The clock is ticking.
Kevin Lipe, formerly of GBB and now of the Memphis Flyer's "Beyond The Arc" blog, clearly understands this. His article from today, titled "Are the Grizzlies Getting Better?", calls into question the moves (or lack thereof) being made to make Memphis better this coming season. In the wake of the rapid movement of the NBA Draft and Zach Randolph contract extension there has been a ton of good vibes in Grizz Nation. The gang is getting back together, Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes were highly rated on the Grizzlies Big Board on draft night, the future is bright!
A step back and a deep breath would call that thought into question. Free Agency has begun, and due to Zach Randolph's extension including him opting in to this season's player option at $16.5 million Memphis is unable to be a true player in the market. The roster has a glaring hole at Small Forward, and while Quincy Pondexter and Tony Allen could potentially fill that role it is not ideal for a team whose owner has stated his goal is to bring a championship to Memphis in the next three seasons.
If you are a believer in the "core four" idea, as most fans are and apparently the Front Office is, this three season number is key because that is the length of the Zach Randolph and Tony Allen contracts. For two players who have already shown signs of health concerns and declining production, this is realistically their last three seasons in Memphis and potentially playing basketball, at least at a high level. How will 33% of that window, this coming year, be spent? Lipe is not so sure...
...but the truth of the matter is that the Grizzlies don't have any cap room left, not enough to make a splash in free agency.
Which is a problem-if not this year, than for the future of this multi-year Grizzlies run.
It is a problem. As the years go on, the possibility that this team as presently constructed has reached its ceiling is becoming more and more likely. If you are satisfied with first round exits and being competitive in the loaded Western Conference, you may be more apt to want to hold on to that status quo. The words of Robert Pera go against that line of thinking though- a championship is the endgame. Despite those words, as Lipe puts it...
The Grizzlies, it seems, are basically running the same team back out and hoping that there aren't any midseason injuries that tank their playoff seeding again.
The counter to the anti-"status-quo" argument is that this team was not healthy this past year, that the Quincy Pondexter injury had just as much (if not more) to do with Tayshaun Prince playing as anything. The possibility that a healthy Gasol all season long puts Memphis against Houston or Portland in the first round, not fighting to avoid the eventual World Champion San Antonio Spurs just to play the MVP Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, also gets mentioned in the "bring em' all back as is and make a run" line of thinking.
This is all well and good, but remember that injury (Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook) can at least be used to partially explain the run that Memphis made in 2013. That run gives so many fans hope that this group of beloved Grizzlies can get the job done. However, how much was it the Grizzlies and how much was it the window opening perfectly at the right time? Is it indeed possible, as Bill Simmons stated before the start of this past season, that Grit and Grind has missed its best chance?
The Western Conference, when healthy, is not going anywhere and is improving, as Lipe points out. The Warriors have made moves to improve already, the Rockets and the Clippers are active in talks with multiple teams and the Trailblazers have a sound young core that is on the upswing, unlike Memphis' aging group. The Spurs, while old, are also still the Spurs and are positioned to make yet another run. Oklahoma City is going nowhere as long as they have Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Even the Pelicans, a team Memphis struggled with last season, have improved with the addition of Omer Asik. The West is growing stronger.
And here stands Memphis, whose biggest additions so far have been at best this coming season a rotation smaller wing in Jordan Adams and a fourth big in Jarnell Stokes. Could they be bigger contributors in the future? Absolutely, but that is time that this core group of Grizzlies does not have. The Z-Bo opt-in has forced Memphis to not have as much ability to sign free agents. Because of this, hoping to bring back an aging Mike Miller may be the best the Grizzlies can do. Miller's shooting is valuable but at what cost? Will the return of Mike Miller get Memphis that much closer to a championship with the roster as constructed?
No, it won't.
It is true that the finances of the roster are set up as such that next Summer, when Tayshaun Prince's $7.7 million and $6.5 million of Zach Randolph come off the books, real cap space will be available to add help. Again, though, it feels as if there is an assumption that last year's team can come back and be just as good if not better, and that is a dangerous road to go down without any improvements now. As for 2015, what about the distinct possibility that it will be another year of decline for Z-Bo and TA? Randolph and Allen will be another year older in 2015, another year closer to the end of their careers. This is not Houston, or the Clippers or Pelicans, where superstars are rising or in their prime. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are, but outside of them? Declining starters and role players abound. It is hard to win championships this way.
The final paragraph of Lipe's piece is especially telling.
My worry is this: running it back this year might be fun to watch, but I don't think it'll end well-but given the salary constraints, the Grizzlies may already be locked in to that path. Trying to repeat past successes without adapting for the present is an endeavor almost certainly doomed to fail. As my old pal Heraclitus said, you can't step into the same river twice.
Tony Allen is a great example of this; as Lipe writes in his full post, while his stock is soaring after defending Kevin Durant so well in the playoffs he is aging and has a game dependent on movement, intensity and athleticism. When is it time to move on from a 32 year old player with three years left on his deal whose game likely will deteriorate? Will he be able to accept a lesser role consistently? Is it worth going through a down future of TA out of supposed respect for the past?
Greek philosophy aside, the brutal truth is laid out here. Sentimentalists will love seeing the tried and true "Grit and Grind" Grizzlies run out on the court again come the home opener in late October or early November, and it may well be that that is the best that can be done. It is important to understand that past successes do not guarantee future ones; the NBA landscape around Memphis continues to evolve, and the Grizzlies for now appear to be locked in to the past. Athleticism and shooting have yet to be added, and hopes are pinned to players who are coming off of serious injury or are more than likely about to begin a serious decline.
You adapt, or you perish; that is the premise behind Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution. The Grizzlies have yet to adapt, and if they fail to (as Lipe states and I agree) Robert Pera's championship aspirations will fall short. Time is of the essence. I just hope the Grizzlies don't plan for a future with an aging core only to find out time has run out on them when it is too late to fix it. The current championship window is closing, Mr. Pera. Adapt or perish.
The clock is ticking.