The 2015-16 season shouldn’t count for the Memphis Grizzlies, if only because there was absolutely no consistency to their roster, which included a league-record 28 different players throughout the year. One player after another went through injury, with nothing but a series of cast-offs and hobbled rotation players somehow managing to limp into the postseason (where they were mercifully swept in the first round).
While health is still and always will be a concern, at least there’s reason to be optimistic along Beale Street. The Grizzlies were able to add a number of young players to help continue the team’s string of playoff appearances, including Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis. They added a potential star in Chandler Parsons, who brings versatility, both positionally and in his offensive repertoire. They re-signed Mike Conley to a huge deal, ensuring he’s the team’s point guard for years to come. And they welcomed in new coach David Fizdale, a long-time assistant in Miami that has brought some fresh energy and excitement to a team that had grown somewhat stale in recent years.
Who is the team’s focal point moving forward?
Despite retaining Conley, having a potentially healthy Marc Gasol back on the floor and moving Zach Randolph’s ground-bound game to the bench as a sixth man, the season hinges on Parsons or, more specifically, his balky right knee. Parsons represents a sizable shift for Memphis, an understanding that the beloved “Grit n’ Grind” era was in need of an upgrade. Parsons’ game is much better suited for today’s game, bringing a deft shooting touch to a team that struggled from the perimeter. He fits the team perfectly and complements much of what his new teammates bring to the table.
The issue is, again, health. Parsons missed 25 games for Dallas last year and never fulfilled his promise as a free agent; while the Mavericks would have loved to have him back, his price tag far exceeded his production. The Grizzlies are undoubtedly taking a huge gamble on Parsons. But if it pays off and he’s able to stay healthy, he’ll make this team more dynamic and potent than it has in years.
Best-case scenario for the Grizzlies
If Parsons plays in 75+ games (something he’s only done once), this team will be fine. He’s a legitimate three-point threat, helping to space the floor and allowing Conley and Gasol to work more efficiently. Baldwin clicks immediately and shows maturity beyond his years and adds some much-needed depth to the backcourt. “Z-Bo” does what he does off the bench, allowing the team’s second unit to maintain (and possibly add to) any early leads. Fizdale’s experience connecting with players imbues the Grizz with a renewed sense of purpose. And James Ennis (another free-agent addition) finds a way to realize his incredible athletic potential.
In a perfect world, this would mean yet another 50+ wins and a team that might snare home-court advantage in the playoffs. There, the hospital slipper goes on the other foot and teams located outside of Tennessee succumb to injury and the Grizzlies advance to the NBA Finals and a chance at championship success.
Worst-case scenario for the Grizzlies
Replace jerseys with hospital gowns. Previous iterations of this team were built to be solid-yet-unspectacular and hope they could score enough to escape the slough of their defensive tenacity. And then last year’s constant turmoil showed how much worse things could be than trying to maintain scores in the high-80s.
So what could go wrong this season? Parsons could require another season to recover from last year’s microfracture surgery. Conley reverts to the less-adept version of the consistent player he’s always been. Tony Allen is simply done grinding and Randolph grumbles about his role as a reserve. And Gasol, in many ways the face of the team for years, can’t stay healthy enough to contribute as smaller lineups dominate the league’s landscape.
In other words, a very similar repeat of last season, except with higher expectations and a much higher price tag. If this year represents a pivotal point in the franchise’s evolution, then another spin on the medical merry-go-round could replace tenacity with desperation and send the team careening toward mediocrity for years.