Last Season: 42-40, 7th seed in West
Off-season Gains: SF Chandler Parsons (free agent), PG Wade Baldwin (draft), SG Tony Wroten (waivers), SG Troy Daniels (trade), SF James Ennis (free agent)
Off-season Losses: SF Matt Barnes (free agent/Sacramento), SG Lance Stephenson (free agent/New Orleans), C Chris Andersen (free agent/Cleveland), PG Jordan Farmar (free agent/Sacramento)
Off-season Stock: Gimme gimme gimme
League Pass Team?: I'll be saying many nice things about them in the following paragraphs, but no.
When you think about it, the Grizzles had almost the perfect summer.
They were able to re-sign Mike Conley, their best player, during a hectic off-season environment where plenty of solid teams couldn't keep their dudes even though practically everyone was willing to swallow hard and offer the full max. They then were able to sign Chandler Parsons, one of the best free agents on the market, to give them a wing scorer for what, the first time in the history of the franchise? Then they're getting Marc Gasol after he broke his right foot and missed the second half of last season, so it's like acquiring an All-Star center. They shed numerous headaches and ne'er-do-wells with the exits of Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen (who seems to have turned his once-chaotic personal life around but is likely dun-zo as a player). And on top of all that, one of their chief rivals was irrevocably weakened, with Kevin Durant abandoning the Thunder for the Dubs, thereby giving all the other hopefuls in the West one less contender to worry about.
Here's why it was only almost perfect, though. I don't know about the coaching move. I liked Dave Joerger. I think he was very, very good at his job and I enjoyed covering him personally. It was an open secret he and Grizzlies management had their issues, going back a couple years, so he pretty much forced the Grizzlies to fire him the second San Antonio put his injury-wrecked squad out of their misery with a first-round sweep. It wasn't hard to read between the lines that there had been some behind-the-scenes negotiating because the Kings hired Joerger to be their coach within like five seconds of him being available.
So now they've got David Fizdale, who'll be tasked with the first head-coaching job of his career after having spent the past 13 years as an assistant in the league, the last eight of which came as a trusted lieutenant for Erik Spoelstra in Miami. From what I know and have read, Fizdale is well-regarded and was certainly due an opportunity, and full credit to him for not jumping on the first opening in some no-hope situation (like say, Sacramento) but rather waiting for the right fit. And let's give the Memphis front office props too for some out-of-the-box thinking instead of hiring some retread.
There's no doubt Fizdale will have more talent to work with than rookie coaches typically do. Conley, who like Gasol missed the stretch run and the playoffs with a lower leg injury (an Achilles strain to be precise), is the last of the Mohicans now, pretty much the best player in NBA history who's yet to make an All-Star team. If he played in the East he'd be a perennial in the February exhibition. Conley's been one of the most consistent players in the league for years now and it's a shame the Spurs didn't have the cap room to really go after him. He'd have been the perfect fit in every way, but alas. He'll still get to play with a Gasol though, and while I've always felt that Pau's younger brother got perhaps a bit too much credit, there's no denying he was sorely missed. Big Spain isn't quite the fluid athlete that Pau is. He can't put it on the floor or rebound like him and doesn't have his shooting range. But he's every bit the passer and reads the game far better defensively. Then there's Zach Randolph, 35, who's nearing the end and wore down last year having to play without his injured mates. Z-Bo's low-post bullying is going the way of the Dodo, but he remains one of the few guys in the league who can throw a wrinkle --more like an elbow-- into the small-ish Warriors plans.
Joining that core will be Parsons, on a scenic tour through the Southwest Division. He's scheduled to join the Spurs by 2021 and the anticipation makes my heart pitter-patter like a jackrabbit on bath salts. Parsons should feel right at home here since he also missed the playoffs due to a balky knee but apparently the Grizzlies' medical staff felt confident he'll recover fully. It'd be impossible to categorize Parson's two seasons as anything but disappointing since he was able to play all of one playoff game for them, but he did shoot career-high percentages from the field and the three-point line last year, so if he can recapture his old explosiveness to go with the newly-calibrated jumper, the Grizzlies will have someone almost worthy of the contract they gave him. (As long as they don't care about the defensive end of the floor.)
But it's okay that Parsons isn't a good defender. Whereas he was surrounded by a bunch of stiffs in Dallas, he joins Gasol, Conley and the delightfully insane Tony Allen in Memphis. Allen, a proud graduate of The Bruce Bowen Skills Academy, remains the only guard in the league who's an iffy proposition to finish a 1-on-0 fast break without incident. I thought having Allen and Barnes together was a bit overkill --you play 3-on-5 with no wings-- but he should be able to contribute more playing with four guys who can score.
The bench has guys I like too. Brandan Wright has long been one of the springiest dive men in the league, but he was waylaid by injury last year. JaMychal Green, whom the Spurs could have kept, proved he could play last year and I'm excited about how his game will progress now that he knows somebody believes in him. Tony Wroten was a diamond in the rough for the otherwise hopeless 76ers for a couple of years, but he too was on the shelf with knee problems last year and their docs think he won't ever be the same. Vince Carter is older than Manu Ginobili and a good dude. As for his game... well he's a good dude. James Ennis has bounced around a few places but out of nowhere he made 24-of-50 threes in nine games for the Pelicans last year, so why not take a flyer on him? Combo guard Troy Daniels, who fell out of the Hornets rotation for the stretch run, though his numbers suggest he shouldn't have. Finally there's first-round pick Wade Baldwin, who doesn't seem like much of a player, but he shot 42 percent from downtown in two seasons at Vanderbilt.
Will it work? It'll take patience and luck of course, and I'm sure there will be some growing pains with a new coach. But the veterans here are certainly coachable and professional and I just can't fathom that there will be issues with guys not buying in. I'm not suggesting they've got nearly enough on paper to give the Warriors pause, but they will be absolute hell to play in a seven game series and will take out a pound of flesh from whomever is unlucky enough to draw them in the playoffs. Their roster isn't a red flag as much as it's the Red Cross banner, but if any franchise is due for some good fortune it's Memphis. I've got them as the four seed and losing to the Dubs in the second round with it going the full seven games, but I'm not predicting a score because that'd be weird.