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Confronting Grizzlies existentialism: Why we watch, and what we root for

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Alternative title: We'll never win a ring and this is what I'm telling myself to feel better about it.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Yesterday, CBS Sports' Matt Moore wrote about the Memphis Grizzlies' perennial endgame: to be good, but not good enough in the West. He touched on a number of micro topics, like addressing the Grizzlies' constant need for shooting, and ended on a relatively optimistic note, but what I personally left with after reading was a sense of existential dread: that the era of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley will probably end without a ring.

The Warriors were straight-up better. Golden State was optimized for 3-point shooting, were phenomenal defensively and most importantly, healthy, which caused all those problems with Memphis. In the end, the Warriors were the better team. That's why they won the title.

And that, above everything else, is Memphis' biggest problem going forward. The rest of the league is just too good.

-Grizzlies good, but not good enough; still need luck in wild West - CBSSports.com

This is nothing new, but it's something that we as Grizzlies fans are nervous to confront. It sure is depressing that we can picture how this era will probably fade out.

The Grizzlies will continue their struggle as a good-not-great contender, coming up close but empty-handed every year. Randolph, then Gasol, then Mike Conley will age out of their primes while the team slowly reclines into mediocrity. Only after years of prolonged struggle will the Grizzlies give in to beginning the rebuilding process, and rebuilding is death.

We're already in the first stage of that scenario, and we have been for some time. It's been two years since the Grizzlies made the Western Conference Finals, and they've stagnated since. As far as building around Gasol, Randolph and Conley goes, they've probably hit their ceiling. More shooting and/or a really good wing would be nice, but getting Luol Deng or Joe Johnson over the last 12 months wouldn't really have changed this team's status relative to other contenders.

Here's what I've noticed: this isn't such a grim fate after all. As a Grizzlies fan, I've had to come to grips with the reason I watch, and I think this is true for fans of any other team that isn't a frequent contender.

Maybe the Grizzlies will need a lot of luck to ever win a ring in this era, but as long as there's a chance, there's a reason and that's what our enjoyment is really contingent upon. Even if they top out with a five-percent chance at winning the title, that'll do.

If you have some pieces, you're almost there, and if you're almost there, you go for it — even if the chances of toppling a superpower are slim. "If you've got even a 5 percent chance to win the title — and that group includes a very small number of teams every year — you've gotta be focused all on winning the title," says Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Mark Cuban, the Mavs' owner, agrees: "One sprained toe or two, and the competitive landscape changes," he says. "You don't want to miss that opportunity. You should always put the best team you can on the floor within the parameters you have set for yourself."

-The 5 Percent Theory - Grantland.com

While our quest in NBA fandom needs meaning, what we really get out of the experience are the years of perseverance. There's a different sense of fulfillment other than the Larry O'Brien trophy that comes from watching the Grizzlies, and that's seeing a small market team do the best they can with the hand they were dealt – hitting their ceiling, basically, but with a happy-go-lucky outlook.

We're attached to the idea of a Grit and Grind philosophy, but even as some sort of NBA cult symbol, the Grizzlies are really just a story of what continuity and hard work can accomplish. They established their core and endeavored to build around it. They still do, which is why we cheer for the slightest of improvements (hello, Matt Barnes and Kyle O'Quinn) even in the face of postseason defeatism.

The real reward of those formative years is every season in this period of .600 stasis, where we can watch a good team at their best.