Here we are, at the end.
This season in review series, while a necessary act in the wake of any season, was especially painful to write, read, and edit through. Reliving the monstrous levels of failure that this Memphis Grizzlies franchise endured this season was painful. It began with saying goodbye to players we loved - to a lesser extent Vince Carter, but especially the departures of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph were tough to swallow. Seeing them in Pelicans red or Kings purple was weird, and it almost felt as if they were cheating on the Grizzlies...or that Memphis was cheating on them.
They were missed. Perhaps even more than anticipated.
Not that their presence would have helped Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley stay healthy, or led to more wins. It was the right decision to allow them both, especially Zach at the price he commanded from Sacramento, to leave. But seeing them not in Beale Street blue on opening night felt strange.
Hindsight says it also set the stage for a weird season.
It was a tumultuous season. It was the first missed playoffs since Zach became Super Z-Bo in 2011. It was the first look at a real youth movement, with five Grizzlies players under the age of 25 (Dillon Brooks, Jarell Martin, Andrew Harrison, Ben McLemore, Deyonta Davis) getting over 900 minutes of playing time for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. It was an interim head coach, which long-term Grizzlies fans are familiar with, but one that was quite unexpected with David Fizdale being brought in to establish a “culture” just roughly a year and a half prior to getting fired. J.B. Bickerstaff took the lead, and managed to not allow the fires set by his predecessor to spread.
It was continued injury concerns for players like Parsons and Conley. Parsons shouldn’t be a surprise at this stage, but his absence hurt more than it did last season because he was actually a good NBA player this season. Conley’s eventual shut down hurt even more, and was essentially the official waving of the white flag for the season and the beginnings of the “tank”. That tank was one of the few successes this past season - once the front office officially embraced it, it clearly was a priority and it was effective.
It was the emergence of Tyreke Evans as an actual asset, a real player with real ability to score in more ways than ever before. Then it was him becoming the physical manifestation of an inept front office, handcuffed by their own pride, or the confusing ownership situation, of a mixture of both when Evans was not traded at the deadline only to play six games after that missed opportunity. It was the return of MarShon Brooks to NBA relevance and a multi-year contract, a realization that Dillon Brooks was a real diamond in the rough, a goodbye to James Ennis III and Brandan Wright and a hello to Ivan Rabb and Kobi Simmons.
It was the culmination of Marc Gasol fully embracing just how influential he is on this franchise. In a season of upheaval in roster, health, coaching, and potentially in ownership, Big Spain was the cornerstone. He always has been. This year, though, his impact was on full display. Did he fire David Fizdale, or decide to hire J.B. Bickerstaff, or help the Grizzlies front office choose to not trade Tyreke Evans? No...but understand this - none of those decisions were made without probably consulting Gasol first.
He could have saved Fizdale, demanded a coaching search or a trade of Tyreke or even himself. But he chose to stay, and to his credit he served in the role of mentor very well with these Grizzlies. He did not quit, request a trade or to be shut down. In the wake of one of his very worst seasons as a player, he went out every night and tried to help the young players around him and make them better. If he is to be condemned for his role in some areas, he should be commended for taking ownership through his actions.
There were other stories and people who defined the season. But all together, it was a hell of a ride through basketball Hell. Day in and day out, night in and night out, fans and the team alike got drummed. 61-point losses, multiple double-digit losing streaks...the wear and tear of the season was real for both player and fan alike. That many losses take their toll, and the anger, frustration, and at times desperation from all involved was warranted.
The difficult days are done, though. There are no longer ownership questions, lifting an ominous cloud over the Grizzlies. The NBA Lottery is coming two weeks from now where a franchise-saving talent could be confirmed for Memphis. There is a hope that the key players, the Conleys and Parsons of the world, can come back healthy. There is belief that Tyreke Evans will return, and that all these factors can lead Memphis to a bounce back season. It feels possible, and that hope has led to many thinking this will all have been worth it.
It’s also possible that Evans walks. And the Grizzlies drop to five in the 2018 NBA Draft. And Conley is washed, and Parsons never plays more than 30 games in a season, and Gasol regresses and on and on and on. It is all possible for this Memphis franchise. And if these issues come to pass, the hell of this past season will have no fury compared to what is to come.
This time of year, though, is for reflection. And while this disastrous campaign is worthy of a low grade, it cannot be considered a complete failure for the sole fact that the hell we all went through may very well get us back to Heaven.
Grizzlies season grade- D.