

That was the Grizzlies’ summation of the trade that sent starting shooting guard and well-liked teammate Courtney Lee to Charlotte and the impact of center Marc Gasol’s broken foot.

When I asked Conley before the team’s practice on Wednesday, Feb. 17, if he had spoken with Gasol, his answer did not exactly inspire hope of a return soon – and maybe not at all this season.

“I spoke to him briefly yesterday,” Conley said. “I think he’s still distraught. You know how he is, he wears his heart on his sleeve.”

And for who knows how long, his foot in a boot.

Notice, there was nothing in there about being eager to start rehab. Nothing about Gasol aiming for a return before, or by, the playoffs.

Fans have assumed the worst, too, which is why they may have found the trade of Lee a bit of a head-scratcher. The Grizzlies on Tuesday, Feb. 16, sent Lee to Charlotte as part of a three-team deal with Miami that brought back 37-year-old big man Chris Andersen, swingman P.J. Hairston and four second-round draft picks.

The trade, quite honestly, probably hurts the Grizzlies in the short-term unless there is another deal coming. And at the trade deadline 2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, unconfirmed reports surfaced that the Grizzlies had traded forward Jeff Green to the Los Angeles Clippers for well-traveled Clippers guard Lance Stephenson.

This much is certain: The Grizzlies decided to at least get something for Lee, who is a free agent at season’s end, because he was probably going to cost more to keep than they were willing to pay.

In true NBA parlance, this trade was about stockpiling “assets” (the draft picks) that can be used in a future deal. Maybe on draft night.

In any case, the Grizzlies return to action after the All-Star break with a 31-22 record and holding down the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, three games ahead of No. 6 seed Dallas.

The playoffs remain attainable, if also a destination with a moving horizon.

“As long as I’ve been here we’ve been going through adversity,” Joerger said. “This is just another challenge for us.”

And in that way this does feel like more of the same, doesn’t it?

“Just keep on being that scrappy team,” forward Zach Randolph said of how they would react to their new realities. “Grind it out. Play hard. Keep fighting.”

But things will have to be different.

Lee was the team’s most accurate – if sometimes gun-shy – 3-point shooter. Gasol was a facilitator on offense and an air-traffic controller on defense, coordinating this switch and that switch.

“I have the full duties of a point guard now,” said Conley, himself a free agent this summer. “I had the luxury of having Marc take a lot of that pressure off of me.”

Joerger worries about Gasol’s absence more on the defensive end. Perhaps Andersen can help. Perhaps Brandan Wright, who is coming back from knee surgery and was to be Gasol’s backup this year, can be a valuable contributor. Perhaps there is more to be gotten from forward JaMychal Green.

But those are, at this stage, closer to wishes than probabilities.

So the Grizzlies are trying to hedge their bets on an uncertain future with an aged roster while trying to get to the postseason for a sixth straight time. And honestly, this is the angle they should be taking.

There are young, talented teams in the West on the way up and soon enough the Grizzlies could find themselves in scramble mode. So if they can do something now that helps set them up to get another first-round pick or a younger player with true potential in the offseason or even next season, they should do it.

But for Conley & Co. the balancing act is simple.

“We’re not looking toward the future,” he said. “We’re looking toward today.”

And today would seem to have more than enough worries of its own.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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