What We Talk About When We Talk About Game Two

Stephen Dunn

Some thoughts on what we were really seeing last night, and a couple of ways this is going to play out.

Tom Ziller has a great piece up on the mothersite right now. It’s got a title that I almost can’t bring myself to type: The potential end of the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph era.

Steel yourselves, Griz fans:

Instead, Gay never actually recovered from his cursed 2011 shoulder injury, looked more like a cap liability every day and was traded to the starstruck Raptors. But Z-Bo has also struggled after his knee injury last season. Like Gay, the post-injury drop in efficiency is starting to look something like permanent. Randolph is 31. He’s due $34.3 million over the next two seasons. That’s superstar money. His post-injury production suggests he is an above-average, sub-star player.

Ziller goes on to point out that the Grizzlies, under the new management of Jason Levien, Stu Lash, and John Hollinger brought in by new majority owner Robert Pera…

already traded one above-average, sub-star player.

I love Zach Randolph. Warts and all. I love that he came to Memphis as a guy that nobody wanted and nobody believed in, and that this city embraced him and he embraced this city, and together, Z-Bo and Memphis have reached places together that neither one would have imagined for themselves. Memphis is a town that loves characters, and a town that goes out of its way to overlook the flaws of those characters.

Zach Randolph fits in Memphis. It’s a city that’s ready to let him represent us, because he doesn’t bluff. He’s rough around the edges. He’ll beat your ass. He’s got a dark past. It’s cool. So do we. Years worth of baggage.

When we look back on this playoff series, I have a sneaking suspicion that we might be watching the end of an era for the Memphis Grizzlies.

One issue is that Lionel Hollins hasn’t always gotten along with the new front office, which we’ve covered pretty extensively. He’s won games, and he’s pulled the team together, but there’s an undercurrent of uncertainty in Grizz Nation these days about whether or not he’s (1) really the guy to take the Grizzlies to the "next level" and (2) whether he’s going to be here next year even if maybe he can be that guy.

Whether or not he’s the guy, aren’t we all getting a little tired of the way he manages player development? How many times can we scream "why isn’t he playing Ed Davis?" or "Why isn’t he playing Tony Wroten?" or "Why is Keyon Dooling out there getting slaughtered by Eric Bledsoe?" before we get sick of it? Hasn’t everything since last year’s Clippers series been about whether or not Hollins will manage lineups effectively? Don’t you feel the nagging doubt that he’s going to do it in Game 3 on Thursday night?

There’s a second issue, and that’s this: the Grizzlies’ bench is garbage, and has been for a long, long time. The last decent backup point guard the Grizzlies had was Greivis Vasquez, and Hollins distrusted him so much he brought in Jason Williams late in the season. The Grizzlies’ bench was terrible last year. The Grizzlies’ bench has had about 300 different guys on it this year, so how would we know if they’re any good?

I think Jerryd Bayless has earned a stake in the future of the Grizzlies. I think Ed Davis is a major part of the future of the Grizzlies. I also think Tony Wroten can be a major part of the future of the Grizzlies. The rest of ’em? Honestly? I don’t know.

Looking at the depth of the Clippers’ bench, a team with maybe the worst owner in professional sports, one wonders: How many years have the Grizzlies been in the playoff hunt? (Answer: four) and why is the bench still only marginally better than radioactive dog crap? This team has needed a deep-threat shooting guard off the bench for a long time. And yet we’ve spent this season packing the bench with big guys like Dexter Pittman, Jon Leuer, Willie Reed, and Donté Greene who are getting no playing time and not improving.

Chris Johnson played great on his first 10-day, struggled early in his second, and then Hollins just sat him down, never to return.

Underneath all of this is the third, and largest issue: it absolutely breaks my heart to even think about typing this, but Zach Randolph of 2011 is never coming back. He just isn’t. The knee injury blew that Zach Randolph away, and it’s never going to be the same. This year, an ankle injury in a game against the Heat took Randolph back down to "injured Zach" status. He looked like he was finally reemerging as Playoff Z-Bo last night in the third quarter, and he reinjured his ankle.

This is the reality. Athletes can’t play at the same level forever. A guy like Z-Bo, whose game relies so much on straight-up bullying people, starts to get his shot blocked an awful lot once he starts to lose—through injury—what little bit of lift he had to begin with. The Grizzlies, however, are paying him too much money to be able to pretend things are fine. The same way Rudy Gay hamstrung the Grizzlies’ payroll in exchange for poor performance, Z-Bo could prevent the Grizzlies from being able to put together a successful team—that is, to improve upon the first two things I talked about.

As much as it sucks, there’s a very real possibilty that this is the end of an era.

What’s even more depressing, in its way, is that even if this season isn’t the end, there will be an end. Eventually, entropy takes its course. Fall breaks into winter.

It's not like the team's going to burn to the ground, of course; Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are locked up for a while. There are things here to build around, for sure. But getting from here to there is not going to be particularly enjoyable for a fanbase that loves Zach Randolph, first and foremost because he loves us back.

That’s what we talk about when we talk about Game 2: an indicator that what we see before us now—this particular configuration of this particular basketball team—is ephemeral, no matter how this particular series turns out.

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