Grizzly Expectations: Past as Prologue

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The Grizzlies have had lots of success in recent years, but what can we reasonably expect from them in the upcoming season? Where should our expectations be?

When the Grizzlies lost Game 7 at home against the Clippers to end last year’s season, it was a disappointment. The year before, the Grizzlies had been one game (and one triple-overtime loss) away from making the Western Conference Finals. Surely, everyone expected, they’d be able to go even farther the next year, right?

Not exactly.

Before last season even started, Darrell Arthur went down with an ACL injury. Once the season finally started in December, it wasn’t long before Zach Randolph went down. The Jeremy Pargo Experiment never seemed to pay off, and Josh Selby was just too young and inexperienced to carry the weight at backup point guard without having the benefit of a training camp and preseason to grow accustomed to the pace of the NBA game. Gilbert Arenas looked like he was going to be a valuable addition, and then he got hurt. Once Z-Bo came back, the process of figuring out whether he or Marreese Speights should start never really shook out, all the way through the playoffs.

None of those things lessened the Grizzlies fanbase’s enthusiasm for the team. We all still thought they were going to make a deep playoff run! They almost made it to the Western Conference Finals the year before. Shouldn’t they make it to the Finals this year? Going into the Clippers series, Grizz fans — myself included — thought the team was firing on all cylinders, paying no attention to barely-wins against the Bobcats and Hornets and another outright loss to the Hornets in the week before the beginning of the first round. We brushed off articles warning that historically the 4–5 matchup in the playoffs is a tossup, each team with a 50% chance of making it to the next round.

That didn’t really work out so well. It turned out the team, despite all the quality wins racked up in the regular season, still wasn’t gelling at the level necessary to gut out an ugly series against an ugly a tough team — least of all one led by Chris Paul. We all know what happened after that. Lionel Hollins never seemed to be able to put together a lineup that matched up well with whoever the Clippers had on the floor. Mike Conley got the flu before Game 7. The rest is history.

So what does that have to do with this year? Why talk about all of this as the 2012–2013 Grizzlies Training Camp gets underway?

Expectations. They mean a lot this time of year, but they always assume nothing will go wrong during the season, and something always goes wrong.

We can pretty well guess that the Grizzlies will make the playoffs. The top of the Western Conference will probably be the Thunder and the newly Dwight-ed and Nash-ed Lakers. San Antonio will still be good. Dallas looks to have reloaded (and we’ll see what OJ Mayo looks like playing for a different coach in a different system; my guess is he’ll look real good). The Grizzlies have Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and the Whole Sick Crew back in action, and they’ve added Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, and Tony Wroten to the roster to give us the outside shooting threats we always thought OJ would turn into. Oh, and Rudy Gay is pissed that he didn’t make the Olympic team.

Things are looking good for this year’s team — and good for the franchise. We’ve got a new owner coming in, one who has made strong ties to the local community, and who has agreed to extend the team’s lease to keep them here for the next fifteen years. The Grizzlies are starting to acquire that "perennial dark horse" feel, never expected to win a title but always a serious threat.

But.

It’s early. We’ll see how the year goes. We’ll see who stays healthy, how the roster gels, how the outside shooting improves (it can’t get much worse) and, most importantly, how this team does against the best of the best in the Western Conference. I have high hopes for this year’s team, but I also know that it’s a long season. It’d be easy to write a big post about how this is "Our Year," and how we’re going to win an NBA title this year. But I want Grizz fans to keep an even keel.

We’re going to be good. We’re going to win a lot of games. Let’s take it one game at a time, and enjoy this whole season, and not look past the regular season to the playoffs.

It’s October. Basketball is back. Let’s remember to enjoy what’s in front of us.

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