Yes, it’s time for the Memphis Grizzlies to “tear it down” and rebuild. I know what you might be thinking – “Hey, the Grizzlies are the 6th-seed in the West. Why do they need to rebuild?”
While it’s true that coach Dave Joerger has kept this injury-riddled Grizzlies team in a good position, it’s hard to look at this team and believe they snatched a playoff spot. Although the Grizzlies aren’t in a terrible position, they are stuck in a trend of mediocrity, and it may be time to tear it down.
Ever since the Grizzlies took down the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in 2011, the “Grit-and-Grind” Grizzlies have established themselves as the definitive old-school team; they feature two post-up players in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen shut down the other team’s best perimeter scorers with suffocating defense. Conley also marvelously ran the offense at an All-Star level without ever actually making the All-Star Game, because there are so many great PGs in the West (looking at you, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook).
The Grizzlies upset the Thunder (who were missing Westbrook) in 2014, upset the 62-win Spurs in 2011, and have generally made opponents work harder than anyone, even when the Grizzlies went on to lose the series. The Grizzlies did make it as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2012-13.
Making it that far is nothing to sneeze at, but the goal of a contender is to actually win the Finals. The problem with a team like the Grizzlies is that no one will remember a team who was merely a roadblock to all the good teams. For instance, last year, the Grizzlies gave the champion Golden State Warriors their hardest West playoff series, winning two of the first three (and even one in Golden State).
However, the Warriors responded in genius-fashion to the Memphis attack, shutting them down by “guarding” Allen. Allen, whose shooting can be best described as a mixture of the words “abysmal” and “atrocious,” was forced to shoot and it was as bad as you would expect. Warriors’ center Andrew Bogut “guarded” Allen, but Bogut basically hung out in the lane, leaving Allen wide open, and that in turn mitigated the post-ups from Randolph and Gasol.
What’s Going On
The problem for Memphis has always been their lack of perimeter shooting, which would give Conley, Gasol, and Randolph space to work inside. The Grizzlies have brought in some 3-and-D style wings, but defenses can blanket-cover him and force the 3P% to fall. One example is Courtney Lee, who has since been traded to the Charlotte Hornets. It’s feasible to have one post-up player in the modern NBA, but having two like the Grizzlies is barely playable anymore.
For the majority of this season, the Grizzlies have struggled with injuries, as they have used a whopping 28 players, a record for most players on a single team in a season. It’s true though that the Grizzlies have performed admirably considering the circumstances, but this is where the blow-up might most apply.
Memphis has already started the process, having traded away pieces like the mercurial Jeff Green and the aforementioned Lee, and the players the Grizzlies have acquired for those two have been useful for them. But the Grizzlies are still too old: Randolph and Allen are 34, and might be better served on different veteran teams where they could perhaps try for a championship. Both Randolph and Allen are still very useful players, but their respective clocks are running short in Memphis.
Another issue is the impending free-agency of Conley, who is the only All-Star caliber talent on the market in a summer when the salary cap is projected to be $92 million. It’s safe to say Conley will is looking to make a lot of money. A team desperate for a point guard (looking at you, Knicks) will offer him the max.
Whether or not the Grizzlies will offer enough money is an interesting question in and of itself, but the likelihood is that he will be gone this summer. If that happens, that will be a very sad day. Conley, one of my favorite players, is an understated PG who was fine with being the third option, even though he had the talent to be first option.
The Grizzlies have talent waiting in the wings if they do blow it all up. Lance Stephenson may not be a cornerstone, but he is a talented player, and if properly motivated, Stephenson can be a productive player. Case in point: since the Los Angeles Clippers jettisoned Stephenson out of town, he has been playing some of the best basketball of his career in Memphis, averaging 14 PPG while coming off the bench. Also important to note: Stephenson has a team option for next year, and HE’S ONLY 25. People seem to forget how young Stephenson is, and how much talent he has.
JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin are a couple of the promising big men in the Memphis organization. Jordan Adams and P.J. Hairston are two other talents Memphis has on the wing. Admittedly, the future is not very bright in Memphis. But if the Grizzlies could get a decent PG to go alongside Gasol, (who when healthy may be the best all-around center in the NBA), they have a chance to compete for the eighth seed again next year.
If not, and the Grizzlies do blow it up, they have a chance to land a lottery pick next season. All of this, of course, assuming the Spurs sweep them out of the playoffs this week in a little bit of karmic retribution for 2011.
Statistics provided by: ESPN.com and basketball-reference.com
Images thanks to: indystar.com, fansided.com, NBA.com, WTOP, Yahoo Sports, and NBC Sports