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The 5 Stories that will define the 2012 Season

This is it. After months of being locked out and patiently waiting for this mess to get fixed, we are on the eve of the NBA season. Oh yeah, it's the eve of Christmas too.

Because I simply need an outlet to leak my excitement, I sat down and considered the top five stories that will make or break the Grizzlies season. More after the jump.

1. Rudy's Back.
Darn right, he's back! The 6 - 8, 230 lb forward for the Grizzlies is playing in his first official competitive game since shoulder surgery in February 2011. Leading up to the shoulder surgery, Gay averaged close to 20 points and a little over 6 rebounds. Some say that the Grizzlies wouldn't have made the playoffs if Gay didn't have season-ending surgery. The optimistic crowd, however, feels differently - combine Randolph and Gasol's playoff performances with Rudy Gay's skill and the Grizzlies would have been toe to toe with the Mavs. Either way, he's back, and he's going to instill hope.

2. Michael Conley's Rise to Maturity
Michael Conley is slowly starting to prove that he did indeed deserve his controversial contract. The point guard played like a veteran during the playoffs last year and directed the floor with composure. He's entering his fifth season in a Grizzlies uniform on December 26. I plan on seeing Conley continue to step into his role as a leader amongst the team.

3. Where's OJ by the trade deadline?
There have been rumors of OJ being traded for months. Then, a couple weeks ago, a trade "happened" with Indiana then suddenly disappeared, some say due to Arthur's season-ending injury. Regardless, will he be in a Grizzlies uniform come the March 15 trade deadline? Sources say yes. But who knows anymore? It's OJ.

4. Continued Dominance down low by Z-Bo and Gasol.
The Grizzlies number one concern in the 2011 off-season was signing the number one free agent Marc Gasol. They nailed it with a four year, $58 million contract - the 7-1 center is back. Combine the long-term contract with Z-Bo's, Rudy's, and Conley's, and the core guys that led the Grizzlies to the Western Conference semifinals are back. Gasol's entering his fourth season averaging 11.7 points, 7 rebounds, and roughly 1.7 blocks. Not good enough? His playoff numbers - 15 points and 11.2 rebounds.

5. The Bench.
Hate to end the article on a negative note, but the weakness again this year for the Grizzlies has to be the lack of depth on the bench. With Shane Battier and Darrell Arthur gone, the Grizzlies quickly responded with signing free-agent Dante Cunningham and trading for Quincy Pondexter. Will it be enough? In the end, it's going to the bench and new guys like Josh Selby stepping up that will define the quality of the bench.

Here's to a good season, Grizz fans. Time to shine.