Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
"Everybody's got a plan, until they get punched in the mouth." -Mike Tyson
A response. That's what we're looking for at the moment, any signs of life so we can stop pronouncing our beloved Grizzlies as dead. The plan this season was simple. Take the leap to title contender. We had Rudy Gay healthy. We had Zach Randolph healthy. We had Darrell Arthur healthy. Our bench was deeper and filled with better 3 point shooters. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were both another year older, more mature, and ready to elevate their respective games. Make the leap to title contender. That was the plan. And then, we got punched in the mouth.
Currently, we're sitting at 24-13, riding a three game losing streak of 20 points or more. Our star forward is in every trade rumor imaginable. Our coach doesn't like our front office. Our new ownership is starting to piss people off. Our team is in shambles. Time to respond.
Just how that response will happen or what it will look like or even who it will come from remains to be seen. It's anyones guess as to what will happen next, but there's an elephant in the room that a shake up is coming. I'm no Oracle, nor have I ever proffessed to be one, save for Memorial Day Weekend 2010. I'm not a prophet or a fortune teller, but I am of the belief that the era of the "Grit and Grind" Grizzlies is about to come to a screeching hault.
Whether you credit Lionel Hollins or Tony Allen, the beginning of the Grizzlies reinessance began in 2009. The Grizzlies almost squeezed out a .500 record, finishing the season at 40-42. That offseason, they resigned Rudy Gay, and brought in Tony Allen from the Boston Celtics. The year started out pretty nicely. We beat the new Triumvite of the Miami Heat. We started playing better defensively. Rudy was shooting career bests from the field (just under 48%) and from beyond the arc (just under 40%) and making it seem like he was finally going to ascend to the level of superstardom. The team was in the playoff mix, and Memphis basketball was catching on. But then something happened. Rudy went down, and he wouldn't get back up the rest of the season. It looked like we'd have to wait one more year to truly start being a competive ball club. But then something else happened. Somewhere between losing Rudy and losing our season, an identity emerged. We became the Grit and Grind Grizzlies. We started forcing turnover after turnover and pounding teams inside with our bigs. We made a wonderful mess of things. A team that was just supposed to roll over and die watched a legend unfold right before their eyes, won their first ever playoff series, and fell 1 quarter short of reaching the Western Conference Finals. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were both signed to (basically) max extensions, the core was locked in, and the talk of "Just wait til we get Rudy back! Then think how good we'll be!" began to fly. The future of basketball in Memphis looked bright.
But it didn't quite turn out the way we hoped. The season started in lock-out mode. Rudy was back healthy, but Randolph got hurt very early on in the season, and even after coming back was never the same. We ended up being the 4th seed in the Western Conference and hosted a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, but lost in 7 games to the Clippers. It was a frustrating season, but things still looked great. We hung our hats on next season, when we'd finally have everyone healthy and could emerge as a serious title contender out west. That was the plan.
That offseason though, talk of Michael Heisley selling the team began to swirl. Some fans began to panic, but a sense of calm came over them when he finally did sell to a guy in Robert Pera who, not only included a local ownership group, promised to keep the team in Memphis for at least 15 years. While there was still a bit of unrest, fans rested easy knowing the new ownership group, however strange and uncertain they were, were left with a really great basketball team. A team that had an extremely high ceiling. A team that had its core members locked up and pretty much in their primes. A great team, and the city of Memphis' baby. The only problem was, they've shown that they don't know anything, about how to wash a baby! (this is the end to a joke by Anthony Jeselnik. I find him too offensive to share on here, but he's pretty hilarious, check him out)
Questions about what exactly Pera planned to do with the team remained unanswered, even when changes started taking place. There was a shakeup in the front office. They brought in Pera's buddy to be the CEO, and they hired John Hollinger to be the VP of Basketball Operations, leaving Chris Wallace in kind of a weird, albeit paid position. They started all sorts of Rudy Gay trade rumors, and not the quiet, maybe they are maybe they aren't trading him Gay rumors, I'm talking the loud, in your face, over the top, talking to everyone Gay rumors. In addition, they've been reportedly shopping Randolph and Gasol. While some people have said they are just doing their due diligence, they've never really come out and said "this is what we intend to do, this isn't what we intend to do." The best explanation we've gotten on things is Chris Vernon saying the guys he's talked to have told him "blah blah blah."
So to recap, we're 11 games over .500, but 12-12 since a 12-1 start, currently riding a 3 game losing streak of 20 points or more, with trade rumors surrounding 3 of our starting players, a coach who is unhappy with the front office, a front office that is working in mysterious ways with an agenda no one knows or can figure out, and in need of a response.
Naturally, I think we'd all like the response to be for our boys to come out tomorrow and wipe the floor with the Kings tomorrow, return to their defensive intensity that we are known for, pound the ball inside, start shooting better from the floor, and just over all simma down now! But I think we can all agree that it's looking less in less likely that this is just going to be an issue resolved by reaching deep within and finding our inner "ness." As time goes on, if we continue playing the way we are playing, and looking the way we are looking, and losing the way we are losing, there is going to be a shake up. In some shape form or fashion, if we don't turn things around, and very soon, the response is going to come from the front office in the form of a trade, a new coach, and a new team.
It's painful to think about, but this could be the end of our Grizzlies as we know them. The days of "All Heart, Grit n Grind!" could be gone. Tony Allen acting all sorts of foolish on the court as he disrupts passing lanes, shuts water off, and misses a crap load of layups, gone. Rudy Gay, gone. Lionel Hollins, Gone. Title aspirations, if only for the moment, gone.
If it's true, its a sad, sad day. These Grizzlies were/are my first true basketball love. I've never had team before, always just enjoyed watching different players play. But these Grizzlies, when they started grinding through games and beating down the NBA, they stole my heart along with everyone else in the city of Memphis. As much as they stink on offense sometimes, they are MY team. As frustrating as Rudy Gay is, I love that he's our starting small forward. I love all of these players, and if this is the end, it is disheartening, to say the least, to see it happen. Especially this way. I'll always remember the Darrell Arthur block and then alley oop dunk on the other end during game 4 of the Spurs series. I'll forever be indebted to Rudy Gay for this. I'll forever believe Marc is the more talented of the Gasol brothers, and that when Mike Conley turns on the jets, he's one of the fastest 5 guys in the league.
Now, I'm not saying that this is definitely the end of the team I don't think that we're a few days away from having the team blown up. But I do think, and we can all agree, that if the team doesn't get itself straightened out in a hurry, the rumor happy front office is going to make a change. The destiny isn't set in stone, but the reality is starting to become more clear. Fasten your seat belts boys, and double up on those chin straps. Its going to be a bumpy ride over the next few weeks. No one knows for sure whats going to happen, but if the boys in Beale Street Blue have taught us one thing over the years, its that nothing is ever easy, and this definitely won't be either.