The Memphis Grizzlies were supposed to be an up and coming team this season, capable of not only shocking a playoff opponent but actually a long shot for the division crown. The start of the season has made those predictions look pretty silly so far.
However the slow start shouldn’t be a surprise really. The offseason issues, trade rumors and injuries have depleted the franchise’s momentum.
How did this happen? It hasn’t been one thing in particular but the overwhelming effect of all of these issues that have hurt the team so far.
First, the team’s loss of the normal training camp period hurt far more than most experts realized. The Grizzlies are a young team and that month of training time is important for young teams to get into the flow of things. Cutting that period down to two weeks meant the team had to ramp up their chemistry much faster. Older, more experienced teams can handle this. Younger teams not so much.
Second, the delay in resigning Marc Gasol negated almost the entire training camp. Gasol was a major factor in the Grizzlies success last season, especially in the playoffs. The delay in signing him cost the team valuable time to rebuild their chemistry. Practicing without any true centers (Hamed Haddadi was also absent for all of training camp) meant the team was without a vital cog in their lineup. Brian Skinner was helpful but he is not Marc Gasol. Once Gasol signed it was revealed that he injured himself working out in LA. It wasn’t a serious injury but again, in a compressed pre-season period, every day matters.
Third, Mayo trade rumors have had a negative effect on Mayo’s game, much more than expected in fact. Mayo wanted to have a big season this year. He had accepted his role as the lead scorer off the bench and after a terrible season last year he wanted to show the promise of his first two seasons in the league. Instead he had to read that he was involved in talks for a player he can’t perceive as an equal on the court. So far the rumors have negatively impacted his play. It is likely that he will shake out of the doldrums but it is clear he feels unwanted in Memphis and his effort has reflected that belief.
Fourth, injuries have been critical. Darrell Arthur was hugely important to the team last season and losing him for the season left a gaping hole on the team’s bench. Xavier Henry was supposed to much improved from his rookie season. So much so in fact that the Grizzlies were rumored to be shopping O J Mayo in a trade for other more pressing needs. Henry’s injury forced Mayo back into the Grizzlies plans. Mike Conley had firmly established himself as the team’s leader and his twisted ankle forced the Grizzlies into playing rookies at this vital position. Finally, Randolph’s bruised knee made the Grizzlies thinest position even worse.
Finally, the league wasn’t friendly in scheduling three of the best teams in the league in the first four games. Any team would struggle against Chicago and San Antonio in those team’s home opener. Oklahoma City is considered the favorite to win the West this season as well. The only game the Grizzlies should have expected to be a win was against the Rockets and they did win that game despite losing Conley in the opening seconds of the game. Sacramento is a team on the rise with Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton manning a solid backcourt. The Kings frontline is suspect but without Zach Randolph and with Rudy Gay struggling to get his game going, the Grizzlies are more suspect along the front line.
The Grizzlies can’t change the off-season nor can they magically heal their wounded players. With a tough three game road trip facing them (at Minnesota, Utah and the Lakers) the Grizzlies need to grow up and find the magic the team showed in the playoffs last season or this year of hope may turn into another season of regret.
The slow start can be explained but any continued weakness will be difficult at best to overcome.