Why the Rockets Can’t Abandon the Tank
Impatient Rockets fans have started to point to the Grizzlies as an example of a franchise that was able to avoid a multi-year tank to get get back into the playoff picture. The problem is that is only sort of true, and it also disregards the massive differences between the state of the Rockets and Grizzlies as they entered their rebuilds.
The Grizzlies Rebuild
From 2010-11 to 2016-17, the Grizzlies made the playoffs every season behind the Grit and Grind trio of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolf. While the team was competitive and won 50 or more games three straight seasons, they didn’t cast first-round picks aside like mardi gras beads.
Over that same period, they made four first-round selections, and, crucially, they didn’t owe any first-round picks once they started their rebuild. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were never superstars, but they have both made All-Star teams, and when they were moved the Grizzlies got picks and young players to help expedite their rebuild.
Gasol landed them C.J. Miles, Jonas Valančiūnas, Delon Wright, and a 2024 second-round pick from the Raptors, and Conley fetched them Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round draft pick from the Jazz.
Valančiūnas was highly productive in Memphis for two seasons before being in a massive three-team trade that secured the Grizzlies Steven Adams, Zaire Williams, and a 2022 first-round pick, with Eric Bledsoe and Jared Butler as salary filler.
Allen was a solid contributor last season for the Grizzlies before being traded to Milwaukee, Bazley and a second-round pick were used to acquire Brandon Clarke, and Korver was traded for Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, and a 2020 second-round pick.
What you’ll notice is that all of these trades and picks amounted to a handful of quality NBA rotation pieces. Essentially, four first-round picks from 2011 through 2017, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol ended up netting the Grizzlies Steven Adams, Zaire Williams, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, and a 2022 first-round pick.
What made the Grizzlies' rebuild take flight was what they did at the top of the draft. Following a 22-60 season, the Grizzlies had the fourth pick and selected Jaren Jackson Jr. The next season they lucked into the second overall pick and got Ja Morant. Throw in a shrewd trade to get Dillon Brooks for two second-round picks and excellent player development and that explains the Grizzlies' rebuild.
It also needs to be noted the timeline of the Grizzlies' rebuild. It started in 2017-18, they weren’t a playoff team until three seasons later, and they had to absolutely nail their draft and trades.
Remember, the Rockets are in the first intentional season of a rebuild. When they started their rebuild following the 2020-21 season, they had a bunch of the Nets picks, John Wall, Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr, hopefully, their 2021 first, and two late first-round picks.
The Grizzlies are where they're at because they nailed their lottery picks and kept moving players for more and more assets. At no point did they try to win. They just kept churning through players, kept the ones that worked, and let their young players develop.
If Rockets fans want the franchise to emulate the Grizzlies they’ll have to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are NBA champions. Successful rebuilds aren’t about nailing every decision. They’re about having enough bites at the apple so one rotten bite doesn’t spoil the meal.