The Memphis Grizzlies, for years one of the most depressing franchises in professional sports, are now one series victory away from the NBA Finals. They play in a tiny market. They don't have a conventional superstar, though try and tell...
The Memphis Grizzlies, for years one of the most depressing franchises in professional sports, are now one series victory away from the NBA Finals. They play in a tiny market. They don't have a conventional superstar, though try and tell me Marc Gasol isn't one. They have made controversial moves. They have moves that have gotten them absolutely killed by the media. They have made moves that should have been crippling to their franchise. But again, they stand four wins away from winning a brutal conference. How did this happen, and what does it mean?
They have simply been lucky
There is something to this. This theory is basically that they really aren't that good of a team, and have been blessed by teams that may have been superior had they been at full strength. The Los Angeles Clippers struggled with Blake Griffin hobbled; when he was healthier early in the series the Clippers jumped to a 2-0 series lead. Once past the Clippers they rolled through an Oklahoma City Thunder team missing one of the top 10 players in the world, and even without him each contest was quite close. Perhaps Russell Westbrook was the difference. I don't know how much stake to put in this; I think Memphis would have had a pretty good chance to beat the Thunder even with Westbrook with how good their defense is. Even if they would have been beaten handily, though, they are a small market team in the Western Conference who would have been right there with teams featuring Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. They have built something impressive down in Memphis, and its worth analyzing.
They have taken risks
This is an understatement. They have made some hard choices, some of which have worked out splendidly, and some which should have been disastrous. First, the impossible to defend: General Manager Chris Wallace drafted Hasheem Thabeet and traded Kevin Love for OJ Mayo. They received no value for Kevin Love, a key member of the United States Olympic team, and Thabeet washed out of Memphis pretty quickly.
They gave Tony Allen a three year contract in the Summer of 2010. I see this as the perfect way for a small market team to utilize free agency. Find a guy who has a specific NBA skill that you can acquire as either a fringe starter or key bench piece that won't hamper flexibility moving forward. Allen was already an all-world defender before he came to Memphis, and he has more than earned the $10 million Wallace gave him. The Cavaliers, moving forward, can follow this example. In a way, the CJ Miles trade is similar to the Allen signing, on a smaller scale. With Miles, the Cavaliers got bench scoring for cheap. This summer, the Cavs can look for guys who will buy into Mike Brown's system.
Despite having Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry, Memphis instead chose to invest in their high draft pick Mike Conley. Conley came out after just one season at Ohio State, and he couldn't shoot and wasn't physically ready for life in the NBA. Memphis could have sold low on Conley and shipped him off, instead opting to build with Lowry. Instead, they extended Conley, known as a smart player with his head on straight at a price mocked around the NBA and let Lowry go. Lowry continues to make as much news for his talent and solid play as for the headaches he gives his head coaches as he bounces from team to team. At some point, the Cavs may have to make a tough choice in extending either Tristan Thompson or Dion Waiters to a deal that is a little richer than observers around the league might find prudent. Betting on our young players might be the right play; it was for Memphis with Conley.
Zach Randolph, written off by much of the basketball world while he appeared to waste his career away with the Clippers, was brought in. The cost to Memphis: Quentin Richardson. Since arriving in Memphis, Zach has rejuvenated his career, cutting out the three pointers, bullying power forwards in the paint, and even committing himself on the defensive end of the floor. The first
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