Throughout the past decade, the Western Conference has been dominated by a handful of teams. The Warriors, Spurs, Lakers, and many other teams have come roaring out of the West in the past decade. Golden State made it again this year, but with their players beginning to age, it may be time for another shift in power. That shift in power may lead to the Memphis Grizzlies capitalizing on the opportunity to become the next dynasty out of the west.
How did the rebuild begin?
In the 2018 season, the Memphis Grizzlies finished with an abysmal 22-60 record. The lottery odds rewarded that valiant tank effort with the second overall pick. Memphis used that pick to select Ja Morant, and since that day, things have only gone uphill.
Their record immediately improved by 11 games the next year, with a final record of 33-49. In the first installment of any form of play-in tournament in the bubble, the Grizzlies were one missed game-winning shot from Caris LeVert away from making the playoffs.
They would follow that up with a 38-34 record in the 2020–21 season, which was good enough for the ninth seed. They wound up avenging their play-in woes and made it to the playoffs before bowing out in five games to the Jazz.
What Happened in 2022?
In 2022, Memphis put it all together and the team reached new heights. Ja Morant put forth an absolutely stellar season, and the Grizzlies earned the second seed in the west with a 56-26 record. Memphis beat Minnesota in a dramatic first-round series that went six games. In the second round, they lost in six games to the Warriors, who would wind up winning the conference.
Their 56-26 record this season really jumpstarted this journey for Memphis. Most talking heads projected the team to land in the middle of the conference, or in the play-in tournament. That made sense, considering the fact that Memphis was in the play-in situation the previous two seasons.
Despite some disappointment to end the playoffs, the turnaround from this Memphis team has been remarkable. After a playoff appearance in 2016, Memphis had just one bad year. Immediately after that they selected a franchise player and built their young core. In just a couple of years, they’ve become a contender under a brand-new core of players, and have put themselves in a tremendous position this off-season.
Why are the Grizzlies the Next Dynasty?
What those talking heads were wrong about was the extreme development taken by several Grizzlies this season. Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and several others made huge strides. Those strides put Memphis in an excellent position heading into this offseason.
The Grizzlies currently have the 24th-highest salary cap in the NBA, at just $97 million. For reference, the three teams that finished below them (Warriors, Mavericks, Jazz) had the second, sixth and tenth highest team salaries in the league.
Ja Morant is eligible for an extension heading into this offseason. It’s almost certain that he’ll be earning a huge contract in the near future. Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, and several others are going to be due for new contracts in the next year or two. Memphis will have to pay to keep its core together, but they may still end up with more money than they know what to do with.
Because the Grizzlies’ young core is much more homegrown than their counterparts, they still own all of their draft picks. In the upcoming 2022 draft, they’ll pick 22nd, 29th, and 47th.
The leap the Grizzlies took this past season was nothing short of remarkable. Memphis seemed to have already expedited their rebuild, but their success in 2021 blew the lid off of anybody’s expectations for them. With all of their draft picks and more cap space than they could ask for, the Grizzlies appear to be the next dynasty to come out of the West.