I am jealous.
Jealousy is not uncommon when you see that someone else has something that you want, or better yet, deserve. It can come in a variety of forms—through relationships, jobs, family, or even physique. And as I’ve discovered this year, it can come through the world of sports.
As a fan of the Memphis Grizzlies, I am jealous when I see the Toronto Raptors continue to have playoff success with the same core that they have had for years. Of course, unlike Memphis, they actually added added young talent around their two stars.
I am jealous when I see the Utah Jazz win a playoff series through the incredible play of a budding superstar in Donovan Mitchell.
I am jealous when I experience the domination of the third seed in the Western Conference by the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s almost like they have one of the five best basketball players alive.
I am jealous when I see the Indiana Pacers marching into the future with a vibrant, talented young core.
This is how I feel when this Memphis Grizzlies team that I have followed since I was six-years-old, the same team that made the playoffs for seven years in a row, finds itself without a seat at the table in the spring.
It’s painful, but most of all, frustrating. The Grizzlies could have had just as much success as any of these teams listed if Mike Conley had remained healthy.
If you doubt that assessment, it would be wise to remember that the Western Conference is weaker than it has been in years. The Portland Trailblazers, who were swept by the Pelicans in the first round, were the third seed in the West despite just winning 49 games. Also, only three games separated them from the Denver Nuggets, who failed to make the playoffs. The Spurs were a shell of their former selves without Kawhi Leonard, and you could write a short novel about all of the flaws that the Oklahoma City Thunder had.
The Memphis Grizzlies were also a better and deeper team than the one that had made the playoffs the previous year. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, one of the most effective two-man combinations in the NBA over the last decade, were ready to lead the team once again. With the additions of Tyreke Evans, Dillon Brooks, as well as an apparently healthy Chandler Parsons, the Grizzlies also looked to have one of the best benches in the NBA.
The Grizzlies had a chance to have a special season in a weaker Western Conference. Instead, they had one of the worst nightmares of a season in franchise history. And now I am jealous.
But also hopeful.
This has been stated nearly ad nauseum at this point, but the Grizzlies have everything that they need to have a comeback season next year. Mike Conley will have had nearly an entire year to get fully healthy. Marc Gasol and most of the team will be back as well. Most importantly, they also will add a top-five pick that can help lead the franchise into the future.
The Western Conference will also not get much better. The Timberwolves and Trailblazers do not have the cap space to add any meaningful pieces. Paul George is also likely to leave Oklahoma City. The only team that could make a dramatic improvement is the Los Angeles Lakers if LeBron James and/or George choose to go there.
To be sure, the Grizzlies will not be in any of the national media’s playoff predictions for next season. After all, it’s very easy to bet against a team that had the second worst record in the league the previous season. There are certainly younger and more dynamic teams on paper.
However, the NBA remains an unpredictable beast. No one expected that the Utah Jazz would be in the second round of the playoffs after Gordon Hayward left. Or that the Pacers would take LeBron James to seven games a year after the Paul George trade.
The Grizzlies may or may not be in the playoffs at this time next year. But they do have the chance to be special once more.
And a chance to make other fans in the NBA jealous once again.