On Wednesday night, the Memphis Grizzlies made franchise history. For the very first time in the 27 seasons the organization has existed, dating all the way back to the Vancouver days at the end of the 20th century, Memphis won a division title - in this case, the Southwest. The Grizzlies also, for the first time, secured their highest seed ever in the playoffs as Memphis will enter the proceedings beginning in a little over two weeks as the #2 squad in the entire Western Conference. Aside from the phenomenal Phoenix Suns, no team in the entire NBA has been as successful in the 2021-2022 regular season as the Memphis Grizzlies.
For all the wonderful memories of the Grit and Grind Era, never did that team have the chance to do what this iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies is doing. Context is required, to an extent - the best Grizzlies teams of that generation were dealing with greater competition in the Western Conference at the time. The 2014-2015 Grizzlies - a team that finished 55-27 - competed in a Western Conference where 7 squads finished with 50 or more wins. This season the most likely number of teams out west that get to 50 or more is 4 - Phoenix, Memphis, Dallas, and Golden State. Injuries to the Denver Nuggets (Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray) and Los Angeles Clippers (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George) have certainly helped get Memphis the opportunity to be in this position.
But that does not discredit the work the Grizzlies have done. Opportunity only presents itself - it doesn’t choose who takes the most advantage. Dallas and Golden State (who after the Stephen Curry injury also took the foot off the gas a bit, but Memphis was competing with them for the 2 seed even before his absence) arguably were in better positions to maximize this season as two specific contenders were weakened by injury.
But it was Memphis that made the most of it. And now, the perception of the Grizzlies has shifted. The eyes of history are viewing what this franchise is capable of moving forward. Not just now, but beyond.
For no one combines the possibility of now with the potential of the future like these Memphis Grizzlies in the modern NBA.
Don’t believe a lowly team blogger? Maybe you’ll listen to ESPN, who not only spent a couple days last week in Memphis for an all-access pass to the franchise but has also sung the praises of the Grizzlies in recent days. Kevin Pelton has the Memphis Grizzlies as the #1 team in the entire NBA in his Future Power Rankings, acknowledging the success of the franchise now combined with their ability to further grow the team moving forward. Brian Windhorst recently wrote about how Grizzlies Owner Robert Pera is now the 3rd richest owner in the NBA, and the understanding in league circles that when the time comes to pay to keep this team this good Pera will be willing to do so.
Maybe ESPN isn’t your bag - you’re more interested in how non-”mothership” thinkers think. The Athletic’s Danny Leroux wrote about how the Memphis Grizzlies are not just one of the NBA’s best teams now, they’re also a “sleeping giant” in the upcoming offseason as a team that could make a major move either via trade or free agency. Names like Jaylen Brown and Karl-Anthony Towns are brought up as unlikely (the success of both the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves this season means their trade availability is almost surely theoretical) targets for the Grizzlies to acquire. But the sheer audacity of the reality that this Grizzlies team - the one currently on pace to be the best in franchise history - is also well positioned to get potentially that much better is shocking to those that haven’t been paying attention.
But you, dear reader, read Grizzly Bear Blues. You know better.
You know audacity is nothing new to Ja Morant and the crew. You’re aware of the position of strength the Memphis Grizzlies find themselves in, and have been for some time. As the national media awakens to what those that follow the team daily have been aware of for some time now, the significance of now is what shakes the senses. More than ever before, the eyes of the NBA are on, and will continue to look to, what the Memphis Grizzlies are prepared to do. With the #2 seed in the Western Conference comes expectations. But with the blessing and burden of youth comes the understanding that even as the window to a title seems wide open now, the postseason makes scars and shatters preconceived notions. In the months ahead, the landscape of the West will continue to shift with health (and Los Angeles Lakers desperation). This team, in this moment, is a contender. But beyond this time, what will the Summer hold?
The most important Summer in Memphis Grizzlies history. The one before the well-deserved likely Supermax contract of Ja Morant kicks in. The one where the brilliance of Zach Kleiman, Tayshaun Prince, and the entire Grizzlies front office gets tested. Is the team one superstar away? Is the roster as established good enough to win a title? Is the answer in the middle?
The road ahead of that destination - the 2022 NBA Playoffs - will help guide the way.
These are exciting times. Memphis has the attention of the basketball world. No longer can it be said that the Grizzlies are a secret. The word is out - the Memphis Grizzlies are a juggernaut in the making, the likes of which has not been seen since Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden set the NBA on fire roughly a decade ago. But as Windhorst pointed out, that dynasty in the making fell apart in the face of luxury tax spending. Will Memphis be more like Golden State - who drafted well, kept their stars, made swings when they presented themselves, and spent hundreds of millions of dollars for their historic success? Or will this run for be a shooting star, a strikingly bright light in the NBA universe that fizzles out well before it was supposed to?
Time will tell. For now, enjoy the eyes of history watching something beautiful unfold in Memphis.
And these young, audacious Grizzlies that have done so much right the last three years to make this “only in the movies and in Memphis”, as the late, great Don Poier would say, moment happen.