Sep 26, 2011, 12:00 PM EDT
This is the next installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. You can also read up on all the teams in the Western Conference here, and on Tuesday we start with the Eastern half of the league.
Last Season: Well, that worked out nicely.
The Grizzlies had their best season in franchise history. Technically it was the third best in franchise history, in terms of wins and losses in the regular season, but when you factor in playoff wins, it was the best. It was the first time Memphis has ever really been excited about the Grizzlies and they responded with gusto. Tony Allen became the emotional leader. Zach Randolph became one of the top power forwards in the league and not just for numbers. Mike Conley evolved into a top-15 point guard. Lionel Hollins dragged absolutely everything he could out of the team. Sam Young was a contributor. O.J. Mayo had such a bad season that he was nearly traded after a fight on a plane with Tony Allen and getting busted for PEDs, but the deal fell through which resulted in Mayo playing a huge part in the team advancing to the second round. What more could have gone right?
Well, Rudy Gay could have not been lost for the season in January after a shoulder injury. But other than that, it was a tremendous year for the Grizzlies that not only showed that professional basketball can be successful in Memphis, but that this team has a nucleus that is on the rise and is locked in together, for the most part.
Changes since we last saw the Grizzlies: Zach Randolph simultaneously has more money owed him when the lockout ends after signing a massive extension after the first-round win, and managed to have his first real burst of trouble when a man was beaten with pool sticks at Randolph’s house during a pot deal. Rudy Gay has gotten healthy and is back on the floor. Mike Conley is organizing team workouts. And Marc Gasol beat the crap out of Europe again with the Spanish national team. Other than that, nothing really changes, other than Marc Gasol enters free agency which is going to be the deciding factor in whether the team moves forward or backwards. No biggie.
When the lockout ends, the Grizzlies need to: Re-sign Marc Gasol. So much. Very much. They need to over-sign him. They should throw gobs of money and whatever he wants on his doorstep.
Is Gasol a bigger star than Zach Randolph or even Rudy Gay or, hey, even Tony Allen? No. But he is the most important Grizzly. It begins and ends on both ends of the floor with Gasol. In a league where the great big man center has gone and died, Gasol brings a huge frame with great athleticism and tremendous skill. He has a versatile set of post moves offensively, but more importantly, he does the little things. He works exceptionally well from the pinch post as a passer. He sets solid screens and can roll effectively, drawing defenders. He rebounds well at both ends of the floor. He’s an excellent perimeter defender of the pick and roll on hedges, bodies up Tim Duncan enough to essentially shut him down in the playoffs, and is an intimidating presence that can also run the floor. Signing Rudy Gay was a must, even if he was overpaid. Extending Mike Conley was key, even if people like me thought it was suicide at the time. (People like me were wrong.) Extending Zach Randolph was the only thing that could be done after what he gave the team in the playoffs. But Gasol is the key to the Grizzlies going forward. Without him, the team falls apart.
You’re going to read a lot whenever the season starts about how the Grizzlies are going to adapt to Gay getting back on the floor. But it’s not like A. RG vanished when injured. He was on the bench for every game of the playoffs run. And B. the team went 9-5 in January before Gay’s injury. It’s not like they suddenly got better without RG, though that’s the perception. Having Gay back simply means less time for Sam Young, who’s still learning his role on an NBA team offensively, and gives them more lineup options. Gay’s return should do nothing but improve the team.
The team will have to come in focused, however. Accomplishing what they did last season was huge… for the Grizzlies. Everything was put into the context of the team that accomplished it. Collectively as an organization, they have to commit to building on 2011 and not settling. Otherwise a Clippers 2006-like step-back could occur.