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2011 Memphis Grizzlies Preview... For A Theoretical Season.


Team Name: The Memphis Grizzlies

Last Year’s Record: 46-36

Key Free Agents: Marc Gasol, Shane Battier, and a few interesting club options (Sam Young, Darrell Arthur, O.J. Mayo)

Team Needs: Marc Gasol, a healthy Rudy Gay

1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?

Take a wild guess. The Grizzlies need to match, likely better, or if necessary make as many irresistible bribes as they can to best any offer made to restricted free agent center Marc Gasol. Memphis’s foundation, the one that came a game away from the Western Conference Finals last year, was set with Gasol smack dab in the middle. His ability to take scoring opportunities as they present themselves while consistently tending to other areas of the game - solid rebounding, smart passing and defending the paint - works in harmony with Zach Randolph’s high-volume, high-exposure approach.

The Grizzlies, with a hopefully healthy Rudy Gay - the other notable need - fully recovered and filling the scoring need in the backcourt, have the look of a team with few weak spots and nowhere to go but up, provided they can remain the same Grizzlies we saw in the spring. Keeping Gasol would mean keeping intact a big portion of who they were. That’s right where they want to be.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)

Not to sound like Michael Scott here, but the Grizzlies’ biggest strength last season could become the biggest weakness depending on how long the lockout drags on and on how much one believes momentum can last. Memphis caught fire towards the regular season’s end and into the postseason because their style of play developed into something recognizable. Even if what we were seeing was oftentimes on-court craziness, we could still pick it out as such. They played and played-out the "Grit and Grind" theme, punishing the opposition inside with diverse ways of attacking the rim. Defensively they played with an opportunistic reckless abandon, always looking to turn a snowball into an avalanche.

And I don’t necessarily believe that a surge of momentum, however you want to define it, can carry over from one season to the next, but it’s worth remembering that what the Grizzlies formed in the springtime doesn’t have the support of even a few years worth of experience behind it. This was something growing stronger right before us, right before the lockout. Can they pick up where they left off, or will the Grizzlies have to relearn some of what made them so dangerous? And will they be doing so with or without last season’s roster intact? Their biggest strength was the whole that the parts developed into, through getting to know each other on the floor. The most glaring weakness I can see, so far, is that they can’t continue the process.

Oh, and also, they aren’t too good as a team shooting from long-range.

3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?

I’m assuming that even the most stringent of supporters for the power of momentum will concede that all its power would be sapped should we lose an entire NBA season. With that out the window, I still see the Grizzlies in good shape for 2012; the big caveat remaining that Gasol is resigned. If that happens, I’ll have high hopes for this team whenever they tip-off. If it doesn’t, hey, it’s a long way away; at least I can put off thinking about it for awhile.

And of course, this would give an entire team of professional basketball players loads of free time, with European and Chinese leagues knocking on doors as well as whatever else may happen when guys with a bunch of money and time get bored. So yeah, the Grizzlies look pretty well set up for 2012 for now, but that’s one of those bridges we’ll have to cross at a later time.

4. If you could make one change to the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?

Other than making it so that it existed? Actually, that’s pretty much the only change I’d make at this point. Well that and the hope that, should revenue sharing be implemented, owners will spend their money in smarter ways, with some degree of thought or rationale included. This along with changes such as shortened contracts would make it easier for franchises with smaller payrolls to be afforded some room for error, which is, I believe, a good thing. Funny coming from the Grizzlies blog, I know.

5. If one were to power rank the Western Conference as of right now, where do the Grizzlies stand?

I’d put the Grizzlies jostling between the fourth and fifth spot with the Denver Nuggets, behind the Dallas Mavericks (for obvious reasons), Oklahoma City Thunder (for Kevin Durant reasons), and Los Angeles Lakers (for Hey, They’re Still the Lakers reasons).

Memphis was the eighth seed in a bunched-up bottom of the Western Conference playoffs last season, with a team that handed the San Antonio Spurs plenty of question marks and appears, with a more complete starting five with Gay back in the fold and a feisty, improving young bench, stronger top-to-bottom than the Portland Trail Blazers or New Orleans Hornets at this time.

Consistency over a full season, injuries, and the random ebbs and flows of a regular season will always factor in, but given how the Grizzlies ended last season, there’s plenty of reason for heightened expectations in Memphis. Hopefully by the time they start playing, we can remember why.