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VOL. 132 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 21, 2017
Don Wade

Don Wade

Grizzlies Paradox: Get Younger, Get Older, Stay Relevant

By Don Wade

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The Memphis Grizzlies continue to walk dual trails. It is what they must do, even if such hedging threatens to constrain both their immediate and long-range future.

We learned this week that 31-year-old point guard Mario Chalmers is returning to the Grizzlies on a partially guaranteed one-year contract. Two seasons ago, Chalmers was an impactful backup for Mike Conley until a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his season.

News of Chalmers’ return confirms what we suspected: The Grizzlies were not comfortable going into next season with Andrew Harrison as the primary backup. And they have seen little from Wade Baldwin, who was less than commanding in NBA Summer League play, to inspire faith he can take some of the point-guard minutes.

While certainly more committed to developing young players than before coach David Fizdale’s arrival last season, the Grizzlies continue the young-and-old balancing act.

“We’re trying to win right now, too, so we’re on both paths,” Grizzlies general Chris Wallace said earlier this summer. “We’re trying to develop young players, not just for the future, but hoping some guys can come in and play.”

But not too much, not at the expense of now and making the playoffs an eighth straight season.

Yes, older veterans Zach Randolph and Vince Carter signed free agent contracts with the Sacramento Kings. Free agent Tony Allen is unlikely to return. The roster is churning.

A starting power forward spot is still waiting for restricted free agent JaMychal Green (just turned 27) and if the Grizzlies re-sign him he’ll join Conley, center Marc Gasol, and small forward Chandler Parsons (we’re assuming health) on the first unit.

The only starting position to be determined would be shooting guard, which seems mostly likely to belong to young Ben McLemore; he signed a two-year deal after spending four less than spectacular seasons with Sacramento. He’s still just 24 years old, so presumably there’s an unexplored upside.

Former Memphis Tiger and NBA veteran guard Tyreke Evans signed a one-year free agent contract and ideally he anchors the second unit and gives Memphis a go-to scorer there to replace Randolph. Guard Wayne Selden, just 22, was the scoring star of the Grizzlies’ NBA Summer League. Nice, but only a six-game sample size against inferior competition.

And so the Grizzlies move forward as a team in transition, not entirely sure what they have heading into training camp. More moves could be on the way: forward Jarell Martin has been slow to develop, veteran big man Brandan Wright was unhappy with his role last year and is a potential trade candidate, but also a useful piece here, and several young players are obviously more suited to getting their playing time with the new G League Memphis Hustle.

Rookie guard Dillon Brooks showed flashes in the NBA Summer League, but needs reps. Big man Deyonta Davis is still just 20 years old and did not look ready to compete for real rotation minutes. Ditto for forward Rade Zagorac, though the Grizzlies remain intrigued; rookie forward Ivan Rabb hurt his ankle, but he might be the young player the Grizzlies try to fast-track into regular minutes.

Obviously, if Green were to sign elsewhere it would leave more minutes to be covered and likely necessitate another move for a veteran.

So if it seems the Grizzlies have a plan in conflict with itself, well, it’s because they do. They have no other choice but to both gamble and hedge. This isn’t Golden State. It isn’t even Houston.

“Come together, collaborate, and work together,” Fizdale said when looking ahead to the offseason and beyond. “And make this team better.”

Or at least as good as it has been, so as to allow the ticket-buying public to keep the faith a while longer.

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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