When you think about the Memphis Grizzlies, two words comes immediately to mind: grit and grind.
This is an identity they have forged over the course of the last seven years, and one they take incredible pride in. And while it has allowed them to remain relevant in a the brutal Western Conference over that period of time, there are still plenty of questions that remain about whether their brand of basketball can bring a title to Memphis.
In fact, as we have seen over that time span, the answer has to be an emphatic no because, well, they haven’t won a championship despite having a similar team makeup every single year.
So has the time finally come for the Grizzlies to alter their identity? Judging by their moves so far this offseason, the clear answer to that is also a resounding no. Although they clearly have a need for offensive-minded players on the wings, they instead opted to trade for Matt Barnes, a player who epitomizes the essence of everything the Grizzlies have so long embodied.
So now the Grizzlies not only have Tony Allen, a 33-year-old tough-as-nails offensively-challenged defensive stopper, but they also have Barnes, a 35-year-old, tough-as-nails slightly less offensively-challenged defensive stopper. I’m all for the idea of adding players like Barnes, especially in light of what happened once Allen went down during their season with the Golden State Warriors, but that can’t be where it stops for the Grizzlies.
They must address their need for players who can shoot the rock. As we saw last season, Courtney Lee can only do so much. I really like Lee, but he is being asked to do way too much in this offense. Vince Carter never really turned into the player the Grizzlies thought they were getting when they signed him in the offseason either as evidenced by his inability to even crack the 30 percent plateau from beyond the arc (29% on the season).
Jeff Green was brought in at the deadline to address their need for scoring, but he never really found his stride in a Grizzlies uniform either. His discomfort in Memphis becomes obvious when you consider that he recently decided to exercise his player option and opt out of a guaranteed $9 million when he probably won’t get anything close to that on the open market as a free agent.
What The Heck Happened?
Much like we saw in the NBA Finals, when the Cleveland Cavaliers went up 2-1 in their series against the Warriors, the Grizzlies also appeared to have the Warriors on the ropes in their conference semifinals series when they went up in the series by the same mark.
But, then the Warriors figured out that they could simply dare Tony Allen to take wide-open shot after wide-open shot, which allowed them to even out the series before Allen went down with a hamstring injury forcing him to miss the pivotal game five. The Grizzlies were never able to recover.
Of course, it didn’t help that their criminally slept-on point guard, Michael Conley was playing with half of a face either. He clearly wasn’t his typical self.
But what became painfully obvious over the course of that series was the Grizzlies’ inability to score the ball with any consistency. It’s not like that was a surprise to anyone. They weren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut during the season, averaging 97.9 points per game, good for 21st in the league.
Although they were never dynamic on the offensive end, they were fairly efficient (13th in offensive efficiency), which seemed to give this team more hope for playoff success than any of their predecessors. But as the Warriors demonstrated to the world, it is really hard to win in this league without players who can shoot the ball.
Where Do They Go Now?
The biggest unanswered question for them this offseason is the future of Marc Gasol, who is an unrestricted free agent with plenty of suitors. All indications are that Gasol loves the city of Memphis, and will likely decide to return, but it probably won’t be at a discounted price.
Luckily for the Grizzlies, Zach Randolph’s salary significantly decreases this year as he enters the first year of the two-year extension the two sides reached last summer. Instead of $16 million, Randolph will now be making just under $10 million this upcoming season.
Assuming they bring back Gasol with a max deal, their total salary cap would be right around $58 million, leaving them $9 million under the cap, and $23 million under the luxury tax to spend on free agents.
The other decision the Grizzlies will need to make about their own free agents is the future of Kosta Koufos. While I love what Koufos provides as a solid backup center, the Grizzlies really need more bigs who can stretch the floor. That doesn’t necessarily mean they shouldn’t bring back Koufos, but they definitely shouldn’t break the bank for him if it means they wouldn’t be able to bring in more of the type of players they need.
If Jarnell Stokes can make any meaningful leap heading into his second year, he should be able to give them much of what Koufos can for a much lower price tag.
I don’t see the Grizzlies making any sort of aggressive play to bring Green back. They will likely look to replace his production elsewhere. And why not? His $9 million salary could go a long ways towards bringing in a player like Khris Middleton, who could be an absolutely amazing fit in Memphis. Even if the Grizzlies have to slightly overpay for Middleton, his deadly accuracy from beyond the arc is exactly what this team needs. He would give you everything Green was able to provide, and much more. I absolutely love this potential marriage.
If they could somehow land Middleton, they could then focus on rounding out their roster with other offensive-minded players such as Mike Dunleavy or Marco Belinelli. Both of those players would be excellent options coming off of their bench to stretch the floor, and provide a much-needed offensive punch.
Even if they miss out on Middleton and/or Dunleavy, who appear headed back to their respective teams, Jeff Green is no longer a fit in Memphis, especially at that price tag.
This team is truly one or two moves away from being a legitimate threat to dethrone the Warriors next season. They have many of the elements that make teams successful in the playoffs already. All they need now is some players that can put points on the board in a much more instinctual way. They need some offensive mindsets to balance out their overwhelming defensive tendencies.
I’m in no way saying they need to move away entirely from the identity that has kept them competitive for so long. They simply need a better balance. Grit and grind should continue to permeate their playing style. It just can’t be all they have to offer.