The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Are you ready? Here it comes...the least shocking statement about the Memphis Grizzlies so far this offseason.
The collapse of the Grizzlies as a playoff team is upon us.
ESPN has again predicted that the Memphis Grizzlies will fall to the wayside as a playoff contender in the reloaded Western Conference. Vegas has released an over/under number for the Grizzlies that is far below last season’s 43 at 37.5. Despite Memphis being younger and more athletic than they were last season, and being anchored by two of the top 25 or so players in the entire National Basketball Association, yet again the Grizzlies are being given the kiss of death.
The scary part this time, though?
More than ever before, it makes sense.
The Grizzlies are depending on Chandler Parsons to be healthy, something he hasn’t been in a long, long time. They are betting on development in former lottery pick Ben McLemore, who will be out for the first month or so of the season recovering from a foot injury. They need production from a guy technically not currently on the roster (JaMychal Green) and are hoping that someone coming off an Achilles injury (Mario Chalmers) can catch lightning in a bottle yet again.
Memphis needs Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to continue to ascend at a point in their careers where most players their age are descending. They need Tyreke Evans to be more his Rookie of the Year self, and not what he has been most of the time every year of his career since. They need a healthy Brandan Wright (if he exists), and a defensively competent Troy Daniels (if he exists), and a young player to step up and be able to consistently contribute (Andrew Harrison, or Wayne Selden Jr.)...
If that exists.
The “ifs” are what the Grizzlies and their fans are really used to at this stage. Beyond Gasol and Conley, what really can be expected from this roster is more up in the air than ever before. The team that made the playoffs seven seasons in a row no longer exists. The “ifs” before were based on the aging Core Four era, which is officially in the history books. The fall of those four did not occur as predicted, but now Zach Randolph and (likely) Tony Allen are gone. What fills the void left by their departures truly remains to be seen.
The reasons may be different this time around, but the end result remains the same. Memphis is out, according to the prognosticators.
The good news for Grizzlies fans is that for the past few years those predictions have been wrong. Last year’s 43 wins was under the 43.5 predicted by Vegas, so maybe if you’re nervous about that 37.5 number that is understandable. But the uncertainty that surrounds this new-look Grizzlies club in the eyes of national media outlets seems to be having an overly negative effect.
While the concerns are real, the reasons that the demise of the Grizzlies is over-exaggerated are real as well.
As stated above, Memphis still has two of the best players in the NBA on their team. Sure, health is a major key for the Grizzlies regarding Marc and Mike, but the same can be said for others competing for playoff spots. The Clippers (Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin) will also be pretty dependent on stars to lead the way, as will the Trail Blazers (C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard) and Pelicans (DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis). One injury to any of them and the outside of the playoffs is real for those squads as well. And of course the Grizzlies need players to step up in new roles. So do the Clippers (Chris Paul and J.J. Redick are out) and the Utah Jazz, who lost one of their best players (Gordon Hayward) in free agency.
Uncertainty and over-reliance on stars is not really new for the teams who will likely be fighting in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff picture for seeding all year long. It just comes down to who you think has the pieces to be able to replace what was lost, who can step up and fill the space between your best and your worst players.
So knowing that, should the lack of love for Memphis surprise us? Of course not. But Grizzlies fans should be confident in knowing that when it comes to leadership and point guard talent, there are few better in the NBA than Mike Conley. When it comes to being a two-way big man, there are few in the NBA better than Marc Gasol. They should see a healthy Chandler Parsons and be cautiously optimistic (especially if they’re on Instagram), and hope that the JaMychal Green restricted free agency saga comes to a conclusion some time in the next two weeks.
With those pieces in place, the health that every team this time of year is hopeful to have, and a nice jump in confidence and execution under second-year Head Coach David Fizdale, the Grizzlies should see their playoff streak extend to eight straight seasons, a remarkable feat in the loaded Western Conference.
So yes, there are questions - big ones - that need to be answered. And most of the answers need to go the Grizzlies way in order for Memphis to remain outside of the Lottery. One misstep, one major injury to a top star, could be catastrophic.
But outside of Golden State and maybe Cleveland and Boston, the same can be said for almost every NBA team. What if Kawhi Leonard went down for the Spurs? Or Russell Westbrook or Paul George for the Thunder? Or Paul or James Harden for the Rockets? Would those teams be the front runners in the West that everyone expects them to be? Probably not.
Assuming Gasol and Conley are there, Memphis will be in the mix. And if things break the way that GM Chris Wallace and company hope that they do, at least one or two of their low-risk high-reward signings (Chalmers, McLemore, Evans) will hit and Parsons will be close to full strength. If that comes to be, this team will win more than 37 games.
In life, change is a constant. There will be a time where the Grizzlies do not make the playoffs. It probably will be relatively soon. But with Gasol and Conley at the helm, feel good knowing that at least for one more year the playoff prognosticators will likely be wrong again about Memphis.
Let’s just hope Vegas is wrong this year, too.