Despite being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the Memphis Grizzlies have a lot to be proud of this year. Not only did they win the most games in franchise history (56), they also went farther in the playoffs then ever before and proved to their many doubters than they are no joke.
So, the question is, how do they keep this up. With the departure of head coach Lionel Hollins now official, you could hardly blame the fans for being apprehensive about the team’s future. Hollins guided the team to more success than any past coach and is he architect of the “grit and grind” Grizzles who have gained recognition across the NBA for being one of the toughest teams around.
Hollins’ departure leaves the Grizzlies with a rather large void to fill, but it hardly disqualifies them from contender status once again next season. If the Grizzlies’ front office is smart, there’s no reason why they can’t be one of the scariest teams in the Western Conference for years to come.
First off, Tony Allen needs to come back. Allen becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer and retaining his services should be the top priority. Allen is the best perimeter defender in the game and he’s best rewarded for his efforts with two consecutive first team All-Defensive team selections (he was second team in 2011). More importantly, Allen is more responsible for the identity of this team than any other player. His brutal, gritty defensive play has made the Grizzlies who they are. It was when he replaced O.J. Mayo as the starting shooting guard that the current incarnation of the Grizzlies began to take shape. If the Grizzlies lose Allen, they’ll be losing one of the players who made them such a special team in the first place.
Once Allen is re-signed, the team needs to think about how it plans to use Ed Davis in the coming season. When Davis was acquired for the Toronto Raptors in the Rudy Gay trade, it looked as though he would be the most valuable piece in the deal. In his last few months with the Raptors, he had cracked the starting lineup and looked like an emerging star. Once he arrived in Memphis, however, he was buried on the bench. Obviously, Davis would have to be a backup playing on a team that already has Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol firmly entrenched as the starting bigs, but Hollins’ decision to play him so rarely was puzzling at best. He has far more upside than Darrell Arthur, who Hollins used as the first big off the bench for the second half of the season and the playoffs.
If Davis’ lack of playing time in the regular season was frustrating, the problem became even bigger in the playoffs, when Hollins removed him from the rotation. Frankly, this made no sense and if Grizzlies’ fans are looking for reason to talk themselves into being OK with Hollins leaving, this would be it. The Grizzlies were clearly outmatched against the Spurs. Zach Randolph was having a terrible series and he never really found his groove. This was made all the more irritating by the fact there was a perfectly capable big man in Davis not being used when he obviously would have helped quite a lot. Arthur wasn’t going to alter the outcome of a game in that series, but Davis could have. Turning him into a key piece next year needs to be key priority.
If the Grizzlies are smart, they could be a contender for quite some time. If they let Allen leave and fail to utilize Davis’s considerable talents, they could quickly find themselves on the outside looking in.