Close, but no cigar.
The Memphis Grizzlies are a fantastic team that has one of the two essential keys to winning a championship: an identity.
They’re defensively oriented with an emphasis on post play. They’re geared to stop the break on defense. On offense, they’re more than content to slow the pace and dump the ball into one of their two dominant bigs, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
It’s a strategy that has led to much success over the years, including yielding a record of 56-26 this season, good for a fourth-place tie with the L.A. Clippers in the West, the team they knocked off in the first round.
They have all the makings of a team geared for a deep playoff run, something they proved this season.
Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they lack the second key ingredient to winning gold: an undisputed closer.
If the NBA has shown anything over the years, it’s that winning a championship is highly improbable without a superstar-type player.
I say improbable only because the 2004 Detroit Pistons proved it can be accomplished with the right mix of players. Otherwise, it hasn’t been done.
Over the last 20 seasons, the list of players that have led their teams to a championship is rather impressive: LeBron James. Dirk Nowitzki. Kobe Bryant. Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett. Tim Duncan. Tony Parker. Dwyane Wade. Shaquille O’Neal. Michael Jordan. Hakeem Olajuwon.
Each and every player is an undisputed superstar and a first-ballot Hall of Famer the moment his career comes to an end.
The idea that a team can win it all without a legitimate superstar is a novel one. It’s just not a probable one.
The Grizzlies have many great players, players that are essential to winning a championship. Gasol provides fabulous defense and offensive versatility. Randolph is a force on offense and on the glass. Mike Conley might be the most improved point guard in the NBA.
None, however, are the key to going all the way.
The Grizzlies were right to trade away Rudy Gay this season. He was another good player masquerading as a star. He wasn’t good enough to be the closer needed for a championship-level team.
They were wrong to believe that the core they already possessed would be enough to overcome their lack of the type of star Gay thought he was.
The Grizzlies put on a valiant fight against the San Antonio Spurs, a fight that culminated Monday night in a 93-86 loss and a four-game sweep. It was a series that was a lot closer than the end result would suggest.
In the end, however, it was a result that was inevitable. That’s just how the NBA works.
The Grizzlies are at a crossroads. They can stand pat and continue to pile up the wins, making deep playoff runs in the process. If they do, though, it is almost assured that the end result will be the same.
The LeBron James and the Kevin Durants of the world aren’t going away. If the Grizzlies hope to reach the pinnacle, they either need one of the players on their team to make the leap, or they must find someone who already has.
Otherwise, satisfaction with really good will have to be enough.