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Memphis fans finally have something to cheer about after a successful 2010 season for their beloved Grizzlies, coming within one game of the Western Conference Finals, and winning their first playoff series’ in franchise history. So what moves does Memphis make in order to get over the hump and become a true force in the NBA.
Memphis found a way to turn things around this season under head coach Lionel Hollins after an unimpressive 2009 season. The Grizzlies finished 40-42 and were an irrelevant stepping stone in the powerhouse Western Conference last season, but that’s all in the past.
After squeaking into the playoffs this season, and drawing the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs in round one, Memphis was written off by most analysts and fans before the playoffs even began. Nobody thought that this small-market team, with Rudy Gay sidelined by injury, could make any real noise in the post-season. The Grizzlies had other plans.
Not only were they able to handle the Spurs, they dominated them, and though they went on to lose in seven games to the Oklahoma City Thunder, they proved something to basketball fans everywhere: that first series was no fluke.
The scrappy 2010 squad was a throwback to the physical style of basketball fans were accustomed to watching in past decades. In fact they became my favorite team to watch in the playoffs for that very reason. Leading the NBA in points in the paint behind star-forward Zach Randolph and budding young center Marc Gasol, Memphis forced teams to outwork them, and proved that they would not roll over for anybody.
Not only was this team big and strong, but they had arguably the best perimeter defense in the league. Signing former Celtics guard Tony Allen in the off-season and trading for veteran forward Shane Battier at the deadline sparked a new attitude in this team, one we hadn’t ever seen out of Memphis before.
As the old saying goes “offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.” Too many teams seem to have lost sight of this adage of late, but Hollins kept his team focused on locking down the other teams scorers and rebounding the basketball en route to becoming a team that was near impossible for opposing coaches to prepare for.
On the offensive end, Memphis caught a crushing blow when their best wing scorer Rudy Gay injured his shoulder midway through the season, requiring surgery which would keep him sidelined through the playoffs. Gay was quickly becoming the “go-to-guy” on the team, but Hollins was able to rally his troops to pick-up the slack, causing some to believe that the injury turned out to have a positive impact on the team in the long-run.
Fourth year point guard Mike Conley finally came into his own and is looking like the franchise point-guard that the Grizzlies had aspirations for him to be on draft day in 2007. Conley knocked down key shots throughout both playoff series’ and has become the leader of the young team which in prior years was yearning for stability.
Although having the worst season of his short career, and almost being traded at the deadline, OJ Mayo was true to form in the playoffs, scoring in bunches off the bench and proving to be extremely difficult for any other backup guard to deal with.
With all of these key pieces in place alongside young talent in Sam Young, Darrell Arthur and former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez, what other pieces do the Grizzlies have to put in place to make the next step and become a serious championship contender? The answer may be none.
Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley in a recent interview insisted that Rudy Gay will not be traded as much speculation had pointed to. With an off-season to prepare with the same team, and the possibility of adding more size off the bench in the upcoming draft, Hollins’ team may be poised for a big run next season.
If Gay can return to form, Randolph and Gasol can continue their domination down low, Mike Conley can continue to improve, and OJ Mayo can finally find his place with this team, there is no reason that they can’t improve looking forward, and build upon what 2010 started.
With the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks all aging very quickly, the young Grizzlies could contend with Oklahoma City as favorites in the Western Conference for years to come. Don’t worry Memphis fans, 2011 was not a fluke, it was the beginning. With hard work in the off-season, many more playoff victories are on the horizon. The future is in their hands.