Grizz look to future, Clips hope for best in Green-Stephenson swap

Ball Don't Lie

After losing center and centerpiece Marc Gasol to a broken bone in his right foot just before the All-Star break, the Memphis Grizzlies entered the trade deadline with a decision to make: try to swing a deal for short-term frontcourt help to weather Gasol's absence and stay in playoff position, or begin to sell off current helpers in search of future assets to help restock a draft-pick cupboard raided in past deas. Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace seems to have chosen the latter path ... and to build one of the most colorful locker rooms in recent league history in the process.

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Just before Thursday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, the Grizzlies reached a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers to send forward Jeff Green to L.A. in exchange for swingman Lance Stephenson and a lottery-protected 2019 first-round pick — the earliest first-rounder the Clips could send, since the Toronto Raptors have the rights to their 2017 first. (L.A. sent it to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jared Dudley in the summer of 2014, and the Bucks included it as part of the package that imported Greivis Vasquez from Toronto this past summer, and league rules prevent teams from trading away first-round picks in consecutive years.)

It's possible, given various pick protections, that the Grizz will have to wait quite a bit longer to get their bounty:

If the Grizzlies experience a steep decline out of the Western playoff picture after losing Gasol and trading away both Green and shooting guard Courtney Lee, whom Memphis flipped to the Charlotte Hornets in a three-team deal on Wednesday, it's also possible that the deal could benefit the Denver Nuggets, who have a claim to the 2016 first-rounder that Memphis traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers way back in 2013 as a result of last year's Timofey Mozgov swap:

But A) the Grizzlies could still make the playoffs anyway, and B) that first-rounder was already gone. If the Grizzlies weren't going to compete for a title this year anyway — a remote possibility even at full strength, as Memphis entered the All-Star break as the West's No. 5 seed at 31-22 with multiple blowout losses to top-flight competition, and a pipe dream without Gasol — it might make sense to get the pain of giving up a mid-to-late lottery pick out of the way now.

Jeff and Lance, a lifetime ago. (AP/Mary Schwalm)
Jeff and Lance, a lifetime ago. (AP/Mary Schwalm)

Memphis was going to be worse down the stretch without Gasol anyway, and will probably dip even more without Lee, arguably their most reliable long-range shooter and best two-way wing, and Green, who entered the All-Star break on a hot streak, averaging nearly 18 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes per game off the bench in his last 13 contests in Memphis. Now, by jettisoning Lee and Green, there's at least some down-the-line benefit to being worse: the future Clippers first-rounder and the four future second-rounders (three of which are likely to be conveyed) that the Grizz got for Lee.

In addition, none of the players the Grizzlies received in their trades — wing P.J. Hairston from the Hornets, center Chris Andersen from the Heat, and Stephenson from the Clips — will linger on their books for long, as Hairston and Andersen will be free agents this summer and Memphis will hold a team option on Stephenson for the 2016-17 season as part of the three-year deal he signed with Charlotte two summers back. (Which feels like a lifetime ago.) If none of the three impress in the next few months, Memphis can walk away from them scot free without cluttering up the cap space they'll need to re-sign point guard Mike Conley and pursue other improvements.

In the meantime, with Stephenson, Hairston and Birdman added to a group that already included Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes and Mario Chalmers, the Grizzlies now have the livest locker room in the league by a damn sight.

The Grizzlies offense might be even more cramped and crunched than usual, and the defense should take a step back without Gasol there to man the back line. (Andersen and long-injured free-agent signing Brandan Wright are reportedly both cleared for action, though, which should help in the middle.) And Stephenson has largely fallen off a cliff since leaving the Indiana Pacers in free agency, first turning in arguably the worst shooting season in NBA history in his lone year in Charlotte before getting largely excised from Rivers' rotation.

But Lance had shown some signs of life at times when he'd gotten out of Doc's doghouse, and is two seasons removed from looking like an honest-to-goodness NBA wing player; it's worth a shot, at least, to see if he can team with Hairston and recently recalled D-Leaguer James Ennis can approximate some of the wing punch lost with Green and Lee. Plus, removing Green — who, good soldier and solid citizen though he's reported to be, always seemed an awkward fit in Memphis, whether in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, and who was a persistent defensive liability at either the three or the four spot — could constitute addition by subtraction, even if his replacements don't pick up his 12 points per game. It's possible Wallace's deals work out to be not-super-harmful in the here and now and beneficial for future drafting/deal-making.

From the Clippers perspective, Doc had clearly decided Stephenson wasn't the answer on the wing, was looking for additional help at power forward both during the continued absence of Blake Griffin and after his eventual return upon learning that Paul Pierce can't really be relied upon for big minutes at his age and deciding that the Josh Smith experiment didn't work out either, and was looking for another option at the three besides Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Wesley Johnson. Enter Green, who can log minutes at both forward spots and whom Doc loves from their shared time together with the Boston Celtics.

At issue, though, is that Green never quite plays as well as he looks. He's not a good rebounder for either of his primary positions; he's not a reliable perimeter shooter; he's often lost defensively, especially in pick-and-roll coverage and on help assignments.

There are games where Green looks like an All-Star-caliber talent, using his quickness and athleticism to blow past slower defenders, attacking the rim off the bounce and soaring for highlight dunks. The problem, though, as it's always been, is that there are also many games where things don't line up, and Green can't find the rhythm, and where he just doesn't contribute much of anything. He won't be expected to be a star for a Clippers team dominated by Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and, eventually, Griffin, but as a role player, it's unclear whether he really represents all that much of an upgrade over the likes of Johnson, Pierce or Mbah a Moute.

The Celtics and Grizzlies both added Green in hopes that he'd be the dynamic and versatile frontcourt piece that gave them the juice to compete with the beasts of their respective conferences. Both came away disappointed and found themselves eager to recoup whatever assets they could in sending him way. Maybe things will be different this time around, but the bet here is that while trading Green might make the Grizzlies worse, it won't make the Clippers much better, either.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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