There's no greater example of a Sisyphean struggle than the world of sports. No matter how far your team is able to go, even if they reach the ultimate apex of a championship, the offseason comes along and pushes that enormous stone back down the hill, resetting everyone at 0-0 and starting the entire struggle over again.Year in and year out, the labor never ends.
With that in mind, and because I have an unhealthy affinity for metaphors, I decided to look at the new Western Conference, the one so dramatically shaken up by Kevin Durant's decision to leave Oklahoma City to join the 73-win Thunder, and try to decide what role in this Greek sure-to-be tragedy the Grizzlies will play as of now.
I've organized the teams into tiers based on an early estimate of where they figure to wind up in the mix. Please note that it's the offseason, so all connections to Greek mythical figures are tenuous at best and should not be taken seriously.
Tier One: The Lernaean Hydra
Before Hydra had any relation to Captain America, it was a mythical monster battled by Heracles, the Greek version of the Roman Hercules. The hydra was a serpentine monster which, according to some versions of the myth, sprouted two new heads for every one that was chopped off. Last season, LeBron James and the Cavaliers chopped the head off of the 73-win hydra, which then sprouted two new heads by adding Kevin Durant.
Of course, in so doing the Warriors lost a little bit of firepower. They dumped Andrew Bogut to the Mavericks, then renounced both Harrison Barnes (who also went to the Mavericks) and Festus Ezeli (Trail Blazers). Leandro Barbosa (Suns) and Brandon Rush (Timberwolves) also left. Of course, the team was able to add Zaza Pachulia and David West for cheap to make up for it, so it wasn't a total loss.
In the myth, Heracles was able to defeat the hydra by using fire to cauterize its open wounds after chopping off each head, which is where my metaphor falls apart, since I'm not sure how to metaphorically set fire to this team. You'll have to use your imagination there.
Tier Two: Janus
Tim Duncan announced his retirement on Monday after 19 years of excellence both on and off the court. Over the course of his illustrious career, Duncan led the Spurs to 5 titles while collecting 3 Finals MVP awards, 2 league MVP awards, and many, many more accolades. Duncan will be missed.
As for the Spurs post-Duncan, it's hard to know what to truly expect from them. They won 67 games last season, which would've been a much bigger story if the Warriors hadn't amassed 73, but they were eliminated in the second round by the Thunder. They still have Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Coach Gregg Popovich, but they also have Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker, who are on the verge of enrollment in AARP.
Janus (who is actually Roman, not Greek, but who really cares) was the god of transitions, gates, and doorways, and possessed two heads, one looking to the future, and one to the past. This feels apropos of the Spurs as they transition to their life after Duncan, with Manu and Parker serving as the view of the past, and LaMarcus and Kawhi serving as the view of the future. It's hard to say what the Spurs will really look like in 2016-17 without recency bias skewing the outlook, but until proven otherwise, the Spurs deserve to sit alone just a step below Golden State.
Tier Three: Achilles
Memphis, LA Clippers, Utah, OKC
If you've ever seen Troy, you know that Achilles was best summed up in one word: badass. Unfortunately, he also had one tiny little flaw that ended up completely undoing every bit of his badassery. It's the same with the four teams in the third tier. Each of these teams has the potential to be awesome, but they also come with serious flaws that could be their undoing.
For Memphis, the Achilles comparison feels the most appropriate. With the addition of Chandler Parsons, along with some younger shooters and developmental projects, the Grizzlies have amassed the sort of talent that's remarkably intriguing. Of course, with Conley (Achilles), Gasol (foot), and Parsons (knee), there's also a chance that injuries could strike the team's three biggest players and everything could go straight to Hades.
The Clippers are somewhat in the same boat. They were up 2-0 to the Blazers in the first round before disaster struck in the form of a Chris Paul hand injury, and that doesn't include the injuries to Blake Griffin. Of course, the Clippers will be without Jeff Green (LOL) who joined Orlando, but they also added Mo Speights for the minimum and threw a massive amount of money to Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford (also LOL).
Utah and Oklahoma City are different animals. Utah is a young team that was on the verge of the playoffs last season. So far this offseason, they've added George Hill via trade, Joe Johnson (free agent), and Boris Diaw (trade), as well as a few draft picks. Those veteran additions around a core of young players who should improve make the Jazz an interesting team to watch, provided, of course, that they avoid the injuries to key players that hurt them last season.
As for OKC, I'm honestly throwing them into this tier because of how well they played in the postseason last year and because I hope Russell Westbrook goes into full monster mode and averages like 40 points a game. Obviously, the loss of Durant is crippling, but hey, they added Victor Oladipo, so if things go south they can have him sing to distract people from how bad things are on the court.
Tier Four: Kronos
Portland, Dallas, Houston
Kronos was one of the original Titans who gave birth to Zeus. He did some pretty awesome things (establishing the Golden Age, in which no one even needed laws), but he also did some completely idiotic things (eating a rock that he thought was actually his child). Among the Greek deities, Kronos was simultaneously impressive and incredibly confounding.
These three franchises are similarly confounding. Portland, following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, was expected to be a bottom feeder, but over performed and wound up with the fifth seed in the Western Conference. From there, they managed to advance to the second round after the injury to Chris Paul and took two games off of eventual Western Conference champions Golden State in the conference semis.
This offseason, though, has been wild for Portland. When Parsons spurned their offer for Memphis, they instead threw money at Evan Turner. Then, when Brooklyn signed RFA Allen Crabbe to a 4-year, $75 million offer sheet, the Blazers matched. It was a move that said Portland was dedicated to their young core. Unfortunately, it may have also locked the Blazers into a much lower ceiling over the short term.
The Mavericks started their offseason out with a familiar strategy: miss out on key free agents. They whiffed on Hassan Whiteside, who re-signed with Miami, then followed up on that with a miss on Mike Conley. In their scramble to put together a team around aging Dirk Nowitzki, they signed Warriors castoff Harrison Barnes and took in former Warrior Andrew Bogut. They then managed to add the "Other Curry Brother" (Seth) for a reasonable contract. Add in the fact that coach Rick Carlisle is a warlock and can cobble together competitive teams from a pile of paper clips and used chewing gum, and you've got a team that is a huge unknown in the playoff race.
Meanwhile, Houston, coming off an incredibly underwhelming performance last season, underwent a giant makeover. After firing Kevin McHale 11 games into the year, they replaced interim coach JB Bickerstaff with Mike D'Antoni. To complement Harden, they also threw money at a couple of big free agents: Ryan Anderson (4 years, $80 million) and Eric Gordon (4 years, $53 million). Those players add more offensive weapons to Houston's arsenal, but they don't solve the defensive issues that plagued the Rockets all last season.
All three of these teams could wind up fighting for a playoff spot, but they could also wind up blowing up and falling out of the playoff picture, which could help other teams in the playoff race.
Tier Five: Hebe
Minnesota, Denver, New Orleans, Phoenix, LA Lakers
Hebe was the Greek goddess of youth, and these four teams are set to build around young players.
Minnesota is the most intriguing here. In addition to Karl-Anthony Towns, who looks to be an elite talent, and Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves added Kris Dunn via the draft and Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush via free agency. With Tom Thibodeau at the helm, Minnesota is a young team that could make a playoff push sooner rather than later.
Denver also continues to assemble key young players. They drafted Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez this year, and although they missed out on Dwyane Wade in free agency, they could still add future assets by moving Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler at some point.
New Orleans lost big names Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to Houston, and James Ennis to Memphis, but they managed to add some good young talent on reasonable contracts to build around cornerstone Anthony Davis, signing Langston Galloway (2 years, $5-6 million), Solomon Hill (4 years, $48 million), and E'twaun Moore (4 years, $34 million) in free agency.
The Suns and the Lakers are a little more of a question mark. Phoenix managed to add players in the draft, but they let Leuer and Teletovic go, so there's a question of how they'll look in the short term. The team also retained Earl Watson as coach. The Lakers, meanwhile, moved on from the aging corpse of Kobe Bryant, who retired (in case you didn't get the 82 memos from this season). They hired coach Luke Walton away from the Warriors and added Jose Calderon via trade. The biggest questions with the Lakers offseason are the big money they payed out to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, which could wind up destroying any chance the Lakers have at building around a young core of D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and this year's draft picks of Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac.
Tier Six: Thalia
Thalia was the muse responsible for Greek comedy, and I guess that really fits what Sacramento is doing here. In free agency, they added Aaron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, and Anthony Tolliver. They also drafted Georgios Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, Skal Labissiere, and Isaiah Cousins. This team has a front court that's way too crowded, and, although they let Rondo go (good for you, Sacramento!) they also let Seth Curry sign for peanuts with the Mavericks.
It's hard to see how the Kings manage to fit all their pieces into a workable NBA roster. Dave Joerger, who managed to get himself fired to take this job, may have wound up getting more than he asked for. But hey, at least he doesn't have Jordan Adams there to remind him of what could have been with Rodney Hood.
So, where do you see the Grizzlies fitting into the new Western Conference power structure? Comment below and let us know!