Drama is the new flash word describing the Memphis Grizzlies locker room, but it must not cause them to slip. Lionel Hollins is fuming at the front office as well. Mike Conley is unsure of the team around him.
The Grizzlies had been the team that chemistry and hard work built. With the team losing five players to trades in two weeks and losing three of four games since parting with Rudy Gay, the foundation is shaking.
Mike Conley expressed concerns about how different the team is after the trades, doubting comparisons to the 2010-11 team that overcame Gay’s injury to force the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the conference semifinals. Conley said:
I don’t think we have the same team as the team we had two years ago. We had a lot of different personnel other than Rudy that contributed to that team. But, man, we had played together for so long with those guys. Now we have a slew of new faces, so we just have to get everybody adjusted and get used to playing with each other. Patience is the hardest thing.
The Grizzlies can’t let these sentiments drag them down. A prolonged slide won’t push them out of the playoffs, but it could shove them into a low playoff seed.
That’s not a position for which Memphis can settle. Hollins is trying to prove he deserves to stay as head coach. The team as a whole is trying to show it can compete with the best of the West.
Ultimately, failing to finish in the top four would lead to the destruction of the team.
Lower seeds rarely make the NBA Finals
Falling out of the top four would almost assuredly mean that the Grizzlies would lose their place as a dark-horse contender. Starting 12-2 and then slowing to a precipitous drop in the standings would hurt them come playoff time.
A team that starts fast and falters down the stretch generally doesn’t experience great playoff success.
At that, lower seeds rarely make the NBA Finals. The 1999 New York Knicks, which finished eighth in the East, were the last team in the bottom four in its conference to go to the finals from the lower seeds.
For the Grizzlies, the issue wouldn’t be about beating higher seeds on their court. Memphis is 12-10 on the road this season, better than in prior years.
The primary issue would be making a new rotation work after it mostly hadn’t worked for a couple months.
Scoring has been a struggle not only since Gay’s departure, but all season long. The Grizz scored fewer than 90 points in 16 games before he was traded. Since then, they’ve failed to surpass 90.
If they can’t score in the regular season, they’ll be hard-pressed to score enough to get out of the first round of the playoffs.
Also, the newcomers from the Gay trade are taking time to settle into their roles. Tayshaun Prince had his first hiccup on Tuesday, hitting 1-of-7 from the field. Ed Davis and Austin Daye are playing sparsely and aren’t fitting in.
Hollins doesn’t seem certain about what to do with them.
If he can’t find a way to plug guys in, it could cost the team in May. A team that can’t fit in new pieces by playoff time is just another team that beats itself.
Hollins’ job is riding on a strong run
The fourth-year head coach can’t have his team beat itself like it did against the Clippers last year. Such a repeat would cost him his job.
Hollins needs a strong finish to the regular season from his squad in order to get a new deal to stay in Memphis. He has had a second-round finish and a first-round exit. His coaching style is both demanding and sensing, one that should be able to get the most out of his players.
Thus, a deep playoff run should come as expected from him.
His recent comments have attracted even more pressure. Hollins gave an angry reaction to the loss of Gay, telling Yahoo! Sports, "When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget."
He was also reticent of losing Marreese Speights and Hamed Haddadi, complaining to The Commercial Appeal about how he didn’t have any backup centers.
Eventually, he would return to a Rumsfeldian outlook about fighting with what he has, not what he wants.
But Hollins seems like he can’t work with what he has. This is the coach who had been a Coach of the Year candidate the past two years because things simply came together despite injuries to star players.
Grizz fans have to wonder when players will pick up the scoring slack, when Marc Gasol will start playing like the giant he is and when the team will remind the Western powers of the threat lurking in Memphis.
If Hollins can’t rear the Grizzlies’ collective head, then a new coach might have to be found who can.
Conclusion: The future of the franchise hangs in the balance
The bickering on Beale Street can’t go on. Grizz players must realize that their time together could be running out. Not only is Hollins’ contract expiring, but Tony Allen’s is as well and Randolph is being mentioned in trade rumors again.
Losing all three would render the Grizzlies a losing team.
The team that stays together can’t stay together if it can’t finish the regular season strong. Nothing less than a No. 4 finish will do, and that wouldn’t even guarantee anything since the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks are the only team of this century to reach the finals from the No. 4 spot.
Regaining the grind is a must if they are to go deep in the playoffs.