Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Co. are working to prove the Memphis Grizzlies can go deep in the playoffs after their leading scorer, Rudy Gay, was dealt at the trade deadline. The Grizzlies could be viewed by many as a failure if they don't manage to reach the Western Conference Finals, but that doesn't mean that they would require dismantling.
An excuse is always concocted when the Grizz fall short in the playoffs. After they fought the Oklahoma City Thunder through seven games in the conference semifinals in 2011, then-owner Michael Heisley asserted they would have won the series if they had Rudy Gay.
Many faulted last season's first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Randolph and Gay's lack of time in the lineup together before the playoffs.
Again, several reasons will be found if Memphis can't get past the second round. Chief among them would be the Gay trade.
However, this wouldn't be among the most logical ideas that would justify blowing up the roster. The best fallback is that the combination of players is fine, but the coach isn't good enough. Also, some might say that John Hollinger didn't have a chance to fully implement his statistical analysis in their play.
Above all, their salary situation could save them from having to shed more pieces, particularly Gasol and Randolph.
Memphis' Payroll Doesn't Presage a Fire Sale
The Grizzlies have a much better payroll outlook for 2013-14 than they did before trading Gay. They will have $56.6 million committed to eight players for next season, along with a $3.1 million player option that Jerryd Bayless may exercise. Tony Allen will likely re-sign for between $3 to $3.5 million.
With Allen and Bayless returning, the Grizz would have have no more than $63.2 million down for 10 players, compared with $66.7 million if they hadn't made the Gay trade. Hollinger and his front-office crew should have wiggle room to use exceptions and other tools to get players who could address scoring concerns.
If the Grizzlies' roster stay intact after this season, would they be able to make all the necessary moves to stay in contention?
Also, they could parlay the trade value Bayless has built up in the past several weeks into a trade for a player who might better fill his role for the entire season. Tony Wroten, Austin Daye and, if necessary, Ed Davis could be used as trade bait to add scoring.
Thus, the Grizzlies could improve the roster without further ripping apart the core.
Losing Lionel Hollins Would Be More Appropriate
Before the season, I set the standard that Hollins, who is in his fourth season as Memphis' full-time head coach, must reach the conference finals to earn a new deal. He's had a couple of close calls in the playoffs, both of which included Game 7 losses.
As Hollins nears the end of his contract year, his Grizzlies team looks the same as it did the prior two seasons. This is a grinding defensive team that forces turnovers, but doesn't score much and can't shoot threes. The only differences are that they fare better on the defensive glass and at the charity stripe.
Whether the Grizzlies' defensive prowess is attributable to Hollins is debatable. Some may argue that Allen's defensive leadership is far more important to the team's defense. Besides, the Grizzlies ranked 19th in defensive rating and 17th in opponents turnover rate in 2009-10, the year before Allen arrived.
After Allen brought his brand of defense to the "Grindhouse," the Grizz took their defense to another level. They've been in the top 10 in defensive rating and top two in turnover rate since then.
Each member of the core saw his defensive rating drop after Allen came on board.
Allen's presence could be argued to be more important in the transition to a new era of successful Grizz ball than that of Hollins.
Besides Allen, the Grizzlies have all the talent necessary to get out of the Western Conference bracket, even if they might get swept by the Miami Heat. Gasol is one of the best centers in the game, dominant on defense and highly efficient on offense. Mike Conley is a borderline elite point guard.
Randolph is unstoppable on the glass and plays off Gasol well on defense.
They could get more out of their three-point shooters. Tayshaun Prince can shoot threes, but only takes one per game. Bayless, Conley, Daye and Quincy Pondexter are good from long range, but Bayless and Conley don’t shoot at the clip they’re capable of hitting.
Perhaps they would do better if Hollins drew better sets for three-point shots.
One of the major judgments on Hollins after this season will pertain to whether he makes the most of his players’ offensive abilities. Due to their performance in the last three campaigns under his guidance, Hollinger may wonder whether someone else would be able to do better.
If the Grizzlies fail to get past the second round, who should shoulder most of the blame?
Hollinger Needs More Time to Apply His Style to the Grizzlies
Like a team that has a new coach or a new set of core players, the Grizzlies may need time to feel the full effect of Hollinger’s statistics-based strategy.
Hollinger said this much in an interview with NBA.com. He noted that he hasn’t had much time to work with players in a statistical approach.
Some players didn’t buy into the system right away.
Persuading players to appreciate this style may take time. Thus, they may not see the benefit it would have in their play without getting used to it. For instance, Randolph may find ways in which he could remain effective further in his career by enacting lessons learned in his game.
The Grizzlies may not become as efficient as they could be under Hollinger’s philosophy before the end of the season. This may allow that they could be an efficient contender down the road with their current core.
Conclusion: Gutting the Grizz Would Be Unnecessary
With the Gay trade, the Grizzlies laid the groundwork for a transition in case they don’t go deep in the playoffs. Acquiring Davis gave them a possible future starting power forward to succeed Randolph. Prince hangs around, providing veteran leadership.
Packaging core players for draft picks may not produce what the Grizzlies need. Statistical analysis hasn’t been successful in the draft, and Hollinger shouldn’t risk dealing Randolph or Gasol for a first-rounder if he isn’t sure what he’ll get.
Anyway, if Hollins doesn’t succeed, the Grizz could give hope next year under a new coach, with Gasol and Conley settling into the prime of their careers and Randolph masking his drop-off by playing off Gasol.
Moreover, the last thing Grizzlies fans want to see is their team shredded for some purported aim at another eventual shot at contending. Watching the team trade Pau Gasol was rough. To see them deal two better, tougher stars and go back to being a cellar dweller would be even worse.
The bottom is a place Grizz fans have seen their team enough.