The State of the Grizzlies, Part One: The Pessimist

This, God forbid, could be the Grizzlies.

Author’s Note: this is the first of a two-part series in which ForeignFlopper and I take a look at where the Grizzlies are right now and where they can be going forward. My job is to talk about the negative, the bad, the ugly. Scott’s going to cover the good – the things that make us proud and hopeful as Grizzlies fans. Consider this post the dark night before the beautiful breaking dawn.

Folks, we’re in a bad place right now, down 3–1 to a team that everyone thought we were going to beat. In two weeks time, we’ve gone from everyone’s sleeper pick to make the finals to a team that can’t win, can’t score, can’t close out, can’t defend. The guys we’re paying the most money are accomplishing the least. We’ve been taken out of our game plan by the likes of Reggie Evans and Randy Foye. At times, it’s looked like we’re cooked. The guys look bad, and they’ve played worse.

After the jump, let’s plumb the depths of the Grizzlies’ depair, looking at what’s gone wrong against the Clippers and the things that can go the most wrong for the team going forward.

Rudy

We don’t have a go-to guy right now, as I explained in my Game 5 preview. Because of that, Rudy Gay is trying to force his way as the primary scoring option – whether that’s out of a desire to carry the team or out of some misguided attempt to prove his worth. Whatever it is, it ain’t working. The same effort and intensity questions have followed him since FreeDarko threads from 2007:

The thing that is so interesting to me about him is that I really feel he has LeBron/Kobe-level talent, but not LeBron/Kobe-level drive. For some reason, however, this doesn’t aggravate me the way it does with other players. For some reason I feel that it is totally alright for Rudy Gay to not give a shit. I really believe that last night he would have felt the same way had he dribbled the ball off of his foot as he did by hitting the game winner.

Ask yourselves, Grizzlies fans: has anything changed? Do we really feel any differently about Rudy Gay than we have all along? Sure, he’s taken big-time shots and hit a few lot of them, but he’s had a maddening, "Why aren’t you trying harder?" play to equal every brilliant, jaw-dropping finish at the rim or last-second long range bomb.

With Rudy, it’s hard to say "It is what it is," because no one has any clue what it is. He’s absolutely inscrutable. Blank and unknowable like the vast reaches of outer space. It’s been that way for five years. What’s going to change going forward? Rudy Gay doesn’t have a ceiling so much as he has a sliding scale of how badly he wants to make an incredible play, one that he himself sets and no one else can see.

I love the guy – or at least I did; this Clippers series might be negatively impacting that. I love watching him when he’s got everything together. When he doesn’t, whether it’s true or not, he gives a distinct impression of not giving a shit. I don’t know what to do about that. We pay him too much to trade him, and we all know if we trade him, he’s just going to be #1 All-Time Grizz Killer and probably make the Hall of Fame out of spite. Maybe that’s what he needs to become a great: a feeling of something to prove. I think we’re all tired of psychoanalyzing him, though.

Rudy could be the reason Memphis wins an NBA Championship in the next five years. He could also be the limiting factor that keeps us from ever making the Conference Finals. We’ll know soon enough.

Zach

I love Zach Randolph. I love Zach Randolph maybe more than I have loved any basketball player since Penny Hardaway, and I am from Memphis, so you know what I mean. Zach is tough, Zach is aggressive, Zach could not care less what you think of him. He’s a mean, non-lean, scoring machine, with more touch and skill rebounding than anyone I’ve ever seen in person.

Zach also just suffered a major knee injury that he seems to be struggling to overcome.

In the Clippers series, it’s been painful to watch. His shot is getting blocked all the time. He’s settling for a face-up jumper instead of bodying his way around his defender, forcing the defense into bad angles as he drives to the basket – which he did to Tim Duncan night after night in last year’s playoffs. Zach’s playing hard, but his body is failing him, which leads me to the next nightmare scenario.

I’m going to ask the question that Grizzlies fans all over the world are terrified to say out loud:

What if Zach never gets 100% better?

What do we do then? We’re paying the guy $15,000,000 a year, so it’s not like we can just trade him. He’s obviously not going to be happy about being the same old ZBo, the monster unstoppable 20-and–10 machine. It’ll be a mess.

He also came into this season in the best shape of his career, and he’s playing hard – he’s just not all the way back yet. In all likelihood, he just doesn’t trust his knee yet, and who can blame him? His career is on the line if he hurts it again, and he’s not going to do that.

I genuinely believe that Zach Randolph likes playing in Memphis and that I know the fan base loves him for it. I just worry about the big guy.

(And yes, I know the same knee injury questions apply to Tony Allen, but I can’t even bring myself to be that pessimistic.)

OJ

OJ has been pretty crappy in the playoffs. He’s turned the ball over constantly playing the point, and he’s taken and missed bad shot after bad shot after bad shot. He’s never had much of a conscience about whether or not he should shoot, but in the Clippers series, it’s gone from bad to worse. He’s not hitting the bad shots anymore, and he’s not taking many good ones. If he doesn’t step up his game, and if Gilbert Arenas can’t (1) get some minutes from Lionel Hollins and (2) make a difference in those minutes, the Grizzlies probably aren’t going to win this series.

In addition to that, OJ’s probably gone after this year. He’s going to get too much money from somebody else, and he’s going to get a shot at being a starter for another team, the way he was for the Grizzlies in the (horrid) Marc Iavaroni era, putting up huge numbers in big minutes. They simply can’t afford to keep him given the contracts in place for Rudy, Zach, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley, and he needs a change of scenery.

But.

Who do we replace him with? We can’t really afford to sign Gilbert Arenas to anything more than a veteran’s minimum deal, and he’s played good minutes for us so that seems unlikely. Josh Selby and Jeremy Pargo are both undeveloped talents – although Selby was good in some minutes at the end of the season and killed it in the D League this year – and you can’t definitively say that either of them will become a great 6th man the way OJ has.

And what about Darrell Arthur? He’s missed a lot of games, but he’s a dynamic scorer and he’s good on defense too. If the Grizzlies are able to re-sign him for cheap, they should, even if he’s hurt a lot. Look at the turnaround injury-plagued Andrew Bynum has made. Arthur’s a good player.

Perimeter scoring has been the Grizzlies’ weakness since the dawning of the Zach Randolph era – there’s simply nobody who can reliably score outside the restricted area, and so defenses just pack the paint and hope our shooters don’t kill them. It worked for the Thunder last year, and it’s working for the Clippers this year. One-dimensionality is going to keep this team from ever getting out of the first or second round if it continues.

Going Forward

I have faith in Chris Wallace’s abilities to construct a winning basketball team. Three years ago, that would’ve been a ridiculous thing to say, but he’s proven that he can do it. He’s brought in guys like Marreese Speights and Dante Cunningham that can score and rebound and provide energy off the bench.

But if things go wrong for this franchise after the playoffs this year, where it looks like we might be eliminated in the first round, things have the potential to go really wrong. We could be locked in to two guys – Rudy and Zach – that can’t get us where we need to be, and if we can’t find the right guy (or combination of guys) to replace OJ Mayo, things are going to go from bad to worse.

This, as a Grizzlies fan, is the nightmare scenario, the absolute worst case, the disaster lurking over the horizon. In part two of this little mini-series, coming later this afternoon, ForeignFlopper is going to talk us all off the ledge, and give us hope for tonight, in the biggest game of this year, and for the future, as the once-lowly Memphis Grizzlies try to go out an win an NBA title.

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