Dillon Brooks, boos and the Memphis Grizzlies' NBA trade deadline dilemma | Giannotto

They were all cheering for him by the end, and yelling out his name.

“Dillon! Dillon!”

Only Dillon Brooks never looked up and never broke his stride, choosing not to linger for the postgame celebration once the Memphis Grizzlies secured their 104-89 win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.

He had been booed by some fans inside FedExForum during the third quarter, in the midst of another maddening offensive performance. He had, nonetheless, hit a big 3-pointer down the stretch to help Memphis avoid a ninth loss in 10 games. But he had not forgotten.

“(Bleep) y’all,” Brooks said to nobody in particular and everybody all at once as he left the court.

So, yes, contrary to what he may have claimed later on in the locker room to reporters, Brooks did care that he got booed by his own home crowd. As did his teammates.

Charlotte Hornets guard Dennis Smith Jr. leans on Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Scott Kinser)
Charlotte Hornets guard Dennis Smith Jr. leans on Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Scott Kinser)

It’s why Ja Morant took to social media to defend him. It’s why coach Taylor Jenkins, Jaren Jackson Jr., Danny Green and anybody else with the Grizzlies who was asked about Brooks went out of their way to support him. It’s why the whole thing felt counterproductive and callous, even if it’s entirely within the paying customer’s rights to boo an NBA player making millions of dollars.

But therein lies the predicament the Memphis front office will confront one way or another when the NBA trade deadline arrives Thursday.

To trade Brooks, or not to trade Brooks?

That is the question that could determine the immediate future of these Grizzlies, and whether their most significant rough patch in recent memory convinced them to shake things up or largely stick with the status quo.

There may not be an in between either, which feels appropriate given Brooks is part of the conversation.

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He is the most polarizing player among Grizzlies fans because of his erratic shot selection on offense, but he’s beloved by teammates and coaches because he guards every team’s best perimeter scorer on defense. He is the most hated player on what Morant has declared the most hated team in the NBA, but the same traits that make him a villain have long been hailed as a crucial part of this group’s DNA.

He’s in a position many have identified as one Memphis needs to improve if it’s to some day win an NBA championship, but he’s still the best wing the Grizzlies have at the moment. He’s a player who is set to become a free agent after this season but happens to be in the midst of the worst shooting slump of his career.

He is either essential or expendable. Depends on who you ask, what game you’re asking about and, sometimes, what quarter or possession you’re watching.

So during the final game before the trade deadline, when he kept missing shots, he got booed.

“I get booed everywhere, so it’s only right to get booed in my hometown or (bleeping) Memphis,” Brooks said. “I don’t really care, to be honest. If they want to boo me, they can keep booing me every time I touch it.”

And yet, in the next breath, he openly considered the possibility that perhaps Tuesday was the last time he played with the Grizzlies.

“I know wherever I go, wherever I play, my (rhymes with hit) translates,” Brooks declared.

What does General Manager Zach Kleiman think of that? We'll find out Thursday.

He could respond to what’s happening now. To the flaws that surfaced during this rocky stretch, and the recent evidence suggesting this team as currently constructed isn’t quite ready yet. He could be convinced the downturn in Brooks' shooting numbers the past couple years is permanent.

He could send a jolt through a roster that has been showing its youth of late. He hasn’t made a deadline deal since the failed acquisition of Justise Winslow in 2020, but the Western Conference also hasn’t been this wide open in years.

At what cost, though?

It's easy to say make a trade. It's a lot harder to come up with one that makes sense for everybody involved. I'd love for there to be a low-risk and low-cost move for the Grizzlies to add more shooting, but that also just might be wishful thinking.

Brooks, on an expiring deal, is probably more valuable to Memphis than anyone else not ready to sign him to a new contract. The Grizzlies are likely to have to give up several more assets other than him just to be in the running for a player like Toronto's OG Anunoby.

“We’re not trying to be reactionary. We’re trying to be forward-thinking,” is how Jenkins put it Tuesday night when asked about the trade deadline, and what that means for Brooks is entirely uncertain.

Only that those boos, and the manner in which Brooks left the floor, could be the way he and Memphis say goodbye to one another.

And that wouldn't feel quite right. You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at mgiannotto@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Grizzlies: Dillon Brooks, boos, and NBA trade deadline dilemma