The Memphis Grizzlies’ season is over. That is unfortunate. But man it was some kind of a ride. New owners, a a dismantling of the Miami Heat, being the talk of the NBA for the entire first month of the season,a blockbuster trade, Marc Gasol cursing in a postgame interview, uncharted playoff territory, a physical assault of Baby Blake Griffin, and “Whooping That Trick” are a just a few examples of what made this season, the best in the franchise’s young history, so magical.
Now that everything is said in done for the 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies, here are a few main takeaways from the past season.
5) The Security of the New Ownership:
Robert Pera and Co. certainly made their presence known this year. Jason Levien, Pera’s man in charge, came in and immediately started shaking up the franchise. His hiring of ESPN’s John Hollinger, the foremost expert on basketball analytics and advanced statistics, told the NBA that the way the team was handled was going to change. His trade of Rudy Gay showed the world that he wasn’t afraid to take risks and make unpopular decisions if he genuinely thought it was the best thing for the franchise. His handling of Lionel Hollins’ contract situation has made it clear that the front office isn’t going to make hasty decisions when they aren’t 100% behind them.
Michael Heisley was a fine owner, but so often he made choices that were either short term decisions that could cause long term problems or he made decisions because he was the owner and it was his right. Pera, Levien, Hollinger, and the rest of the new regime have made it abundantly clear that the decisions they make are going to be well thought out, deeply researched, and ultimately ones that they think are going to make us a championship contender. The city and the fans may not always agree with the new owners, but I believe we should rest easy knowing that they are trying to make the Grizzlies the best team that they can possibly be.
Side note: I hope the Grizzlies can keep Chris Wallace as he has been invaluable to the team’s recent success, but I fear that he may indeed leave to go to a place where he can have the same amount of say he had here before the new ownership came in.
4) The National Attention:
In the midst of our first run to the Western Conference Finals it was commonplace to have multiple internet/magazine/newspaper articles, TV segments, and pregame promos dedicated to the Memphis Grizzlies. It was exciting to know that every day you could read 100s of pieces on the internet discussing how great the Grizz were playing or how they were the new favorites of the West. It was such a nice change to see folks on Sportscenter, PTI, and Around the Horn talking about ZBO and Marc and Mike for more than 30 seconds at a time. It was like a dream knowing that Magic Johnson, Bill Simmons, Mike Wilbon, and Jalen Rose were eating in local restaurants and walking down Beale Street and telling the world how great Memphis is. For once, the Memphis Grizzlies were media darlings and not the laughingstock of the NBA. This was our time in the sun and the team, the city, and the fans absolutely relished in it. Memphis has never looked better or shone brighter. We deserved this.
The hope, of course, is that the extended coverage the Bluff City and the Grizzlies got over the past six weeks will translate into more national broadcasts next season, more fans being made from outside of the Memphis area, and more people looking at Memphis as a great destination city instead of simply the place where Elvis lived.
3) The All-Around Emergence of Quincy Pondexter:
Shane Battier’s crown as Memphis’ favorite adopted son is in danger of being taken by Quincy Pondexter. After an
up and down season and a semi-serious injury, he solidified himself in the playoffs as a primary scoring option and athletic defender off the bench. His ability to hit a corner three is something the Grizz need badly, but aside from his playing ability, he offers so much to this city. Q-Pon is constantly involved in community events, spent some of his time off as the result of his injury as part of the SportSouth broadcast team for local games, and even recently scored a date with Miss Tennessee. He is quickly proving to be a real asset to the community and a great role player for a playoff team. If you ask me, I think he breaks into the starting rotation next season. Expect to see an uptick in Pondexter jerseys represented at FedExForum in the very near future.
2) The Love Shared and Commonality between City and Team:
It’s no secret that Memphis loves the Grizzlies. All you had to do was walk around downtown during the playoffs to see how much support our hometown team was getting. Even the national media devoted plenty of pieces to how much Memphis and the Grizzlies fed off of one another. Memphis might not be flashy or ritzy. The Grizzlies might not love acrobatic dunks or beautiful shooting strokes. But both the team and the city sure know how to play the hand they’ve been dealt. The city embraces its roots and its history. It’s not afraid to address its checkered past and point to how that is shaped what it has become now. The Grizzlies aren’t going to try to be something they aren’t. They’re going to play tough, hardnosed basketball. They’re going to beat you up and wear you out. The team knows their identity. The city knows its identity too. That is why the union of Memphis and the Grizzlies is a perfect one.
I heard a radio broadcast this week that pointed out how great it was for the Grizz fans to stay until the final buzzer sounded in our last game against the Spurs, one they knew was lost with about a minute and a half left, just to let the Grizzlies know how proud they were of them. The person on the radio said that something like that would never happen in Boston or New York or Chicago or Miami; that those fans would have bolted for the exits. He said those cities try to act like they have everything in common with their teams, but in fact have very little. He went on to say that Memphis is one of the few pro towns where the team and the city mirror each other almost identically. And that is something Memphians should be extremely proud of.
Zach Randolph addressed the relationship between city and himself after wearing out the Spurs in Game 6 of the 2011 playoffs. It can easily translate into describing the city and the entire team as well. You’ve probably heard it, but it can’t be stressed how true it really is. He said:
I love this city, man, they love me back, you know what I’m saying? So it’s good — it’s a blue-collar town and I’m a blue-collar player, I’m a hard worker and this is a hard-workin’ town, ain’t nothin’ been given easy to me, ain’t nothin’ easy been given to this town, so it’s a fit!
1) It’s Mike and Marc’s Team Now:
Over the past three seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies have been Zach Randolph’s and Tony Allen’s team (Never Rudy
Gay’s), and that worked well for us as the regular season and post season success can attest to. But after the Rudy Gay trade this year, two players were forced to step up in ways that had not been asked of them before. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol had to show the rest of the team and the NBA that the Grizzlies was their team now. Marc continued blossoming into the best big man in the NBA and Mike, especially during the first two series of the playoffs, showed he was a premier NBA point guard. They became the leaders. Going forward it’s clear that this is their team now.
Zach and Tony brought us relevance. They carried us out of the mud, or really, other teams into the mud. They were the primary reasons we morphed into an NBA contender. But Zach is getting older and Tony is a free agent. The new ownership could very well trade Zach and let Tony walk away. That would be a shame, but the fans have to realize that it’s a viable option that could make us better in the long run. I’m not advocating either move, but the reality is that either or both could happen. If we let Lionel Hollins leave as well, then the entire style of the franchise could change in a big way. I don’t think the Grizz will leave the grit ‘n’ grind style behind, but I do think that you see them try to step up and be a more offensive oriented team. It’s a known fact that the NBA Champions over the past decade have been great defensively AND offensively, and unfortunately, the Grizzlies can only claim to be great in one of those ways. Luckily Marc and Mike are great defensively and offensively. They are perfectly capable of changing games on both ends of the court, and that should be very encouraging to Grizzlies’ fans as we head into the next chapter of the team’s history.
I’m not implying that the Grizzlies are going to change coaches and try to completely alter who they are as they move forward. I’m not saying that Zach and Tony, if they stay, won’t help form the team’s identity in the future. I’m simply saying that Mike and Marc are the new faces of this team. They are the ones that will determine our level of success. It’s scary to think that the team is moving in a new direction, but having seen how capable Mike and Marc are of leading the team, I think that the Memphis Grizzlies are in a wonderful position to continue being successful and will be contending for NBA Championships for the next several seasons.