The Grizzlies have never won an NBA championship, but they could have in 2013. Heck, they might have won a title sooner had they not swung and missed on two different back-to-back draft scenarios. Believe it or not, the Grizzlies have been in a position to make a dynasty like the Warriors but just haven’t made the right decisions come draft time.
In 2013, the Grizzlies made the Western Conference Finals but lost to the San Antonio Spurs. The team of Mike Conley Jr., Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol was a tough defensive team, but they were missing one offensive component. Would a player like James Harden or Steph Curry change the narrative? That’s just one draft mistake that messed up the future of the franchise.
These five moves are the biggest draft mistakes in team history.
5. 2002 NBA Draft
Drew Gooden (No. 4 Pick) over Amar’e Stoudemire (No. 9 Pick)
Both players enjoyed a long career in the NBA, which featured 14 seasons. The only problem was that if you compare the two careers as frontcourt players, the Grizzlies would have been better off with Stoudemire in the mix rather than Gooden. For starters, Stoudemire averaged a line of 18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists compared to Gooden’s 11.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.1 assists.
When you look at that, you might think that is not terrible. With that said, the Grizzlies had selected Pau Gasol in the 2001 NBA Draft. That means the Grizzlies could have had their version of the twin towers in Stoudemire and Gasol, who both eventually became All-Star caliber players. Memphis could have added one guard along the way to form a big three and have the team competing at a high level.
4. 2001 NBA Draft
Shane Battier (No. 6 Pick) over Joe Johnson (No. 10 Pick)
You know how we were just talking about the Grizzlies being one guard away from being very competitive had they picked Stoudemire? The Grizzlies had that chance to form a true big three in two straight drafts. In 2001, the Grizzlies selected Shane Battier, who also enjoyed a long successful career in the NBA. Battier was a defensive specialist and not an offensive force, as evidenced by his career average of 8.6 points per game.
Joe Johnson could have been the final piece. Granted, Johnson needed three full seasons before he developed into “Iso Joe,” but that is what you do with young players. You let them develop and the core of Johnson, Gasol, and Stoudemire would have been a core that any team would have loved to have on their team. Johnson was a seven-time All-Star and would have made a tough inside-outside punch with both Gasol and Stoudemire.
3. 1997 NBA Draft
Antonio Daniels (No. 4 Pick) over Tracy McGrady (No. 9 Pick)
The Grizzlies had several chances to draft that difference-making player. They swung and missed on Antonio Daniels, who averaged 7.6 points per game in his 13-year career. Anyone in their right mind would have wanted Tracy McGrady now. The Hall of Famer led the league in scoring two times, including once scoring 32.1 points per game. As a member of the Magic, he elevated that team to new heights.
Had the team taken McGrady, he could have paired with Shareef Abdur-Rahim to make a formidable scoring duo. Had the Grizzlies still traded Abdur-Rahim for the rights for Pau Gasol, then you are talking about a combination of McGrady and Gasol with Kobe Bryant-Gasol potential. Maybe add either Shane Battier or Joe Johnson to that mix and that is another big-time big three.
2. 1998 NBA Draft
Mike Bibby (No. 2 Pick) over Vince Carter (No. 5 Pick), Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9 Pick), Paul Pierce (No. 10 Pick)
It’s unfair to call Mike Bibby a mistake because he was a solid point guard in the league for 14 years. He also played a big role with the Kings when the team was competitive. With that said, would you rather have Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, or Paul Pierce instead? Imagine a world where the Grizzlies selected McGrady and any one of these three players. Would the Grizzlies in the 2000s look like the modern-day Warriors?
Anyways, Carter was at his best from 1998 to 2006. He was the face of the league at the time. Nowitzki scored the second-most points, runner-up, to Bryant, during the 2000s decade. As for Pierce, he carried those bad Celtics teams for years. You can take your poison here, but we are still in a period where the Abdur-Rahim trade for Gasol is on the table. A big three of McGrady, Gasol, and any one of these players would have been legendary.
1. 2009 NBA Draft
Hasheem Thabeet (No. 2 Pick) over James Harden (No. 3 Pick), Steph Curry (No. 7 Pick), DeMar DeRozan (No. 8 Pick)
When you secure a lottery pick, you think that the top-2 players selected are usually safe. They are going to make a big difference for your franchise. The Grizzlies struck out swinging with their lottery pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. The team drafted the big man out of Connecticut with hopes he could make a big difference. Instead, he played five years in the league, just over 2,300 total minutes, and capped his career stat line at 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds. It’s regarded as one of the biggest busts in NBA history.
At the time, the Grizzlies had their point guard with Mike Conley Jr. Imagine a world where Conley and James Harden played in the same backcourt. Harden eventually won three scoring titles in Houston. How about the same scenario, but with Curry. With the Warriors, Curry transformed the franchise. Now, Memphis would have needed a third superstar in town to build a dynasty like Golden State, but it’s possible. Even DeMar DeRozan, who ended his Toronto Raptors career as the all-time leading scorer, would have likely had Kyle Lowry-DeRozan vibes. The pick of Thabeet royally messed up the trajectory of Memphis. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in their primes in 2013, you are talking about a potential run to the NBA Finals had Memphis drafted the right way.