In late July there is not much for a Grizz fan to do except pine for the arrival of the next season. Maintaining an optimistic outlook is helpful, especially given some seasons have been downright struggles. Fans have grown accustomed to an instant gratification world, so the reality of a rebuild can be demoralizing. These days, the request for patience can feel like the most monumental ask of a fanbase. But have the Grizzlies earned our patience?
Did you know the Memphis Grizzlies won more games in the 2012-2013 season than in the two most recent seasons combined? On paper, a losing season simply looks like just that - a losing season - but not all losing seasons are created equal. For example, the 2017-2018 season felt exponentially worse than the 2018-2019 season. Statistically speaking, it was eleven losses worse. Couple that with the sense that it was all unraveling with no conceivable view of rock bottom. It felt like having a decent chef in a kitchen with a broken oven, nearly spoiled ingredients and a bunch of hungry customers - customers who tweet.
Remember how demoralizing it was to watch the Grizzlies lose and spiral into the despair of the unknown? Who would coach them? Who would lead them? What player would step up? What would become of the front office? As they shed layers of their identity, would they still be tough? Would they still be defensive-minded? Would they still bog down opponents in the mud? Was it time to make shifts and assimilate?
Cue the adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” creeping into the psyche.
Last season had an entirely different mood than the one before it – a mood of acceptance, bordering on hopefulness. We drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. as the face of the future and continued to shake the etch-a-sketch of what was once the Core Four. Expectations were leveling among the fans as we prepared to honor the old while ushering in the new. Ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies made a lot of changes in management and within the staff, including the head coach position. With a bunch of new chefs in the kitchen, it is exciting to speculate what new deliciousness is ahead.
By adjusting the lens through which fans have typically viewed the Grizzlies, it becomes obvious that they do need perimeter shooters who command a double-team. At first it felt like admitting defeat, but it is starting to feel more like enhancing the recipe. As our Shawn Coleman points out in his article, defense can still be a differentiator for this team. Give these versatile players – young, hungry - a chance to be competitive. How fortunate the Grizzlies are to have the roster they have right now, and the potential talent they are poised to collect in the coming seasons. They know the recipe, so now it is time to collect the fresh ingredients.
How much more tolerable is a losing season when the fanbase is “trusting the process, so to speak? A fan can invest in a rebuild on the hope that the Grizzlies will be perennial contenders in the near[ish] future. Suddenly, fans may be more forgiving of rookie mistakes or questionable lineups because the on-the-court product is not intended to be a display of greatness, but a laboratory in which analytics and eye-tests can dwell harmoniously for our consumption.
No one is expecting greatness from the Memphis Grizzlies this season, especially given how some teams in the Western Conference have armed themselves with superstar talent. It is time for the Grizzlies to work steadily behind the scenes, under the radar on perfecting their brand of basketball. While it is now taboo to refer to grit or grind (and certainly not the two paired together), that sentiment will always exist in the ether of this blue-collar town. This special place will always reward success built on hard work, effort and determination. What is the reward you ask? Well, it is the grace to fail, the luxury to be nimble and the patience to build.
Routinely, a person might go to a party and bring a store bought appetizer. Credit is due to some company somewhere that has done all the hard work of preparing it. People consume that appetizer and move along. That appetizer is predictably good, and therefore, unremarkable. The most credit the person gets is for the good judgment to buy it. Contrast that with a person takes the time to make an appetizer from scratch to bring to a party, the reception is different. You made this? How did you make it? The person owns both the process and the result, the risk and the reward.
It is one thing to succeed when you inherit great ingredients, but it is quite another to be the chef in the kitchen making the best of the recipe with what is on hand. This team has earned the fan’s patience by their willingness to make sweeping changes. Fans have yet to taste the finished product but look forward to the day they can resoundingly say, “our Grizzlies hat’s off to the chef.”