Is This the End of the Grit ‘n’ Grind Era in Memphis?
In an era of floor spacing, up-tempo and finesse basketball, the Memphis Grizzlies have reached the playoffs in six consecutive seasons by going the exact opposite direction the league is trending.
Memphis basketball is about Grit ‘n’ Grind. A defense-first, bring-your-lunchbox-to-work, hard-nosed mentality. In the team’s six-season playoff streak, the franchise has recorded a Western Conference Finals appearance and two trips to the second round.
At the time of this column, the club is currently down 0-2 to the San Antonio Spurs in their first-round playoff matchup. Memphis has been outscored by 58 points in those two contests and appears to be over-matched in every facet of the game. The team is playing without former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and co-star Mike Conley, who would undoubtedly close the gap some, but right now the franchise is up against it.
The team had a chance to retool their identity last summer, possibly adding some more perimeter shooting or a bit more finesse. The Grizzlies decided to double-down on their core philosophy, re-signing Gasol to a five-year maximum contract and bringing in tough-minded veteran Matt Barnes. Midseason acquisitions of Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen reinforced that the franchise is completely invested in their hard-hat mentality.
But should they be long-term?
Heading into free agency this summer, Memphis will have just $47 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season, which could give the team close to $40 million in free agency depending on how the team handles its cap holds.
Conley will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and, with a limited point guard crop, should be in very high demand. The team holds a $9.4 million team option on Stephenson for next season and while the forward says he wants to be in Memphis long-term, the price tag may not be feasible.
Barnes and Andersen are also headed to unrestricted free agency this summer as well. While those guys have proven to still be productive players in the rotation, Barnes is 36 years old and Andersen is 37 years old.
Former All-Star forward Zach Randolph and three-time All-Defensive First Team guard Tony Allen will enter next season in the last year of their current deals, worth a combined $15.8 million. Guard Vince Carter’s non-guaranteed deal for next season is worth $4.2 million. Jordan Adams and Jarell Martin are on cap friendly rookie deals.
Once again heading into the offseason, the Grizzlies’ brass will have to decide whether the Grit ‘n’ Grind calling card is still their ticket to an eventual NBA Finals appearance.
In some ways, the signs of a new era are quite clear. Randolph, the former face of the franchise, was relegated to a reserve role at times this season as the club looked to play a bit faster. Still, Randolph ultimately started 53 of his 68 appearances this season while still logging roughly 30 minutes per night.
The current formula is producing trips to the playoffs. The risk involves tinkering with the team’s identity. But when you look at the separation between the Grizzlies and the Spurs, it’s hard not to believe the league may be passing the Grizzlies by.
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