It's September, which means that we're only a month or so away from the first rumblings of the coming NBA season. It's been forever since the last game the Grizzlies played in the Western Conference Finals, and it feels like things are different since then. Like maybe this team isn't the same one from last year in ways that we don't yet understand.
Here are some of the questions facing the Grizzlies as we head into the final stretch of the offseason:
What is the offense going to look like?
New head coach Dave Joerger has consistently talked about "picking up the pace," and he's said a lot of things about the Grizzlies having to get into their offensive sets more quickly. Part of me wishes there were a YouTube compilation called "Mike Conley Dribbles At The Top of the Key" for last season; it'd be a lot longer than any of us would like to admit.
The thing about the Grizzlies picking up the pace, though, is personnel. Marc Gasol is a freak of nature and a truly elite basketball player, but he ain't Usain Bolt. And have you seen Zach Randolph before? The two "twin towers" of the Griz offense aren't guys that are going to get out in transition and run up and down the floor every possession. It just isn't going to happen.
Either way, though, you have to figure the offense is going to be better than it was last year. Joerger is a young guy who understands where the NBA is at right now. Henry Bibby isn't going to be drawing up all of the plays, because he's gone just like Lionel Hollins is gone. The pieces of the roster that have been swapped out and/or added mostly look to be upgrades, which is a nice segue into the second question:
Is Nick Calathes going to be a good backup PG?
He's been great in Euroleague and Eurocup. Folks remember him from college at Florida. But he's never played in the NBA. He's got a great skill set that means he could be the first non-crappy backup pointguard on the Grizzlies since Greivis Vasquez (and we all know how that ended up) but he's also completely unproven.
The perceived lack of development by Tony Wroten (and/or the lack of enthusiasm for sitting around and waiting on him to develop) means that he now plays for the 76ers, and that leaves the backup point spot wide open for Calathes. It's his. This is his big opportunity, with Wroten out of the way. We'll just have to wait and see whether he's really going to pan out—I tend to think he will, of course, but my point is that it's still not decided.
Will Zach Randolph be in a Griz uniform at the end of the year?
This is the nineteen-million-dollar question hanging over every move the Grizzlies make between now and the trade deadline of 2014: Are the Grizzlies going to hang on to Z-Bo for the rest of his contract, or will they move him? If they move him, when is it going to be? Some of the moves the Grizzlies have made recently (the Donte Greene for Fab Melo swap, trading Wroten for essentially nothing) have looked like little moves to get out of the luxury tax and create flexibility for a bigger move.
We all know the details of the Z-Bo story, right? As he ages, he's clearly got a contract that is worth more than his production, but by how much? What do the Grizzlies gain by trading away Randolph now, and how does it compare to what they lose?
My gut feeling is that Randolph gets traded in January or February, and if he doesn't, I think it'll happen this summer. But—if I'm honest—no outcome would surprise me. They could trade him tomorrow, or they could let him play out that contract. (Okay, maybe that outcome would surprise me.) It's a question that you're going to see more and more of as the season goes on, until it finally gets answered.
Is Ed Davis going to step up?
Ed Davis is widely regarded as the Grizzlies' Power Forward of the Future, but he didn't exactly look the part in his Hollins-limited minutes last year. He's got great numbers, but he's still not able to use his athleticism to keep from getting shoved out of position on the blocks, and he still doesn't really know where to stand on defense (cue the film of Marc Gasol literally shoving Davis into his spot under an opponent's basket). Davis was the major piece the Griz wanted in return for Rudy Gay, and the world is his, if he can step up and take it. And that's a pretty big if.
There have been a lot of questions about Davis' work ethic and his motor, and about whether he's got the maturity he needs to take a leadership role on a contending NBA team. I think he needs to start answering those questions this year, but I also think he's got a whole world of upside if he puts in the work to improve. One of the big storylines for the Grizzlies this year will be Davis' development, and whether he's "ready" or not.
What about the fans?
This is a topic nobody likes to talk about, but what about all of those fans that had a rally in downtown Memphis to keep Lionel Hollins as the head coach? If the Grizzlies trade away Zach Randolph months after canning Lionel Hollins just weeks after the team was in the Western Conference Finals, will that jeopardize the growing fan support for the team?
FedExForum is a madhouse during the playoffs, but we've yet to reach the point where it's a madhouse every single game. Some of those Tuesday nights in February feel a little empty still, and there are still a lot of LeBron and Kobe jerseys making appearances. The team has certainly captured the imagination of the city, but what happens if they only win 50 games this year? Will those same people renew season tickets? Are these new-found Griz fans going to stick around when/if the going gets tough?
Of course, if the team comes out and rips off another 12-2 start, I don't think we'll continue that conversation. But there's going to be an adjustment period, and I hope that doesn't turn into a backlash from folks who are the biggest Grizzlies fans in the world... ...during the playoffs only.
That said, even if it does, I think the team has made enough progress building a core fanbase that it won't matter. But it will definitely be interesting to watch.
These storylines are all going to keep popping up this season. You may get tired of hearing about them, but they'll probably never be far from the surface. There are many unanswered questions about the season the Grizzlies are about to get into. In many ways, this season could be a defining one for the new ownership group, front office, and coaching staff. A setting of the tone.
What questions do you have? What did I miss?