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Death and Rebirth: Moving on with the Memphis Grizzlies

Out of the ashes of “Grit and Grind” will rise a new era in Memphis basketball, but what will that era look like?

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Grit and Grind is dead.

It isn’t dying. It’s dead.

So said our own Matt Hrdlicka in his tremendous Memphis Grizzlies Book Club post yesterday (that you can read here). And he made a compelling argument: the arrival of the supposedly anti-Grit and Grind (but very pro-offense) Chandler Parsons, the movement away from stifling defense, the fact that the two coaches mainly responsible for the schemes of that time are now gone from the organization, and the movement away from a veteran bench towards a surge of youth.

It has all the makings of the end of an era.

Of course, the ironic and somewhat awkward part of all of this is the fact that key players from the bygone era remain, well, key players. Tony Allen is still a defensive savant, but he’s expected to be in contention to start at “shooting” guard, not a strength of “The Grindfather”. Zach Randolph is still a face-up four who can bully on the block, but in a time of athletic, floor-spacing players at the traditional power forward position, Z-Bo seems more and more to be a part of a dying breed.

The old “Core Four” that was Allen, Randolph, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol is now transitioning to a “Big Three”. Conley and Gasol remain major cogs to the future of the Memphis Grizzlies (as their max contracts the past two seasons show), but Parsons’ presence in the lineup, and his massive contract, signals a new direction for the franchise at large.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies
It’s time for Mike to lead the way and for TA to follow.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Allen and Randolph are on the last years of their contracts. It’s possible they remain in Memphis, signing short-term deals. But it’s also possible that their time in Beale Street Blue is coming to an end. It’s hard to imagine the Grizzlies without TA and Zach, but whether it’s because of expiring contracts or retirement, the end of Randolph and Allen, players for the Memphis Grizzlies, will be coming sooner rather than later.

It is for that very reason that coming to terms with the end of “Grit and Grind”, even with them still on the roster, becomes vital for the Grizzlies organization, as well as the fan base at large. This doesn’t devalue the work they did, or the moments that were shared between the team and their city. On the contrary, it prevents the usage of “Grit and Grind” in a joking, sarcastic manner. It protects what was the greatest era in Memphis basketball history, at least from an NBA perspective. It allows for us to remember that roster and those coaches in the best way possible.

It saves “Grit and Grind” from itself.

Once you come to terms with the passing of that era, you can have a clearer view to the future. And that’s not to say that what comes next can’t hold over some characteristics of what made the past six or so (some would argue “Grit and Grind” died a while ago) seasons so great for the Grizzlies. The mental toughness, the physicality, and the emphasis on civic connection...all of that can and should remain. Those characteristics, especially the first two, are what separate the good teams from the great.

Look at Golden State and Cleveland. Those two teams fit the mold of the modern NBA in terms of interchangeable positions and floor spacing, but they also possess the tenacity and, dare I say, grit, to overcome the adversity that occurs on the way to an NBA Finals and championship. You can be both gritty and talented, adaptable and aggressive. Of course it’s easy to do when you have multiple Hall of Famers on your roster, but Memphis can still modernize their roster and scheme while maintaining that “blue collar” mentality.

Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns
Z-Bo must continue to let Gasol lead the Grizzlies.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Those qualities can be passed on through veteran leadership from players like Randolph and Allen. They have fought the wars, been through the struggles. They know what it takes, and as their careers reach their twilight they can pass those teachings on to the new, younger Grizzlies. It won’t result in Grit and Grind 2.0, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to breed toughness.

It also opens up the possibilities of using Randolph and Allen in perhaps the best way for both the team and the players themselves at this stage in their careers, in terms of both playing time and role. Tony probably isn’t a starting wing in the NBA in 2016 due to his offensive inconsistencies, and even if he is, his minutes should be closer to those of a role player than a key contributor. Maximizing his energy by shutting down a team’s best scorer, specifically in crunch time and key situations, and limiting his time at other stages of the game, may be the best use of him moving forward.

Meanwhile, Zach Randolph has shown the capacity to have success at the center position as long as he’s next to an athletic and/or lengthy power forward. While starting Zach may remain a priority, he can slide to the 5 and get more and more minutes there. This opens up time for Brandan Wright, or JaMychal Green, or perhaps even Parsons himself, while Gasol gets back into the flow of real-time game action.

Moving on from Grit and Grind doesn’t necessarily mean moving on from Zach and Tony and what they represent in terms of toughness and tenacity. They are vital parts of the team and the bond it shares with Memphis. It does mean a change in perspective. 2011 TA and Z-Bo are not walking through that door.

Younger. More athletic. Better spacing and offensive execution. These are all things that are not synonymous with what “Grit and Grind” was all about. That was about veteran presence, pounding the post, and other things that are no longer connected with this current roster and coaching staff, top to bottom. It is indeed time to move on, into a new era of success found in a new, fresh way.

Even “Showtime” and the “Bad Boys” came to an end. The time has come for “Grit and Grind” as well.

Change is coming. It’s probably long overdue. And while it may hurt in the short term, it will help ensure the long-term viability and success of the Memphis Grizzlies.

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