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Restricted Area: Figuring Out the Minutes Limits

Following a season of record injuries, the Grizzlies have shifted their philosophy for safety. For fans and players alike, it’s going to take some getting used to.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night, with the Grizzlies playing their third game in four days and in the midst of a five-in-seven stretch, Marc and Mike were relegated to the bench for a night of rest. The Timberwolves promptly played the Grizzlies’ B-Team off the court, and Memphis Twitter turned suddenly into France circa 1793, marching Fizdale and his counterrevolutionary comrades to the proverbial guillotine.

There were, understandably, plenty of questions thrown out. “Why are we doing this?” “Doesn’t Fizdale know we can’t afford to throw games away?” “If you’re paying these guys so much money, shouldn’t they be out there?” The questions are all valid. After all, the Western Conference is going to be a battle this season, and so much of the Grizzlies’ hopes are tied to these two max players.

Memphis certainly is paying both of these guys a lot of money this year ($47 million combined, per Basketball Insiders). But it’s also worth reiterating that this year isn’t the entire picture. Conley has four seasons under contract after this year ends; Gasol has three (assuming he picks up his player option). Squeezing every moment of playing time out of them this season does you no good if it costs you value over the life of the contract.

And that’s to say nothing of the rest of this season. It’s true that every game counts the same, but it’s far more important to have your players healthy in the home stretch of the regular season. Resting Marc and Mike in the third game in four days, and in the midst of a brutal travel schedule, eases some of that wear and tear. And if you can save them for spring by resting them in the fall, I’m all for it.

This isn’t to say that the concerns around this aren’t legitimate, or that there aren’t arguments against this strategy. Minnesota, while they’ve struggled thus far this season, could still wind up battling the Grizzlies for a playoff spot, and Memphis had just had two Eastern Conference opponents they could’ve rested against. And there’s also the idea of staggering rest days rather than benching both in the same game. (For the record, given the option, I think I’d rather just sit them both at once. I understand that it feels like giving up, but I’d rather go all-in on one game rather than hamstringing yourself for twice the games. Maybe once Parsons returns you can rotate rest days for those three guys, but until then, I’m not opposed to sitting both Marc and Mike together.)

It’s obvious that Fizdale and the training staff are still working out the kinks of this plan. On two occasions already (both overtime games) the flow of the game has turned minutes restrictions into minutes suggestions, and Fizdale has admitted that he’ll have to give those minutes back eventually. Like anything else, this is a process which will take some time to perfect, and we may see more “DNP - rest” in the future before all is said and done.

But for now, fans (and players) will have to deal with the roller coaster and trust that the ends will justify the means. On Chris Vernon’s podcast, Chris Wallace repeatedly referenced the “greater good,” implying that the focus was on the big picture more than the here-and-now. That means staying true to the plan in the hopes that it pays off in the long run, regardless of what it may look like at the moment. In the same way that you can’t scream that they should “play the young guys” and then demand they be planted on the bench as soon as a mistake happens, you can’t say you want Marc and Mike healthy and cry foul when Fizdale sits them for a game.

So remember, Grizz fans, be patient with this. The season is long, and there are bigger things to worry about than one November game against the Wolves. Besides, at least with this strategy, the Grizzlies are surely guaranteed to beat their Pythagorean win-loss record once again.