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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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GritGrintGrizz: PLAY TO WIN: Five reasons the Grizzlies should NOT tank


Tanking?  The Grizzlies should try to lose games so they can land a top pick? Seriously?

Look, I get the logic. I’m not a huge follower of college hoops but I understand there are some phenomenally talented players, like superstar potential talent in the draft. And yes, the Grizzlies MUST evolve — and get younger — in today’s NBA.

And then there’s this: Players don’t tank. Coaches don’t tank. J.B. Bickerstaff will coach the players he has to play hard and try to win every night. No, if such a strategy were to be hatched, it would happen in the Front Office, and likely show up in the form of a Tyreke Evans trade, fewer minutes for Marc Gasol and a shutdown of Mike Conley, still rehabbing his Achilles tendon. Oh yeah, and who’s that other guy? Chandler Parsons? Does anyone care anymore?

If those directives came from the Front Office, they would mostly make sense. Why risk injury to Marc or Mike in a down season? And the team is unlikely to be able to retain Tyreke, who is playing his way to a significant contract as an unrestricted free agent. There’s a case to trade him before the deadline. Chandler Parsons? I repeat: Does anybody really care anymore?

Nah, I guess I’m mostly disappointed in fans, pundits and sports radio jocks who are pro-tank. Tanking is a bad move for the Memphis Grizzlies, and I can think of five reasons why.

A history of losing. The Memphis Grizzlies are now playing their 17th season in the Bluff City, after spending six years in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Those first six years in Canada, the Grizzlies were AWFUL, winning only 101 games over six years — a .220 team. And they weren’t much better when they got to Memphis, only turning the corner with the Hubieball 50-win team in 2004. Even then, they got swept from the Playoffs three straight seasons. What followed were four more losing seasons before this relative oasis of playoff success.

What’s my point? My point is that as a franchise, the Grizzlies historic tendency is to not just be a losing team, but to be an AWFUL team for many consecutive years. And any step back in the direction of 22-win seasons is a step in the wrong direction.

A (mostly) winning culture – for now. I once asked former Grizz coach Lionel Hollins about the value of veterans and guys who have experience. I’m paraphrasing his response, but the gist was this: “You don’t have to be a veteran to make the right play. You just have to know what to do and do it.” Shortly after that, the Grizzlies began their ascent into a winning franchise.

A winning culture can be very difficult to build and as we are seeing now, it can be difficult to maintain. But there’s a reason that San Antonio never seems to fall off, or that Miami still seems to compete every season. Even the Lakers, in their current rebuild, still have a certain swagger that comes from their championship pedigree. For long-term success, the Grizzlies should want to hold on to their own winning tradition — and fans should want that too.

The Grizzlies build by trades and undervalued players — not the draft. Let’s face it. Part of the Grizzlies ugly history is that the franchise rarely gets a top pick and when they do, they screw it up or it doesn’t work out.

Remember: the Vancouver Grizzlies were SO bad that Steve Francis forced his way to Houston. And while Pau Gasol was the Rookie of the Year for Memphis, it was Atlanta that drafted him and traded him for proven vet Shareef Abdur-Rahim. No, the Grizzlies lottery pick that year was Shane Battier, which was solid. Then again, players taken later in that draft: eventual All-Stars Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Tony Parker. And some guy named Zach Randolph.

The last top draft pick to really breakout for the Grizzlies is Mike Conley, drafted fourth in 2007. Even then, it’s only in the past four years that Conley really blossomed into a top-tier NBA point guard — though still not an All-Star (I know, it’s not his fault). The reality is that this franchise builds best through trades, by savvy acquisitions of undervalued players. That’s the blueprint. That’s in the DNA, at least when the team wins. Stick with it.

It’s a long climb out of the cellar. These days, it’s a fireworks show as this generation’s bulldozer of a franchise — the Golden State Warriors — runs roughshod over the NBA. But do you realize how BAD the Warriors were? And for how long?

In the 1993-94 season, the Warriors won 50 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs. It would be another TWELVE YEARS before they would have another winning season. TWELVE. YEARS. That’s why there was so much fervor around the franchise when they upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs. And even after that, Warriors fans endured five more lottery seasons before this current run of success.

And I know what you’re thinking: Lee, those draft years netted them Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Fair enough. But NONE of those players were taken in the top three picks of the draft — and Golden State didn’t deliberately throw away seasons to get those picks either. But I digress.

The moral is: If the Grizzlies do find themselves in the cellar of the NBA, they could be there MUCH longer than any of us want.

Stability is key. To me, the unsung hero of the Grizzlies’ era of success isn’t a person at all. It’s STABILITY.

Let’s rewind back to the olden days — just 10 years ago — when the team routinely cycled new players in and out every offseason. Just as guys like Pau Gasol and Shane Battier learned how to play with a guy, he’s traded, waived or signs a better deal elsewhere.

Oh, just for fun, let’s throw in a coaching change every 18 months. Remember, before Hollins took charge — midway through the 2009 season, after Marc Iavaroni was fired — the Grizzlies standard operating procedure was not only to change coaches every other season, they often did so MIDSEASON, forcing players to adapt to a new coach on the fly. Sidney Lowe, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Marc Iavaroni — ALL fired during the season. Of course, we can now add David Fizdale to that list.

When you’re changing coaches AND players so frequently, it’s near impossible to develop chemistry or a style of play. It’s no coincidence that when Hollins had the “Core Four” for so many years (with a nod to precursors O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay), the team developed an identity and its infamous “Grit ‘n’ Grind” defensive style of play.

Fast forward to today. The Grizzlies are now on their THIRD coach since Jan. 2016. One of those seasons ended with an NBA record 28 players playing in Beale St. Blue. And right now, there are a number of players who likely won’t be on the roster next season — and maybe not even this time next month. Again, I fear that old BAD habits with this franchise are starting to come back.

I’d like to repeat that I understand the desire to get a good draft pick. But there are too many other variables involved in “tanking” to get a high pick — not when said high pick could be toiling away on a 24-win team for years to come.

It’s taken a long time for the Grizzlies to gain the respectability that comes with winning. That’s why the idea of throwing games sounds so ludicrous to me. Play to win. Period.

Homecoming for Z-Bo

That first part got a little long, and I’ll have MUCH more on this Friday and Saturday. But this Friday marks the return of Zach Randolph to Memphis for the first time as a member of the Sacramento Kings.

Cue the video montage and the standing ovation that could well last long enough to delay the game. It’s going to be a special night at FedExForum as fans will shower No. 50 for the City with love and adoration. Having covered him for years, I can say with confidence that the big lug is likely to get a little teary-eyed — just at Tony Allen did on opening night against the Pelicans.

Don’t let the jersey fool you. Sacramento is where he works now. But for Zach Randolph, Memphis is home.


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