The Memphis Grizzlies reached the playoffs for the seventh straight season in 2016-17, but that streak may be in jeopardy in 2017-18 as a number of Western Conference teams made major upgrades during the summer.
The Grizzlies had limited financial flexibility, so the roster is largely the same as it was a year ago. They allowed the veteran trio of Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Tony Allen to leave, with Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans their major acquisitions.
The Grizzlies remain firmly in the playoff discussion in the West, but they're likely facing another postseason race that goes down to the final days of the regular season.
Below is a look ahead to Memphis' playoff and championship odds, as well as two of the juicier regular-season matchups on the team's schedule
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. ET vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Championship Odds: 80-1 (via OddsShark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
First Overall Matchup: Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 10 p.m. ET
Like the Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers were unable to do much to improve their roster this offseason. General manager Neil Olshey's spending spree in 2016 left Portland with some unwieldy contracts, and Olshey couldn't piece enough assets together to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers.
As a result, the two teams will likely be battling over one of the last remaining playoff spots in the West.
Facing off with Blazers guard CJ McCollum will also be a great test for McLemore.
After spending four underwhelming seasons with the Sacramento Kings, the 24-year-old is poised to play a big role for the Grizzlies. He averaged 9.4 points and shot 35.2 percent from three-point range.
The Commercial Appeal's Chris Herrington succinctly summed up the risk and possible reward Memphis could reap with the signing:
Chris Herrington @HerringtonNBA
Obviously I see how you talk yourself into speculating on McLemore. He's exactly the *kind* of player team has needed. Young SG w 3pt stroke2017-7-3 15:02:49
Chris Herrington @HerringtonNBA
But to this point it's all imaginative/speculative. He looks the part but doesn't play it. I'd worry it's Jeff Green 2.0.2017-7-3 15:04:54
In addition to the potential he has flashed on the perimeter, the Grizzlies signed McLemore in the hope he could become a solid defender. If he gets torched by McCollum, then it may not be a good sign he'll ever achieve that second goal.
First Overall Matchup: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
The Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers can lay claim to having one of the few organic rivalries in the NBA.
"I've got to go talk to coach [David Fizdale] and make him understand how big this rivalry is for us," Randolph said last November as Memphis prepared for its first game against Los Angeles, per the Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery. "He might have to put me back in the [starting] lineup just to play against [the Clippers]. It's a big rivalry. We've been going at it and we want to win. We'll be ready."
As a result, the gulf between the two teams should shrink.
Los Angeles retained Blake Griffin and traded for Danilo Gallinari, so the Clippers aren't completely bottoming out. But it will be interesting to see how Griffin and DeAndre Jordan perform without Paul helping to create open shots for them.
Memphis hasn't finished above Los Angeles since the 2011-12 season, when the Grizzlies were a game better (41-25) than the Clippers (40-26). The Grizzlies have a solid chance of bringing that run to an end in 2017-18.
The Grizzlies won 42 games in 2015-16 when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley missed 56 combined games and then 43 games last year, when Conley was out for 13 games, the bulk of which resulted from his back injury in November.
Even if those two stay healthy, 50 wins is likely at the top end of Memphis' ceiling.
In the past, the duo of Gasol and Conley helped ensure the Grizzlies had a pretty high floor when it came to the Western Conference standings. At the very least, they had enough to crack the top eight and possibly spring a surprise in the postseason.
However, Memphis is coming off a year in which it placed seventh, with three games separating the Grizzlies from the ninth-place Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets are one of three teams in the West that should make a postseason push after missing out in 2016-17. Denver signed Paul Millsap, while the Minnesota Timberwolves added Jimmy Butler to a promising young core and the New Orleans Pelicans will have a full season of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis playing together.
Memphis hasn't had a losing record since 2009-10—the last year the Grizzlies missed the playoffs. Between the Grizzlies' failure to make significant additions to the roster and the arms race ongoing in the West, they could dip below .500 once again, but the low 40s is a reasonable target for Memphis.