Send the Memphis Grizzlies a hug this Christmas. They're going to need it.
Seize the opportunity to bid farewell to their current core of talent while you're at it, because Quincy Pondexter's injury should signify the end for this blue-collar group of breadwinners.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Pondexter will miss the remainder of the 2013-14 season with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Removing Pondexter from a team that won 56 games only last year shouldn't solicit disaster or warrant a massive breakup, and it doesn't. Memphis' latest loss is just that—another drawback, another setback. This absence is just the latest in a long line of wrongs that have become too overpowering for the depleted Grizzlies to right.
They can scrap, claw, grit and grind all they want, but they won't change one simple, yet crippling fact: There is no title to be won in Memphis this season, only the reality that the time to rebuild, regroup and re-tool is finally here.
Help Is Not on the Way
Shorthanded doesn't even begin to tell Memphis' story.
In addition to Pondexter, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol is already on the shelf, his date of return unknown.
"They try to give me a week—three, four, six," Gasol said of his rehabilitation, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I don't care what number they say, I told them as soon as I can put my foot down on the floor and I can walk, I'm going to rush it and speed the process."
Gasol's determination comes as relief, but rushing the recovery process does not. The Grizzlies can ill afford to lose Gasol beyond this season. Worse comes to worst, they would rather lose him for the entire year than see him return early, only to spend the rest of his days battling health issues.
The injury bug doesn't stop there, either.
Perimeter-defense extraordinaire Tony Allen has missed Memphis' last two games with a sore hip, both of which the Grizzlies lost by at least 20 points. Coincidence?
Thin as it is, Pondexter's injury is just one too many, putting the Grizzlies at a disadvantage they cannot overcome.
What The Grizzlies Lost
Think Pondexter isn't important? Think again.
Aside from another missing body the Grizzles must now account for, Pondexter was also one of Memphis' best three-point marksman. He was knocking down just 32.4 percent of his deep balls, so that's not saying much for most teams. But the Grizzlies aren't most teams. They need every shooter possible, because as a group, they cannot shoot.
Memphis presently ranks 29th in team three-point percentage, knocking down a horrendous 31.6 percent of their bombs. Note that number is actually lower than Pondexter's conversion rate. Then, those of you in Memphis, feel free to cry.
Only three players on the Grizzlies are knocking down more than 32 percent of their shots from beyond the rainbow, and Pondexter is one of them. That's a huge loss for a team already awful from the outside.
This on top of losing their second-leading scorer (Gasol) and watching as their best perimeter defender (Allen) struggles to remain in the lineup.
Western Conference Like Whoa
Too bad the NBA doesn't allow teams to transfer conferences. The Grizzlies would've been far better off in a wretched Eastern Conference.
But that's not possible. The Grizzlies play in the Western Conference, where there are currently 10 teams with a record of .500 or better. Memphis itself is under .500 (9-10), struggling to survive as it is.
If the playoffs started today, the Grizzlies would fall two games short of a postseason berth. And it's not going to get better.
Just before Gasol went down, the Grizzlies were hitting their stride. Finding their grit. Their defense was bulletproof and their offense alive.
That's all changed.
Their offense is still a mess, and ranks 21st in efficiency. Defensively, they haven't been much better—they've actually been worse, bleeding points and coming in at 24th on the efficiency scale.
Weak defensive sets are atypical of a Grizzlies team who prides themselves on protecting the rim and wreaking havoc from the paint to the timeline. In 2012-13, they ranked second in efficiency, 22 spots higher than they are now.
But that was then, and this, unfortunately, is now.
With no Gasol to anchor their interior defense, and no perimeter weapons outside of Mike Miller and Jon Leuer at their disposal, the Grizzlies are left to fight through a conference where most of the teams are stronger than they could ever hope to be.
Blowing It Up—Again
You've heard this one before, or at least something similar.
Fearing the worst financially, the Grizzlies shipped Rudy Gay off to the Toronto Raptors. And that was with the team contending for a title. Now that the Grizzlies don't appear playoff-bound, what's next?
Someone else must go.
Look, I don't like it anymore than you do. There was something comforting about seeing him thrive after the first half of his career was marked by controversy and underachieving. But it has to happen.
The Grizzlies are paying $68.1 million for this roster. This exact one. Owner Robert Pera shouldn't foot that bill for a non-playoff team, and that's what the Grizzlies are right now.
Their offense remains a stagnant joke, and their defense has joined that same rank. Gasol's return will remedy a lot of the issues, but it won't be a cure-all. Nor will it help their abysmal outside shooting.
Remember, this team was already floundering before he went down. They had their moments, but were 7-6 with him. Grit n' grind basketball is existing long past its expiration date, so the Grizzlies must capitalize off their assets now, before it's too late.
Healthy, they could give it one more go. One final hurrah before restructuring in 2015. As is, they don't have that option. Rebuilding should begin now, with the departure of Z-Bo, Tayshaun Prince and anyone else who doesn't figure into the Grizzlies' future.
Change was on the horizon either way, and while it's sooner than expected, the Grizzlies must ensure tomorrow arrives as quickly as possible.
*All stats were compiled from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Dec. 9, 2013 unless otherwise noted.
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