Is it crazy to think that the Memphis Grizzlies have already reached their apex with their current core players? The Grizz sneaked into the Western Conference Finals last season by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder without Russell Westbrook, where they went on to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The Grizzlies have done little to improve their roster this offseason after only bringing in Mike Miller, Nick Calathes and Kosta Koufos, while losing Darrell Arthur and Austin Daye.
What about this offseason should make me believe that the Grizzlies are going to make a deeper postseason run next year? I have no doubts that this team can win somewhere around 50 games, but do they have what it takes to beat the best teams in the West in a fair fight? The Grizzlies had their chance to make it to the NBA Finals through an injury-riddled Western Conference and they couldn’t get it done. Will they get back to the Western Conference Finals again anytime soon? I have my doubts.
The Grizzlies don’t have too many variables going forward. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince aren’t going to become better offensive players at this point in their careers. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph would have a hard time topping last season’s performances. Mike Conley is pretty close to his ceiling, as is Jerryd Bayless, who finally found his niche in the league last year as a combo guard. Mike Miller has a gimpy back, so he doesn’t provide anything reliable. Ed Davis is a rotational big man, but he’s not becoming anything more than that in his NBA career, and the same goes for the newly acquired Kosta Koufos. Quincy Pondexter isn’t going to wow anyone with his rapid improvement, either.
The way I see it, the biggest variable on the Memphis Grizzlies is second-year guard Tony Wroten. In his lone season at the University of Washington, Wroten provided the team with decent statistical output (16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.9 steals) but his percentages were troubling (44.3 percent from the field, 16.1 percent from 3-point range and 58.3 percent from the line). The knock on Wroten has always been his shooting, although his abilities as a playmaker made him a decent selection for the Grizzlies at 25th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Last season, Wroten saw little playing time, appearing in just 35 games and scoring a grand total of 91 points (2.6 per game) in a little less than eight minutes per game. Wroten was basically only used in garbage time for Memphis last season and it’s up in the air whether he will get heavy rotational minutes this year. The fact that the team traded for Nick Calathes this summer doesn’t lead me to believe that they have a lot of faith in Wroten developing into an impact player, but his development is the team’s biggest variable at this juncture.
With the younger teams in the Western Conference like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors strengthening their squads this offseason and Western Conference powerhouses like the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder still loaded, the Grizzlies are in danger of falling into the same trap that the Atlanta Hawks fell into a few years ago.
Before the 2005-06 season, the Hawks signed Joe Johnson to a max deal and built their team around Joe Cool, Josh Lazy (that’s Josh Smith if you couldn’t figure that out) and Al Horford, who was drafted by the team in the 2007 NBA Draft. By the 2007-08 campaign, the Hawks were an up-and-coming team which in the ’08 playoffs took the Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round. At this point, Joe Johnson was considered an elite shooter, Josh Smith was still lazy and supremely talented, but still young, Al Horford and Marvin Williams were considered very good prospects and point guard Mike Bibby was still serviceable.
For the next three years, the Hawks held onto their core players and lost in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs each year. Atlanta failed to put up a fight in their first two appearances in the second round, getting swept both years, before losing in six games to the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 playoffs. The following season, Atlanta finished 40-26, but lost to the Boston Celtics in six games in the first round. After losing to the C’s, the Hawks brought in Danny Ferry to run the show and Ferry blew the team up immediately. He got rid of Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson and this summer let Josh Smith walk, too.
What happened to the Hawks should be a cautionary tale to the current Memphis Grizzlies squad that has made the playoffs in three straight seasons. Each year, the Grizzlies made it to the playoffs, only to fail to make it out of the Western Conference. I’m of the belief that the Grizzlies will likely be in the same shoes as that Hawks’ team by 2015 and as Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince show their age, the team will decline accordingly. The Grizzlies do not have a bunch of assets sitting on their bench and Memphis isn’t exactly South Beach, so improving the team any further, whether it be via trade or free agency, is unlikely.
To look at the franchise in a more positive light, there still is a glimmer of hope. Maybe the Grizzlies find a way to score a few more points next year. Maybe Tony Wroten develops into an exciting bench player. Maybe Mike Miller, Ed Davis and Jerryd Bayless team up to form one of the better benches in the league. Maybe Mike Conley emerges as a top-tier point guard and becomes their go-to guy in clutch moments.
The well is not completely dry for this Memphis team, but they’re long shots to make it out of the West next year. Unfortunately for Grizzlies fans, I think they missed their chance to break through a banged-up Western Conference last year and they’re headed towards the same fate as those Atlanta Hawks teams.
Topics: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kosta Koufos, Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Miller, Quincy Pondexter, Tony Allen, Tony Wroten, Western Conference, Zach Randolph