Training camp is typically an optimistic occasion for sports teams. Everyone is undefeated. The banter can be concentrated on the possibly lauded or dreaded "p" word ... potential. The conversation can also be focused around maintaining or exceeding recent success, which is where the Memphis Grizzlies stand as they go into the 2013-14 NBA season.
Let's take a minute to soak that in. The Memphis Grizzlies are now coming off a third consecutive playoff appearance, with an expected fourth appearance to come this season. Not only are we in the echelon of legitimate playoff contenders, we are currently in a window of championship contention. The Memphis Grizzlies have a legitimate team that is worthy of competing for the whole shebang. This is a new era of basketball for a team that, for so long, seemed to be on the track of waiting for a lottery pick a la Michael Jordan/Lebron James to ever have a hope at being a true contender.
In typical Memphis fashion, we've made due with what we've had. Which, although it may be a history that includes some wasted, high draft picks, is a past that hasn't been incredibly fortunate in the grand scheme of things (we're not Cleveland, who got Lebron, lost him and then managed another two #1 overall picks since then). Outside of the draft, we've managed about the best we can. Hey, Allen Iverson wanted to come here (for a couple of weekends of Tunica, at the least). We've tried to throw our names into the "big name" hat on a few occasions. We even overpaid Rudy Gay by forty million dollars in the attempt that we could conjure a franchise-saving-superstar.
Funny thing is, we may have just been trying too hard all along. All along --> i.e., ever since we figured out Pau wasn't going to lead us to a
championship conference final playoff win. Michael Heisley couldn't wait for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to develop into the players they are now (or were 2 years ago, really), and he tried with every bit of his knowhow to transform the Grizzlies into a contender, the same way someone tries to overcome a gambling debt: roll the dice, roll 'em big and often.
From what I can tell, Michael Heisley hit big on some and came up embarrassingly short on others. Conley, Gasol, Allen, Randolph are all on his clock, in fact, very little of the current Grizzlies roster has been selected by Robert Pera's ownership. But it's been more about how those players have been utilized since, rather than how they have altered the roster.
Make no mistake, Jason Levien and co. drastically changed the chemistry of the team in a two week period that traded a marquee starter and two key backups for what essentially amounted to a mediocre Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis' potential fermenting on the bench. But, by God, if we didn't reach the Western Conference Finals, and in definitive fashion (regardless of other teams' hardships). People may claim we survived despite not having Rudy Gay, but there's definitive proof that we excelled specifically because we did not have Rudy Gay. We didn't get lucky, we got better.
That's making the best of what you have, that's how it's done in Memphis, Tennessee.
So here we stand, going into the 2013-14 NBA season not hoping to tank to grab a top lottery pick, but grabbing on to a different, distant hope. Can our new coach lead us? Can we absolve our weaknesses from last season? Can we make some frakkin' 3 pointers? Can we execute this new style of play that Dave Joerger talks about? Can we be great??
We have a whole season to find those answers, but from my heart to your eyes, it feels really good to be asking a different set of questions these days.
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