For the Memphis Grizzlies, the past six seasons have been the most successful combined years in the history of the organization. An entire philosophy of basketball, "Grit and Grind," has been born and will surely describe this team in the future, as titles like "Showtime" for the Lakers and "Bad Boys" for the Pistons have for years and years.
We haven't hung any banners or handed out any rings, but there are memories that will last a lifetime and will be passed down from first generation Grizzlies fans to the next. As Memphis' bond with the Grizzlies ages, the children who came of age with Z-Bo, TA, and the rest will tell those tales to their kids.
The recent memories of many Grizzlies fans aren't ones that will be at the forefront of that folklore, however. The 28 players on the roster due to injury. The losing streak and struggle to limp to the playoffs. The departure of Dave Joerger, and the tears (genuine or not) that were shed for a group of lovable losers. All this is worthy of recollection, and the efforts of those players and coaches should be remembered...
It just doesn't give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. The conclusion of last season left many with a bitter taste in their mouth, and instead of sadness for a great run ending, or the elation that comes with a championship win...it was a sense of relief. It was like waking up from a nightmare, realizing that it was all just a dream, and taking a deep, thankful breath.
But it wasn't a dream. It really happened. And it wasn't a breath of relief...it was a sigh of sad realization.
There was a lot of reason for uncertainty. So much so, in fact, that Mike Conley was thought to really be considering leaving Memphis. Marc Gasol may never be the same after his injury, and Jordan Adams and Jarell Martin's injury issues made the future even more bleak. No major free agent had ever chosen the Grizzlies, and the team was only going to get another year older. The core was fatally flawed, the bench was old, and Lance Stephenson at times was your best player towards the end of the 2015-2016 campaign.
Lance Stephenson. The Lance Stephenson who, as of July 12th, remains a free agent.
Morale was at an all-time low, and the concerns of the future worked their way into the present. Forget "Grit and Grind" eventually ending...what if it already had? A year or so early? Without any real way to move on that didn't mean more of that "crying Joerger" feeling?
Then, the Memphis Grizzlies Front Office assembled a great coaching staff, starting with new Head Coach David Fizdale. Next, they drafted Wade Baldwin IV in the first round, a big combo guard who can score from range, create for others, and defend potentially. They traded the 2019 protected first round pick they got in the Stephenson deal for two seconds in this year's draft and took a lottery type talent in Deyonta Davis and an international player who may be ready to help in a year or so in Rade Zagorac. They had a successful draft, or at least a non-controversial draft, for the first time in, well, maybe ever.
Then, free agency opened. Chandler Parsons went from "in your dreams" to "oh wow looks like they're really serious about getting him" to "IS THIS EVEN REAL RIGHT NOW?" He became that elusive first major free agent signing for Memphis, conveniently a large, offensively versatile wing who can score from range and play the stretch four. Exactly what this team needed, and had been lacking, throughout the past several seasons to take their offensive schemes to the next level.
Then, Mike Conley agreed to return to the Grizzlies, quashing any fears of an abrupt ending to this historic run in Memphis, and after that the Grizzlies completed other business to make their bench, which was among the oldest in the NBA, considerably younger. Andrew Harrison, Davis, Baldwin, James Ennis, Troy Daniels, Zagorac (again coming to Memphis next season probably)...all but Ennis are under the age of 25.
The Grizzlies have found a way to get younger while still improving in the here and now. Add in the reports and videos/pictures saying and showing that Marc Gasol's rehab going well, and now the feeling among Memphis fans is positive. The end of an era that brought so many new fans to the Grizzlies will likely not end with a whimper, but a roar. The playoff streak, health permitting, will almost certainly extend to seven years, and there will be basketball in late April, and hopefully May, and perhaps even June in Memphis, Tennessee.
Sure it is a dream. But to many, so was Chandler Parsons in Beale Street Blue. And it's a dream that is much easier to dream now than it was when Dave Joerger was crying at a press conference podium just a few short months ago.
Perhaps there still will not be banners hanging, or rings glistening, under the FedExForum lights in the near future. But there will still be moms and dads taking their young sons or daughters to games and making more memories. There will still be groups of friends enjoying time together spent watching the Core Four of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph as they likely grit and grind for at least one more season. There will be new pieces, with Parsons being the biggest and a part of both Memphis' future and present, but those who started it all will probably get another chance to pursue a parade down Beale Street together.
After a run of bad luck this past season, the present for the Memphis Grizzlies is finally starting to feel like things are turning around and leading to a bright future.
That is truly a gift worth being thankful for.