The hour is close at hand. We have almost arrived. After months of turmoil, coaching changes, uncertainty and unprecedented national recognition, the Memphis Grizzlies are just hours away from starting another campaign. And this season, among the others in recent history, has a distinct feel to it. A sense of uncertainty, for one thing. New coach, new faces, second season of new ownership executing their vision for the franchise.
Remarkably, in the face of such drastic change, there is also a sense of expectation. Belief in upsets and improvement has given way to belief in Finals appearances and magical runs. This Grizzlies team is no longer at the point of "try to make the playoffs, see how we do." The playoffs are a foregone conclusion, in the minds of most fans. Now, it is getting past the Spurs. It's seeing LeBron in June. The upstart Grizzlies are no more; they are the veterans, the targets, the hunted.
The Grizzlies are entering a watershed moment in their history. Trade rumors have surrounded several players for months. Younger players are beginning to challenge the old guard for starting spots. A new head coach with an analytical approach is now charged with managing as eclectic an assortment of athletes as ever assembled. The Western Conference is, somehow, even deeper this season than it was last year, a variable minefield of Durants and Pauls, Howards and Duncans. The challenge ahead is great.
That being said, every new season begins with a wish. A hope, a prayer, a moment of thought about what the future will hold. And aside from those teams who have appeared to throw away their seasons for a chance at a Wiggins or a Parker, all of the teams in the Association have a similar wish - to end the season holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy. In order for that to happen, various things need to fall in to place. So, assuming that this Grizzlies roster stays as is, here is a wishlist of hopes Grizzlies fans should have for this season.
For Zach Randolph to embrace a new role-
How involved Zach should be in the Grizzlies offense, if at all, has been debated all off-season long. Zach's presence on this team immediately adds a toughness, an aggression and swagger that only player with mindsets like his and Tony Allen can bring. That being said, Zach's offensive game needs to expand to being able to cut to the rim and enhance scoring opportunities for other through making the extra pass and rebounding offensively. Zach can still be the leader mentally while allowing for others to be more aggressive offensively.
I wish for it to be time to take that step.
For Mike Conley to make his first All-Star Team-
Given Russell Westbrook's injury to start the season, it is likely that there will be an opening at a guard spot at the All-Star game this season, assuming that Chris Paul and Tony Parker get named to the team once again. In the West, the two players this spot could go to are Stephen Curry and Mike Conley. Curry was viewed widely as a snub last season, a player who scored 21 points per game on 44.7% three point shooting and 6.6 assists. He will no doubt have another great scoring season, as long as he can stay healthy.
Mike Conley will likely be unable to achieve those kinds of numbers scoring. What he can do is grow his assists numbers to about 8 a game off of more made Marc Gasol, Jerryd Bayless, Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter shot attempts. He also can utilize the better spacing created by Miller and Pondexter, in addition to the motion schemes of Coach Joerger to increase his ability to slash to the basket. An 18 point, 8 assist season for a team in the top 3 of the West at the break?
Sounds like an All-Star to me.
For Marc Gasol to Get MVP Votes-
How wonderful would this be? Marc Gasol becomes a 20 point, 9 rebound, 5 assist, 2 block and one steal per night guy. That is about as well rounded and dominant in all phases as you can be as a big. And Marc could possibly do this; he would have to commit to taking more shots, and attacking the rim off of other's shot attempts more. But with those kinds of numbers, Marc would get MVP votes and continue his climb up the ladder of the Association's elite. Yes, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul will likely dominate that vote.
Those numbers, though, in addition to a more efficient Z-Bo and aggressive Conley would likely result in a heck of a run in the West, possibly a top 4 seed. Which ties into my next wish...
For the Memphis Grizzlies to Win the NBA Championship-
A sweep of the hated Clippers in the first round, just because, with Marc undressing the "defensive player of the year" candidate DeAndre Jordan. A competitive series against the Rockets, winning in 6 on the back of a "vintage Z-Bo" appearance in Memphis against whoever the Rockets trot out to play the 4. A Western Conference Finals rematch, a chance at redemption culminating in an epic Game 7 victory in San Antonio in which Mike Conley arrives, dropping 30 points, 8 assists and 4 steals on Tony Parker.
And then, the NBA Finals against King James himself. The pomp and pageantry, the media raving about Beale Street blues and BBQ, seeing Bill Russell and other legends of the game at the FedEx Forum taking in championship basketball at its finest. A back and forth series, a LeBron game winner here, a "Jerryd Bayless Game" there. A Grizzlies chance to clinch in Game 6 at home...
The energy!!!! The fire of the Memphis crowd as the Forum waves their Growl Towels furiously, believing in their core that the harder they wave and the louder they scream, the more the Grizzlies will fight for them and the city. And the emotional explosion that would cause that building to shake to its foundation as the final horn sounds, and "All I Do is Win" pumps through the speakers and the confetti falls and the fans watch Marc Gasol hold up the Russell MVP trophy and Dave Joerger cradle the NBA championship, the realization of a dream...
What it would mean to a city striving to be better in so many ways to achieve this glory through a team that personifies it so well. What an experience that parade down Beale Street would be, past Silky O'Sullivans, down Main Street, all along Downtown Memphis as the ghosts of Elvis Presley and W.C. Handy, Danny Thomas and Otis Redding watch a city that their legacies are intertwined with unite and celebrate such a remarkable positive in a sea of negativity.
What civic good can come from a sports title? Can you measure what a championship would mean to a city like Memphis? It could well serve as a springboard into an unprecedented time of growth and cooperation, of pride and unity. It could well mean the beginning of something more, something that sports cannot deliver alone but can begin through raw emotion and belief. And belief, Memphians have in spades. All they need is something to believe in...
My hope for this season is that the belief, the wish, is finally realized.
Merry Grizzmas to all, and to all we wish heart, Grit and Grind.
More from Grizzly Bear Blues:
- NBA Fantasy Basketball: Battle of the Blues Draft Recap
- Ed Davis Fined $15K for Flagrant 2 on Donatas Motiejunas
- Grizzly Bear Blues Create-a-Caption #15 ::Championship Update!::
- 2013-14 NBA Fantasy Basketball: One-Stat Stars and Sleepers
- Grinding to a Halt: What's Wrong with the Memphis Grizzlies' Offense?