The Memphis Grizzlies are respected, one can be sure of that. They are feared in many outlets and they are also treated like the defensive behemoths that they are most nights out by the opposition. Teams, coaches, players and the media all respect the tone and timbre of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Whether or not they are dangerous is still up for debate, though. The Grizzlies have entered the last few years as a team working under a ceiling far shorter than the one they used to play at in the Memphis’ iconic Pyramid Arena. Sturdy types like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are expected to once again lead Memphis to the playoffs where, health and matchup-willing, they will win perhaps one or even two series’. To call this squad a championship contender is a bit much, the unending result of the former owner and current general manager (we think) running a bit wild with the cash in days past.
As it stands, the Grizzlies will be well situated under the salary cap next summer even with Zach Randolph’s new contract extension taking up space. Tayshaun Prince, who may barely play this year as he eases into a role of a player-coach of sorts, has an expiring contract that the team’s front office will find tough to move. Said front office can then start tooling around in attempts to surround an in-prime Marc Gasol with a deeper bench and better shooting.
For this season, though, it’s back to grit and grind. The team wouldn’t have it any other way, even if returning to the postseason will be a struggle in the killer Western Conference.
Prince, who struggled with myriad ailments and conditioning issues last season, will thankfully see his minutes taken by newcomer Vince Carter, who still provides a sound all-around package even though he’ll turn 38 midway through the 2014-15 season. That’s two years younger than his coach Dave Joerger, who will lean heavily on Carter to aid in ramping up Memphis’ league-worst number of three-point makes.
That’s the extent of the roster turnover, though, with a front office in flux and still hamstrung by the league’s luxury tax – something the small market team has paid twice and flirted with in the intervening years since.
The real addition to Joerger’s roster will, hopefully, be a healthy 82-game season from Gasol. The Grizzlies were the league’s best defensive team with Gasol in the lineup last season, and his 23-game absence had the toothless squad reeling early in 2013-14. Mike Conley’s advancements and Randolph’s steadied contributions were not enough to stem that particular slide, but with Gasol on board the team roared back into the postseason bracket and gave Oklahoma City all they could handle in a seven-game playoff loss.
A meltdown of sorts within the team’s front office followed, but with basketball lifer Chris Wallace making the phone calls and former ESPN and Sports Illustrated scribe John Hollinger purportedly calling the scouting shots, the Grizzlies should have enough from the holdovers plus Carter to make one of those runs again. If a matchup works, or they’re able to take a Game 2 on the road, a second or even third round could be in the offing.
Expecting this, or expecting anything beyond that, is a bit much.
2013-14 season in 140 characters or less:
Nobody fall on anyone’s knees. Please. I’m sick of this.
Did the summer help at all?
The Grizzlies are about $600,000 below the luxury tax, and in the NBA’s modern era (which rolls over every six months or so) fear of paying the tax has less to do with missing out on revenue sharing for some owners and more to do with the basketball personnel penalties that prevent a front office from competing. The Grizzlies landed Carter and crafty UCLA product Jordan Adams on draft night, but they also lost Mike Miller’s all-around play and Ed Davis even to a below-market contract with Los Angeles.
Reserve guard Beno Udrih was retained, and Zach Randolph signed a reasonable two-year, $20 million contract extension. Michael Beasley was around, for a week or two.
Go-to offseason acquisition:
It has to be Carter, who like Mike Miller possesses an underrated array of rebounding and passing skills to go along with his outside shooting. Vince isn’t on Miller’s level as a shooter, but he’s not too far behind, and far superior at getting to and scoring at the rim – even though defenders needn’t worry about being on a poster upon completion of the act.
Chiding the team’s lack of bench depth is tempting, but when you’re last in the NBA at something, “glaring” seems gain definition.
The Grizzlies were last at three-point attempts and three-point makes last season, which left them at the middle of the NBA’s pack in offensive efficiency. They’re not a miserable three-point shooting team in terms of percentage – ranking 19th out of 30 teams is not the end of the world – but utilizing an active perimeter shooting unit is a necessity in today’s game, and the analytics-driven Grizzlies understand this.
They also understand that one has to play to its strengths, which is why Conley and Tony Allen won’t be firing away this season just for the sake of taking threes. With Miller’s 107 makes and killer 45.9 percent three-point percentage heading to Cleveland, that role will fall on Carter. He’s shot 40 percent from long range over the last two seasons while hitting over 300 treys along the way. He’s straight out of central casting, though one can’t like having to lose Miller in the rotation along the way.
Contributor with something to prove:
Courtney Lee’s inconsistency is maddening. He was downright miserable as a Boston Celtic last season (though he wasn’t alone in that position), then absolutely lights-out in his first few weeks with the Grizzlies before falling way back to earth (and possibly below the surface) as the regular season wore down. In seven playoff games he was up and down as well, ultimately averaging out to “pretty solid,” but solid contributors can be counted on – and the Grizz don’t know what they’re getting from Lee’s outside shooting from night to night.
Potential breakout stud:
Frustrated by that MCL sprain last season, Marc Gasol shed a ton of weight over the offseason while looking as fearsome as ever. He’s not quite down to his brother Pau’s lithe likeness, but Marc isn’t after that.
What he might be after is Pau’s propensity for touching the ball just about every time down court. Marc already ranks as one of the best passing big men in the game, and he may start to use those touches to score more often. His usage rate and shots per minute crept up last season as his assist rate dropped off slightly, and for a team that sometimes struggles to put up 18 points in a quarter, it might be best for Marc to start aiming for the rim instead of Tony Allen’s waiting hands.
Incidentally, Tony Allen’s waiting hands often aim for and directly nail the rim after letting fly.
The best case scenario for the Memphis Grizzlies always takes place in April, and sometimes May. That’s admirable, and if the team’s health holds up they’ll be back in the same position again this spring. The squad feels like it can match up with any team in the Western bracket, and it’ll attempt to steal a game or two on its way toward using killer defense and old-timey low post orthodoxy on its way to the second round, or possibly the Conference finals again.
If everything falls apart:
It’s the 82 game slog, pitched mainly in the rough Western Conference, which could get in the way. Randolph and Carter are in their 30s, and one shouldn’t expect a massive drop off, but one could expect an unfortunate injury on a freak play to put any of the team’s go-to assets on the shelf, and force enough losses to keep the Grizz out of the postseason. Sadly, one pileup in the paint could turn Memphis’ season on its ear.
Kelly Dwyer’s best guess at a record:
Ninth in the West, 45-37, after all is gritted and grinded.
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