The Memphis Grizzlies have assembled enough talent to believe they can emerge as a sleeper in the Western Conference during the 2016-17 campaign. In order for that to happen, however, they will need to enjoy far better luck with injuries than they did last season.
Only two players—JaMychal Green and Matt Barnes—appeared in more than 70 games for the Grizzlies, and a total of 28 players saw the court at least twice. Eventually the health woes became too much for the team, which collapsed down the stretch and got swept from the playoffs.
Let's check out all of the important information as the focus shifts to the new season after the league's schedule release. That's followed by a look at what may lie ahead for Memphis in the coming months.
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 26 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Championship Odds: 75-1 (via Odds Shark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Dallas Mavericks (Nov. 18, March 3, March 31 and April 12)
In an offseason of blockbuster moves, one of the more interesting storylines to follow that's been overlooked is Dallas' decision at small forward. The Mavs let Chandler Parsons, who eventually landed with the Grizzlies, walk and signed Harrison Barnes to fill the void.
Memphis hopes Parsons can make it regret that decision. The 27-year-old Florida product is exactly the type of perimeter scorer the franchise has lacked in recent years, and he should be put in position to succeed in terms of getting plenty of looks offensively.
He told Tim MacMahon of ESPN his exit from Dallas came as a surprise:
It was more shocking. It is a business and I understand that aspect of it. I think the fans of Dallas were great, but they don't really understand the whole story of everything. If they did, they wouldn't have negative feelings towards me. Everything I did in Dallas was for the team and for the organization and for the city.
It creates one of those situations where Parsons certainly won't lack any motivation in the head-to-head meetings with his former organization. That's especially true given the Mavericks' decision to immediately replace him with Barnes, suggesting they believe it's an upgrade.
Furthermore, both teams figure to find themselves in the muddled middle of the West behind the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. So those matchups could end up having a major impact on both sides when the dust settles at season's end.
San Antonio Spurs (Feb. 6, March 18, March 23 and April 4)
The latest chapter in the rivalry between the Grizzlies and Spurs ended with a whimper in the playoffs as San Antonio won four straight games to end Memphis' season. As mentioned, however, it wasn't really a fair fight given the team's injury issues.
It's developed into quite a battle between the sides as of late. They've met in the postseason three times over the past six seasons with the Spurs now holding a 2-1 edge. And it wouldn't be a shock to see them face off again at the end of the upcoming campaign.
Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News provided a description on the rivalry from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich back in April:
In the more general sense, San Antonio is one of the two measuring sticks in the Western Conference, along with the Warriors. Games against those loaded squads give teams a much better sense of where they stand in the league's pecking order.
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The Grizzlies are coming off a 42-win season, which is actually quite an accomplishment when you consider everything they went through. Based purely on the roster, it's a team that can win 50 or more games if things fall their way this year.
Memphis has one of the league's best one-two punches in the frontcourt in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The front office also showed it believes Mike Conley is a championship-caliber point guard by giving him a monster contract extension this offseason.
Add in Parsons, one of the NBA's top perimeter defenders in Tony Allen and a solid reserve group, and there's plenty of reason for optimism heading into the season.
There could be some growing pains at the outset, though. New head coach David Fizdale told Matt Moore of CBS Sports he's planning to change the team's approach.
"I've talked to all the guys and they understand where the league is at," Fizdale said. "If we think we're going to play in the 80s and win anything, we're sadly mistaken. And they understand that and I think we're going to have a committed group to playing at a faster tempo."
That's where the Parsons addition should really come in handy. Memphis wasn't in a position to play that type of basketball without a go-to perimeter scorer over the past few years. It's also why his success during his first season with the Grizz will make such a large impact on the team as a whole.
All told, the arrow is pointing up for the Grizzlies. Even if they get off to a slow start, it's a team that should become more of a threat as the season wears on and they get more comfortable playing the way Fizdale envisions. Of course, all of those positive projections are based on maintaining good health.