Dear Memphis Grizzlies' Fans,
Success can be defined in a multitude of ways. What constitutes as successful varies from situation to situation. The root of defining success must start with expectations. With higher expectations, there are stricter guidelines as to achieving success. By all accounts, the Memphis Grizzlies have been extremely successful over the last four seasons.
In fact, the Grizzlies have achieved unprecedented success. Just think about where they came from. During their first two seasons in Memphis, the Grizzlies won a combined 51 games. (They won 50 last season.) Then between 2003-2006 the Grizzlies made three consecutive playoff appearances only to be swept each year by the Spurs, Suns, and Mavericks, respectively.
It was fun making the playoffs those years, wasn't it? I remember that being the first time the 'growel towel' made an appearance. But how can a 0-12 playoff record be successful? Well, by today's Grizzlies' standards, it's not, but those were the first three appearances the Grizzlies' organization had ever made the playoffs. (In Vancouver, the franchise's best season was the 2000-2001 season in which the team managed to go 23-59)
After the back-to-back-to-back playoff runs (if you can call them runs), well the poop kind of hit the fan, as they like to say. 178 losses over a 3 year span. Yikes. I think we all try to forget those years, don't we? Well, at least I do. The team was a complete wreck. At that point, I think we were all hoping the ping-pong balls would fall our way for once, and the Grizzlies could land a cornerstone, franchise type player. They never did happen, though.
Things began to look bright again during the 2009-2010 season. The Grizzlies did not make the playoffs, but they did manage to improve their win total by 16 games from the previous season which I think could be classified as a success. Which brings us to the current run of success the Grizzlies have enjoyed: four consecutive playoff appearances, a 21-21 playoff record during that span, and 3 playoff series wins, including a trip to the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
It feels like this is the new norm in Grizzly land. The team will play tough, gritty basketball, and they'll have a shot to make a deep playoff run annually. And, honestly, that is probably true for the next few seasons. Despite some uncertainty surrounding the team with the contracts of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley set to expire, the team, as currently constructed, seems to be operating in a 3 year window. So over the next 3 years, we as Grizzlies' fans should expect similar or better results than we've seen over the last four seasons.
But then what happens once that 3 year window expires? Zach Randolph cannot continue to be the team's go-to option offensively. I know he has a game that translates well with an aging player, but father time is undefeated in the game of life. He got Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird with age, so I see no reason why Zach would be an exception. What about Marc? Well the same goes for him. He'll presumably sign a big new contract sometime either this December or next offseason, and that could be his last big deal. He's rapidly approaching the age of 30, and many 7-footers really diminish quickly once they hit that milestone.
Much like Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol's game is not predicated on athleticism, so it should translate well with age, but father time will, too, get Marc before long. Tony Allen, a true fan favorite, is in the same boat as Marc and Zach. How long can he continue to lock up some of the league's elite scorers on a night-in-and-night-out basis? Probably not very much longer and certainly not beyond the 3 year window.
Mike Conley is the youngest of the core group of players who have led the Grizzlies to heights never before achieved. Mike will be around much longer than Zach, Marc, or Tony, but he can't do it by himself. Even though Mike Conley has seemingly put himself in amongst the top 10 point guards in the league, he cannot lead a team without any help.
So why do I say all of this? It feels like the core of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen has been here forever, but let me assure you of this: they won't be here till the end of time. Remember just a few years back when Tayshaun Prince was much younger and far more athletic, and the Detroit Pistons were making run after run after run to the Eastern Conference Finals? Between 2002-2008 the Detroit Pistons made 6 straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances including winning the 2003-2004 NBA Title. Today, Detroit's fortunes are far different. They've had 6 consecutive losing seasons, and they haven't made the playoffs in 5 years. They seem like almost a lock to make the a 6th straight season without postseason basketball in the Motor City.
Do you think Pistons' fans thought the success they had would last forever? Probably not, but when you're in the moment, it's tough to appreciate that success. Now I can guarantee you they'd love to be in the Grizzlies' position. The Pistons are perennial bottom feeders in a weak Eastern Conference.
Take it back just a few years before the Pistons really got rolling, and look at the Sacramento Kings. Between 1998-2006 the Sacramento Kings made the playoffs 8 straight times. They made it to the Western Conference Semi-Finals 4 straight years which included a trip to the 2001-2002 Western Conference Finals. They never could seem to get past the Kobe and Shaq led L.A. Lakers' teams, though. Since those 8 straight playoff appearances, the Kings have missed the playoffs and finished with a losing record for 8 straight seasons, and allow me to go out on a very short limb and say they will make it a 9th consecutive this year.
Those late 90's-early 2000's Kings' teams with Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Peja Stojakovic were so much fun to watch, and they were really, really good. The Kings we know in today's NBA are one of the laughing stocks of the entire league. They are considered one of the worst run franchises in not only the NBA but in all of sports. No one can seem to figure out what this team is doing with their roster or in which direction they're headed, and this was the same team that was one of the most feared Western Conference monsters during their 8 year playoff run.
If you even hit rewind a bit further, you'll find the New York Knicks. Between 1987-2001 the New York Knicks made 14 straight playoff appearances that included 2 trips to the NBA Finals. While the Knicks were never able to break through and win an NBA Titles, they were still arguably one of the top 2 Eastern Conference teams during that span. In the 13 years after the tremendous playoff success, the Knicks have only had 3 seasons with winning records and have only made the playoffs 4 times. In those 4 playoff appearances, they've only advanced past the 1st round one time.
The Knicks are similar to the Kings in that they both have been very poorly run and owned in the last several years. The Knicks have brought in Phil Jackson to run their basketball operations, and the Kings have sold the team away from the Maloofs. The Pistons have some promising young talent, but it has not resulted in regular season or postseason success, yet.
All three teams are shells of what they once used to be. They powerhouse franchises during their hay day, but today they struggle just to stay out of the lottery, and they're 3 fan-bases that desperately wish to get back to their winning ways of old.
To bring my letter full circle, don't become complacent with the recent success the Memphis Grizzlies have enjoyed. What makes this team so great is that we embrace the underdog role. We pack the FedExForum, and it has now become known as the Grindhouse. Teams fear having to play the Grizzlies in the playoffs because of their style of play and their hornet's nest of an arena.
This city has so much burning passion for not only the Grizzlies but the game of basketball, too. As soon as it became clear back in 2011 that the Grizzlies were going to make the playoffs, this city became Grizz crazy, and once we got our first playoff win in San Antonio, it was an all out Grizz epidemic. That epidemic has carried itself all the way into the heartbreaking loss the Grizzlies suffered in Round 1 of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
In 2009, there was no such thing as #GrizzNation. I remember going to games at the Pyramid or the early years of the Forum, and I could move down into some pretty good seats by the second quarter because the arena was half full on most nights. Now, we sell out multiple regular season games every year and every home playoff game is filled to the brim.
Soak this all in. Enjoy every moment. It won't always be like this. Marc, Zach, Mike, and Tony won't run through that tunnel as "We Don't Bluff" blares through the speakers at the FedEx Forum forever. The GrindHouse won't always been live up to its name. It's kind of difficult to be a "GrindHouse" for a 25 win team.
I don't write this to depress you although some of you are probably feeling that way right about now. I write this to remind you how good we've got it. Guys like Marc, Zach, Mike, and Tony don't come around too often. They changed the culture here in Memphis, and we've embraced them.
So enjoy it, GrizzNation. Enjoy these moments and memories because there's no guarantee it will ever be like this again. While I trust Robert Pera and his front office staff, the reality is, at some point, a rebuild will be necessary, and it won't be fun. But I'll tell you what, it sure is fun right now, and I'm going to enjoy it.