Time heals all wounds.
You'll always have more time than money in this life.
It's funny how time flies.
It's a race against time...
...ain't it the truth? Every bit of it has been whispered, screamed, hushed and humored from generation to generation. Time is a universal language; there may be different dialects, different accents, but all across the globe can comprehend the time, and times, that we measure our days by. This wobbling world spins on its axis around a star, bringing about the darkness and the light, and every living thing on Earth responds accordingly.
And every living thing eventually will run out of the most important resource-
...Now the time has come (Time)
There's no place to run (Time)
I might get burned up by the sun (Time)
But I had my fun (Time)
I've been loved and put aside (Time)
I've been crushed by the tumbling tide (Time)...
- Time Has Come Today, Chambers Brothers
Sports really are a reflection of life in a variety of ways. Adversity, agony, ecstasy and euphoria. Wins and losses roll from day to day, and the greatest victories and toughest losses all carry lessons...
...and all cost time. The one "person" who has never lost is Father Time. He has beaten some of the all-time great athletes: Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tiger Woods, the list goes on and on and on. Skill sets deteriorate,the body or mind fails, rendering the once seemingly invincible improbably average, weakened by the passing days and nights...
Teams have a shelf life as well. Whether it be the Yankees, Braves, Bulls, Lakers, Patriots, Cowboys, it doesn't matter. The time will come when the players who made these franchises great lose their powers and potentially take their beloved organizations down with them. They key for these teams is to cut away from emotion, to let go of those who made so much history and won so much for them before they are too far gone. Getting out the year before the bottom falls out.
The Memphis Grizzlies are not immune to this. An aging core (Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph) whose average age at the start of the 2015-2016 season will be 31.25 years old. A group of key role players in Beno Udrih (33 by the start of the season), Vince Carter (38), Courtney Lee (30) and Jeff Green (29) who are either past their prime or in the middle of it. Younger players like Jordan Adams, Russ Smith and Jarnell Stokes are the future, but they are likely not the immediate future (aside from perhaps Adams).
Father Time is undefeated. And he knows the Memphis Grizzlies all too well.
...Now you all would say, that you wanna be free
But you'll come running back (Like I said you would, baby)
You'll come running back (Like I told ya so many times before) You'll come running back to me, yeah...
- Time is On My Side, The Rolling Stones
"They're too old!"
"Dirk Nowitzki is past his prime, blow it up, trade him while he has value."
"This core doesn't have enough juice, a major move must be made."
Heading in to the 2010-2011 season, these quotes could be attributed to many observing the Dallas Mavericks. Since the Mavericks officially became "Dirk's Team" in the 2000-2001 season they had averaged 56.3 wins per season in 10 seasons, including three sixty win campaigns, one of which in 2006-2007 resulting in a 67-15 record and an NBA MVP award for Dirk. Historic franchise regular season success did not mean playoff runs of winning, however- four losses in those ten season in the first round, including a huge failure in that 06-07 season where the 8 seed Warriors sent the Mavericks home early. Four losses in the conference semifinals, one loss in the conference finals and one loss in the NBA Finals. No championships.
Time to blow it up?
Dallas resisted the urge. They held on to their aging core of Dirk, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry. They replaced around the edges, as ESPN's Bradley Doolittle discusses here, replacing Erick Dampier with Tyson Chandler, Drew Gooden with Brendan Haywood and relied on increased contributions from Caron Butler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson. Coaches changed through this time period (Don Nelson to Avery Johnson to Rick Carlisle), but Dirk and other key contributors stayed the same.
Then, 2010-2011? A championship. A banner. A ring. An unforgettable season in which they delayed the coming of the great Miami Heat dynasty and their supposed six or seven championships. All with a core of players with an average age of 32.4
Father Time is undefeated. But banners fly forever.
...Come out upon my seas
Cursed missed opportunities am I
A part of the cure
Or am I part of the disease, singing...
- Clocks, Coldplay
There are key differences between that Dallas Mavericks squad and the Memphis Grizzlies, of course. The best player on Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki, is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, arguably the greatest foreign-born player ever. Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies' star player, is the best Center in the game but he is likely a player at the peak of his powers, pushing himself to be the offensive weapon that he became this season beyond what most thought he could be. Gasol is neither Chandler nor Nowtizki; he is a hybrid of the two, a defensive monster who can control offensively, but not to the level of Dirk.
Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry. Kidd and Terry could convert from range, Shawn Marion was an athletic specimen who could play multiple positions. Conley, Allen and Randolph are much less versatile in terms of position, much less perimeter based offensively (Conley being the exception.) Jason Kidd, although he was beyond his best, was a future Hall of Famer in his own right.
Dallas had two Hall of Famers on that team. Memphis currently has one, if you count non-core member Vince Carter.
There are similarities, however. The core of Terry, Kidd and Dirk had been together for a few years, as has Memphis' famed "Grit and Grind" crew. They both enjoyed prolonged regular season success, and suffered character-testing postseason disappointments. Continuity is special for both a franchise and a fan base; it allows for a more real connection on a personal and professional level. Familiarity in an ever-changing landscape has to be worth something...right? Knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses, where they will be on the court before they even get there...there's an intrinsic value there.
Even Father Time can respect that.
...To take you in the sun to promised lands
To show you every one
It's the time of the season for loving...
- Time of the Season, The Zombies
The NBA that the Dallas Mavericks won a championship in is a distant memory, literal and figurative history. We now live in the valley of Warriors, in the realm of King James at the very height of his powers. Golden State's average age among their starting five for most of the season? 25. The "Big Three" of the Cleveland Cavaliers (Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James)? Their average age is 26. The Splash Brothers and LeBron and his court of Cavs rule, and will likely continue to rule, the NBA.
Can the Memphis Grizzlies beat time, talent and youth? A tall task. What makes Memphis so unique also makes them look more and more like an antique. They boast a style of play that hearkens back to yesteryear, to a time when the three-point shot was a luxury and not the weapon of choice. These Grizzlies are ill-equipped it would seem to attack these younger lions, whose skill and athleticism leaves the world in awe...
Except, of course, for the fact that that cohesion brings hope. Over the past ten seasons (according to ESPN the Magazine's Jordan Brenner) "NBA champions have entered the playoffs with fewer than one new starter from the previous year." Assuming that the Grizzlies hold on to the "Core Four", while potentially moving other pieces outside of that circle, one new starter would enter (hopefully one with a distinct offensive skill set) and that camaraderie and trust that exists in that Grizzlies' locker room remains in tact.
No rebuild. No need to say "wait until next year", or "our time will come." The time could be now...it has to be now.
Five years of Grit and Grind. Where does the time go?
...I, I'm a new day rising
I'm a brand new sky that
Hang the stars upon tonight
I, I'm a little divided
Do I stay or run away?
And leave it all behind
It's times like these
You learn to live again
It's times like these
You give and give again
It's times like these
You learn to love again
It's times like these
Time and time again...
- Times Like These, Foo Fighters
It's a delicate balance, running an NBA franchise. You constantly race against the clock, competing against 29 other franchises and yourself, against human emotion and cold, calculated numbers. In Memphis, the Grizzlies continue to run in to the wall of sustained regular season success without breaking through in to the world of basketball giants, the NBA Finals. The best there has ever been in the Bluff City may not be good enough to reach this place, to take that final step. Time is running out.
But the resource they are dangerously low on may well be what will take them where they ultimately want, and need, to go. Another year in the journey of the Grit and the Grind, another year of Z-Bo and Wendigo and Captain Clutch and Grindfathers. The 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks, regardless of differences, give those of us who believe in Memphis and these Grizzlies deliciously dangerous hope.
Belief that one more run, the re-signing of Marc Gasol, increased minutes for Jordan Adams here, a Jeff Green contract year there, a masterful working of the mid-level exception, a good draft pick/trade involving the pick and then, a year later..
A moment, frozen in time, of pure happiness. Memphis' time in the Sun. No belittling, no judgment. Unadulterated respect for all the effort, the blood, the sweat, the tears. All of the investment, the worry over a team potentially on its way out of town, let go in one united moment of sheer joy. So much time...so worth it. To prove everyone wrong, that there was indeed time left for these Grizzlies. So sweet.
Belief remains. It wanes, but it's still there.
It just needs a little more time.