There are plenty of teams with bright futures in the vaunted Western Conference, and two teams that may line up for an unexpected rivalry in the near future could be the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns.
Each team has their one major star (Booker, Morant) along with a promising young big man (Ayton, Jackson Jr.) and fun complimentary pieces such as Bridges, Oubre Jr., Clarke and Brooks.
There are also some intriguing storylines that could connect the dots towards penciling this in as a heated rivalry down the road, starting as soon as next season. Here are five reasons why I could see this rivalry developing.
#1: The Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. vs. Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton debate
This debate has been a hot topic on twitter for some time now, and it’s only natural to compare young dynamic duos against one another online. I expect this to be a topic of discussion for the foreseeable future given this group’s age, and with each duo on Western Conference teams battling it out for a playoff spot. This should only stir the pot towards Suns and Grizzlies fans developing some irritation towards one another and strengthen the rivalry potential.
#2: Josh Jackson vs. Phoenix
Jackson is a fiery competitor that drew the ire of many Suns fans during his stint in Phoenix due to his poor play on the court and issues off the court. The disdain is likely mutual, as Jackson would surely like nothing more than to hand it to his former team in future matchups. He showed some flashes in a limited role before the season was suspended for Memphis, so it’s easy to see him carving out a meaningful role for the Grizzlies and amplifying the rivalry between Phoenix and Memphis.
#3: The hierarchy in the Western Conference
Memphis and Phoenix each figure to be vying for a final playoff spot in the West next season, which should lead to some heated and important games between two young and hungry teams. Dillon Brooks is the same type of energy plug for Memphis that Kelly Oubre Jr. is for Phoenix, so add the trash-talk into the mix and it’s easy to see how things could get heated.
#4: Suns passing on the hometown kid Brandon Clarke
In the pre-draft process Brandon Clarke made it clear that he wanted to end up in Phoenix, as he’s a Phoenix native and the Suns were his favorite NBA team growing up. It seemed unlikely when the Suns were picking 6th, but after dropping back to pick number 11 in the Dario Saric trade, it suddenly seemed like a real possibility on draft night. Not only did Phoenix pass on him, but nine other teams did after the 11th pick as he fell all the way to 21. Will he actually hold a grudge for it? Probably not. Does it make for an interesting storyline? Absolutely.
#5: Dumping De’Anthony Melton
Last July, Phoenix used De’Anthony Melton to sweeten the pot for Memphis taking on Josh Jackson’s contract. I was not a fan of this move at the time, and it’s looking more and more like a mistake, especially with how suspect the Suns bench guard play was this season.
Melton, like Jackson, could take it personal that he was essentially dealt for nothing (no offense, Jevon) other than to clear cap space.
In the three games Melton played against Phoenix, his stats were: 9.0 PPG, 3.7, 1.7 APG on a ridiculous shooting split of 64/60/100 in just 17.3 minutes per game. It will be interesting to monitor both him and Jackson in these “revenge” games of sort.