The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As the hell monster known as 2020 rages on, a sliver of light has shone through the blaze. The NBA has an anticipated return date, one that allows for plenty of time for the Memphis Grizzlies and the other teams involved in the festivities (likely in Orlando at Disneyworld). Ja Morant and company will likely have 6-8 weeks to physically and mentally prepare for the strangest - and perhaps most controversial - ending to an NBA season in the history of the Association.
At least the start of the push to resume has a familiar refrain.
Owners are largely planning to pledge support for Silver's final recommedation on a plan, which teams expect to include invitations for 20-to-22 teams to resume the season, sources tell @ramonashelburne, @ZachLowe_NBA and me. https://t.co/8waxNm1Dpc— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 29, 2020
If safety was the priority in the middle of a global pandemic, finishing the season with the top 16 teams when the season concluded would make the most sense. Those best 16 were the current top 8 seeds in both conferences - no fuss, no muss, the easiest thing to do. But while Adam Silver and the 30 owners surely are valuing health, because if they weren’t this exercise would be doomed to fail, that won’t be the only guiding factor. Money talks, and walks, and the NBA has lost potentially billions of dollars due to COVID-19. They need cash flow, they need ratings, they need drama.
Apparently they need Zion.
To be fair, Brian Windhorst of ESPN doesn’t explicitly say that the league is 100% in on Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans being involved in the postseason process. But he, and others, have insinuated that there is growing momentum among GMs and owners to give not just the Pelicans, but the Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, and perhaps even more (22 teams, as Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN are reporting, would include the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards) a run at the playoffs.
Is that fair? Of course it is. Just like the Grizzlies earned the 8 seed to this point, those squads were “good enough” to be in the hunt just as the season was suspended. Memphis had statistically the hardest schedule left, with multiple games left against the teams behind them in the playoff race. There’s a legitimate argument for letting those teams have their chance to catch the Grizzlies...but the question will be, as we await the exact structure of what Silver and his team has devised for the NBA’s return, will Memphis’ place at the front of the pack entering the season’s final turn be honored? Will they have an advantage - a head start - when the race resumes?
The recent reports from Woj and Ramona should tell us we shouldn’t hold our breath. The NBPA and NBA wants to get as much revenue back as they can, so the regular season games in addition to a play-in tournament makes sense financially for all involved. But having both a regular season AND a play-in tournament, while Memphis was up 3.5 games in the standings when the NBA world stopped spinning on March 11th, inherently hurts the Grizzlies whether they mean for it to or not.
Memphis has never been an NBA priority when it comes to these things - the Grizzlies are a good story, as they have been in the past, but the size of the market and lack of star power outside of Ja Morant makes them pale in comparison in the eyes of many when compared to Zion’s Pelicans, or Damian Lillard’s Trail Blazers. Memphis has beaten most odds all season long, but making sure that Williamson and Lillard get their shot to oust the Grizzlies has clearly been made a priority.
So in the week ahead, as the plans become finalized and it becomes clearer what exactly the Grizzlies are up against when they arrive at the happiest place on earth, the uncertainty of the times will be made slightly more comfortable in this timeless truth: it is now, as it always has been, Memphis against the world. None saw the Grizzlies in this position, yet here they are, and now Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr., and the entire team and coaching staff has all the more fuel to add to their fire. In a way it feels like Andre Iguodala not wanting to play with them all over again. It’s Ja standing up to Stephen Curry, it’s a continuation of a story that is part of the franchise’s history, as well as the city’s. It’s a Zach Randolph suspension, or a lack of nationally televised games despite multiple consecutive playoff appearances. It is a snide remark here or thinly veiled statement there...the list goes on and on of ways that Memphis and their Grizzlies often get the short end of the stick.
So what better way for the next generation of Grizzlies to stake their claim to the franchise than to, once again, stand up in the face of adversity and compete?
Life isn’t fair. If people haven’t learned that by now, they may never will. For so many people hurting and dealing with much more difficult and important situations than professional basketball, it has far more drastic consequences than what may befall the Grizzlies. But the NBA’s return is an opportunity to reengage with the good sports bring us - a sense of unity, joy, and pride, in a time where all of the above are severely lacking. The Grizzlies have become a shining example of the good a professional sports franchise can do, as well as the personification of the audacity and spirit of the city. To see, and feel, that again will reignite an energy that has been shuttered for far too long - no matter the odds against them.
In two months time, we will once again have Memphis Grizzlies basketball to inspire us. To bring us together. To give us hope for better days ahead, both on and off the court. For even in these trying times, the escape and emotion that NBA basketball provides for Memphis and the world is needed maybe now more than ever before.
Even if it is still Memphis vs. Errrbody.