Offseason Outline: Memphis Grizzlies
Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Grizzlies this offseason after their loss to the Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
• What’s the biggest priority for Memphis this offseason?
Offensive improvement. Tony Parker did a fantastic job of turning the Grizzlies’ defense inside-out, but that end of the floor is still Memphis’ finest. The scoring, however, comes and goes. As talented and productive as Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph largely may be, their efforts to create are impeded by every non-shooting wing in the Grizzlies’ rotation, particularly when opponents have a chance to coordinate their defensive efforts for a seven-game series. Few offensive factors in today’s NBA are as important as the capacity to space the floor, and in that regard Memphis comes up woefully short; Tony Allen’s offensive limitations counteract his work as a lockdown defender and spiritual leader, while Tayshaun Prince can’t hit shots consistently enough to warrant defensive attention. Factor in the impending free agency of one of Memphis’ better shooters (reserve guard Jerryd Bayless), and the overall state of the Grizzlies’ offense would seem to be even more worrisome. Gasol and Conley work wonders in limited space, but under these conditions their efforts are fortunate to result in average offensive efficiency.
The most basic means for improvement would be to add a few rotation-level players with three-point range, though Memphis is also very much in need of a boost in its offensive tempo. There’s nothing wrong with a post-centric team playing to its identity, but the Grizzlies’ insistence on playing at their pace makes them that much easier to defend. By the time Gasol and Randolph are down court and in position, the opponent is largely ready to counter, the help is ready and waiting and every defender is matched up correctly. Memphis begins every possession without a particular advantage, and is forced to work against the shot clock as a result of casual offensive initiation. A greater emphasis on getting into the regular offense more quickly would go a long way, but also intriguing could be the possibility of unleashing Conley as a one-man fast break, a la Parker. While Conley lacks Parker’s ability to sell fouls, he has the speed and ball-handling necessary to create some quality looks for an offense that needs them badly. That’s only a tiny, superficial way to address a far more complex problem, but at this stage the Grizzlies should take efficient offense however it comes.
• How can the Grizzlies improve this offseason? Through free agency? The draft? Trade?
Trade may be Memphis’ best bet, though it would likely require alteration to a long-standing core. Zach Randolph is nearly 32-years old and coming off of a playoff series so disastrous that the Grizzlies’ front office could fairly question the dependability of his scoring. That isn’t meant as some snipe against a fine player, but merely a reflection of reality for a team that relies on Randolph to be a dominant scorer and rebounder, and suffers when he isn’t succeeding in both capacities. Trading Randolph would change the the Grizzlies on a foundational level, but Memphis wouldn’t have all that many other valuable pieces to flip should they explore the possibility of improving through the trade market.
That doesn’t mean that the Grizzlies should trade Randolph, as the chemistry between Memphis’ leads was a fundamental part of their successful season. Yet minor additions and internal development alone likely won’t be enough for the Grizz to close the gap on the Spurs, a healthy Thunder team and possibly another Western Conference contender to be named later. Memphis did well this time around, but upward mobility is essential in a conference so stacked with competition. The draft isn’t likely to offer much help, as the Grizzlies hold the 41st, 55th and 60th picks. Free agency could give Memphis a few new role players, but Bayless is undoubtedly gone, Allen could be as well, and the Grizz will depend largely on the mid-level exception to replace both what’s lost and improve. Ed Davis could make for decent trade bait, but it might prove tricky (and costly; Davis has the potential to be quite a player) to fill Memphis’ immediate needs with a player who matches Davis’ $3.2 million salary.
Again: None of these individual factors offers an especially compelling reason to trade Randolph, particularly in the wake of a deep playoff run. Yet the desire to maintain momentum, combined with the few alternatives for improvement, could at least make it plausible for Memphis to move Z-Bo and induce a transition into the next stage of this franchise’s development.
• What will become of head coach Lionel Hollins, whose contract is set to expire at the end of June?
Hollins makes for one of the most attractive free agent head coaches in the league this offseason, primarily due to his reputation for organically growing a team culture. The Grizzlies became the chief practitioners of grit and grind only under Hollins’ watch, and many teams around the league would love to mimic the self-awareness and defensive excellence that he helped to propagate in Memphis. Whether Hollins can successfully replicate that kind of identity and growth remains to be seen, but at least a few franchises will vie for the opportunity to see Hollins work with their rosters — with the Grizzlies surely among them.
For all the chatter about how Hollins’ old-school bent doesn’t jive with Memphis’ forward-thinking front office, he’s still proven to be a wonderful head coach for this particular group of players. The Grizzlies won’t overlook that fact and will undoubtedly be in the Hollins market provided the price for his services is right. Teams like Memphis tend to have an internal budget for these kinds of hires and will rely on their own business sense in deciding if the kind of deal that Hollins is pursuing — or the kind of offer he gets elsewhere — is worth their while. From there, it all depends on Hollins; this negotiation is characterized as a decision for the Grizzlies to make, but Hollins will have the power to see what’s out there, drive up his price point if he so chooses and dictate his destination. Memphis has an assistant on staff (David Joerger) with a head-coach-in-waiting rep should they look to promote internally to fill the Hollins void, but his departure would still make for a significant blow for a team looking to build on its past successes.