TEAM NAME: Memphis Grizzlies
Last Year's Record: 42-40
Key Losses: Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson, Mario Chalmers, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee
Key Additions: Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, Troy Daniels, Wade Baldwin IV
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The Grizzlies had arguably their most successful offseason to date, once again proving that they are able to keep their own key players in the fold by re-signing Mike Conley while also securing the services of the best free agent they have ever signed in Chandler Parsons. A healthy Chandler Parsons is a perfect fit in Memphis - he is the versatile scoring wing that the Grizzlies have needed for the longest time. He can shoot from range, create for himself off the dribble, and create for others off the pick and roll.
The other major move was at the head coach position. David Fizdale comes to Memphis from Miami, where he was the lead assistant under Erik Spoelstra while the Heat won two NBA titles. He has already shaken the Grizzlies up a good bit - Zach Randolph is now a bench player, Marc Gasol is now supposed to shoot four threes a game, and Parsons is being told he will be used like LeBron James in Fizdale's schemes. The age of "Grit and Grind" is dead - Memphis is looking to push the pace and space the floor, and that comes as a direct result of Fizdale's early impact on the Grizzlies.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
This team has been remodeled around the "Core Four" that is Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. These moves have caught the Grizzlies up with the modern NBA in some ways, such as more proficient three point shooters like Daniels and Parsons, while holding on to the mental toughness and beloved players that have made these Grizzlies so special in the past. It is different but the same at the same time, and instead of a burial of a way of playing and the players who lived that era, it feels as if it could be an evolution.
Fizdale is known for development, and he’s putting even veteran players like Randolph and Allen outside of their comfort zones with new roles and new opportunities within new schemes. A roster that had perhaps become complacent under previous regimes is now awakened, and that has the potential to mean a revival of sorts out of the ashes of last year's 28-player, 42-win, injury-riddled season.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Age, health, and potentially depth. Memphis' most important players are either on the wrong side of 30 or have real injury issues (or both). Parsons is still not able to participate in full 5-on-5 drills after offseason knee surgery, and while Gasol and Conley appear to be as close to full health as could be expected after their respective foot and Achilles issues, the nature of those injuries leads many to worry that they could reappear at any time as the season grinds on.
Add on the fact that Randolph and Allen are 35 and 34 respectively, and those regression statistics that have been predicting the end of the Grizzlies for years may well be right this time around if any combination of these five misses significant time in 2016-2017. James Ennis, Troy Daniels, and other bench Grizzlies may succeed in reserve roles, but if they have to start for an extended period? It could spell trouble in the Bluff City.
4. What are the goals for this team?
To win, and win now, while trying to be as secure as possible in the future given their current cap and draft pick situation...which isn’t the best. This core isn’t getting any younger, and both Randolph and Allen are free agents after this season. As the Grizzlies transition away from Grit and Grind, the roles of Z-Bo and "The Grindfather" will become smaller and smaller while pace and space takes hold in Memphis.
That being said, making the playoffs for a seventh straight season and competing to host a first round playoff series feel like potentially realistic goals if the Grizzlies can stay healthy. That is a massive “if,” of course, and skepticism toward them achieving that is warranted.
But the strategy of investing so much in Parsons and Conley is a sound one, at least for this group as currently constructed. They will likely lose their 2017 first round pick this year anyway (protected 1-5 to Denver), so they may as well do their best to compete and see if other teams can have some bad breaks health wise like Memphis did last season. The last time that happened, Memphis made the Western Conference Finals.
And that was without a wing the caliber of Parsons. That seems far away for a team with real health and depth concerns, but if Parsons, Conley, and Gasol can stay on the floor and mesh under Fizdale, I like Memphis' chances in a Western Conference where seeds 3-12 are arguably wide open.