Marc Gasol thinks his Memphis Grizzlies should have won more than 43 games in 2016-17, which is fine. The West wasn’t at its snarliest this season, most of Gasol’s teammates turned in better-than-expected personal seasons, and Gasol himself helped keep Memphis on the vanguard with his move to become more of a three-point shooter in his ninth NBA season. To Marc, the Grizzlies probably should have edged closer to the 50-odd wins it used to rely on.
The 32-year old center, denied entrance into the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season, probably doesn’t want to hear about the kinder caveats. The Grit and Grind Grizzlies just finished their seventh season with its third coach in total, with 2016-17 featuring the first campaign under the devoted (and ferociously talented) David Fizdale. The Grizz fell with dignity to the San Antonio Spurs yet again, in six games this time, after a season held together by bale ties.
That won’t get in the way of Gasol’s disappointment, in another year ending in April:
Exit – Marc Gasol: "43 regular-season wins is unacceptable." pic.twitter.com/l31jBewvEj
— Ronald Tillery (@CAGrizBeat) April 28, 2017
The Grizzlies won over 50 games three straight times from 2013 through 2015 under coaches Lionel Hollins and Dave Joeger, and the team featured the winning percentage of a 51-win club during the lockout-saddled 2011-12 season. These are the peaks that Mr. Gasol recalls.
Memphis won just 42 games a season ago under Joerger, now coaching in Sacramento, and few had Gasol’s Grizzlies in line for 50 in a season that started with news of Zach Randolph’s careful skulk into Sixth Manhood, finishing with the Grindfather himself missing an entire playoff series: Tony Allen didn’t play a minute in this postseason, as Kawhi Leonard (31 points on 55 percent shooting, six rebounds, two steals and 3.8 assists per game) and the Spurs rolled yet again.
The roadblocks in Memphis are obvious. Swingman Chandler Parsons played as a shell of his former self in his first, disastrous, season with the team. Stung by the same knee woes that limited his output in Dallas and sent the fear of Clark Kellogg into the Houston front office, Parsons was counted on to act as an all-around, screen and roll demon – bent on relieving the playmaking pressure off of Gasol and especially all-world point guard Mike Conley, while taking pressure off the limited Grizzlies offense with his long-range shooting.
It was not unlike the plan championed by the Orlando Magic in 2009, when the defending Eastern champs traded for Vince Carter after a Finals appearance. Carter disappointed somewhat in Orlando, but not to Parsons’ degree in Memphis: Chandler contributed just 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in 20 minutes per game, with 33.8 percent shooting and a 27 percent mark from long range, prior to yet another season-ending knee surgery. Carter, over a decade after the Magic relied on the former All-Star to push things over the top, ended up starting 15 regular season contests and all six postseason games in his and Allen’s absence.
Vince Carter is also 40 years old, and he plays about as well as one would expect Dee Brown’s former backcourt mate to. The lack of a dynamic offensive presence once again dulled Memphis’ approach, even with Gasol opening up the lanes with his 39 percent three-point shooting and 3.6 made threes per game, and Randolph playing wonderfully off the bench with 14.1 point, 8.7-rebound averages in only 24.5 minutes a night.
Conley was a peach yet again, at 20.5 points and 6.3 assists alongside 40 percent three-point shooting, and Memphis’ offense stuck at 19th out of 30 teams while up against what should have been devastating odds.
Randolph is a free agent, though, coming off of a 2014 pay cut that saw the Grizzlies legend take on a two-year, $20 million extension created in order to keep Zach’s contract sensible for both sides. Tony Allen is a free agent, and JaMychal Green’s restricted free agency needs to be kept in a separate room from Randolph’s, while acting as the team’s highest in-house priority.
Carter is a free agent at age 40, and he’s never been the typical ring-chaser. He’s never been the typical anything:
“I hear people say all the time, ‘Go chase the ring.’ That word ‘chase’ is tough for me,” Carter said. “I’m comfortable here, my family is comfortable here, we’re building something exciting and great and I enjoy going to work with these guys every day.”
It is one of the great perks, as an NBA observer, to watch those of my like and kind fall back in love with Memphis every spring. It’s not only hard not to admire the team, but also the spirit and the flow in which this group lopes its way into not only just its particular swing, but bad losses. Great wins, too, but the sort that tend to come off of crafty shots from a roaming 7-footer, in a game where he nearly canned the team’s chance with seven turnovers in a low-possession contest.
This group can’t go away, not in bits and pieces at least. The MEM front office committed to the tail-end of Grit and Grind just about from the outset of its frontside, during the Lionel Hollins era, doing what it could to keep Gasol, Conley and Randolph in house while cycling through a series of would-be heroes at the swingman positions. Waiting on Chandler Parsons to return to even resembling a shadow of his former self is outrageous at this point, cartilage just doesn’t grow back just because the leaves change color, so the Grizz will have to work around the margins yet again while he makes nearly $72.6 million between now and 2020.
Rebuilding under selected parts is a dangerous approach, especially given the ages of Gasol (33 next midseason) and Conley (30 just before training camp). You also get the feeling the Grizzlies are going to have to ask security to meet Randolph and Carter at their desks, should the front office decide to look elsewhere during free agency: Zach and Vince love this place.
Most should. Every bit of Grizzly, from the coach to the 43-win hatin’ center to the front office, seems to regard the middling approach as anathema. Through the Grit and Grind crew, though, this team couldn’t help but commit to a lineup that sensibly eschewed the longball in favor of sturdier two-points, only moving closer to the middle of the pack in outside attempts once the team’s 7-footer started to pull up from distance.
What pulled the Grizzlies up also held the franchise’s championship hopes below contender status, but that’s a price the team and its fans should happily cough up in exchange for seven straight playoff appearances (during perhaps the stoutest run for any conference in league history), and a chance at an eighth.
It is one of the NBA’s great experiences, watching Memphis rise up every April and May. It just doesn’t feel like the time to cut Grit and Grind off, especially before it has had enough.
Other teams that are gone until November:
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