Everyone who has followed the Memphis Grizzlies for more than a couple of years has knowledge of Michael Heisley’s famed 3 Year Plan to take the Grizzlies from mediocrity to terrible and back up to playoff contenders. It was announced following the draft in 2008 when O J Mayo came to town. At his press conference Heisley stated that the Grizzlies had put into place a 3 year plan to return to the playoffs building off of a surplus of draft picks and selective dips into free agency to build a competitive team.
Whether or not the plan has been and will be successful is still up for discussion. Certainly the hope of draft lottery success has failed but the team is still competing for the playoffs in this, the 3rd year, of the plan. One has to admit that at some level the plan has been successful.
However, criticism of the plan remains in spite of the success of the team on the court. Fans declare the 3 year plan is a sham meant to delude the faithful while pocketing money for the owner instead of wins for the team. The argument goes something like this: The team traded away their best players in a cost cutting move not a build for the future move. The ‘success’ of the plan has far more todo with a lucky trade than any build with youth program and most of the picks have been squandered or sold instead of used for valuable contributing membersof the team. The bottom line was never winning but making a profit for the owner. Winning was a nice surprise not a required goal. Profit was the only goal the team consistently pursued.
It’s hard to argue with some of those points too. Mayo has not been the player people envisioned when he was drafted and the Grizzlies traded both first round draft picks from the 2009 draft to Houston for an expiring contract. The 2010 draft picks have failed to holdtheir spots in the rotation and seem to need a lot more time to developtheir games. The onlydraft picksactually contributing to the Grizzlies playoff push this season are Darrell Arthur (27th pick in the 2008 draft) and Sam Young (35th pick in the 2009 draft). The main forces leading the team this season were already on the team when the 3 year plan was announced (Mike Conley and Rudy Gay) or were acquired veterans like Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. In fact the only player whoarrived in Memphis as a rookie who is contributing more than Arthur and Young is MarcGasol who’s rights were acquired in the Pau Gasol trade.
So if the 3 year planhas failed so far to bring along young talent to make the team competitivewhy are other teams looking at this strategy and looking to implement it?
What’s that you say? A billionaire owner wanting to lose gamesonce he loses his star? Sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it.What’s more, he wasn’t alone in that attitude. Charlotte owner Michael Jordan said “we don’t want to be the seventh or eighth seed” in explaining why the team traded Gerald Wallace. Charlotte was mediocre withWallace but would likely never be great. Rather than existing in the middle ground between those teams hoping for a title and and those hoping for a franchise changing player, Charlotte decided to start fresh, lose games and hope for the best possible result rebuilding with the draft. In a sense, the Bobcats chose a 3 year plan over remaining in the middle.
Kevin Pritchard, former GM of the Portland Trailblazers, agreed with Cuban as well. What’s more, Pritchard issued in a new lexicon into the vernacular of the NBA with the utterance of the phrase the mediocrity treadmill. The mediocrity treadmill is when a team has no illusion to be good enough to challenge for a title but at the same time is not bad enough to acquire in a draft the type of player capable of breaking the team through that ceiling of performance. The Pau Gasol led Memphis Grizzlies were a prime example of a team on the mediocrity treadmill. With Gasol the team could win enough games to make the playoffs but not be good enough to win once in the playoffs.
So the much criticized strategy devised by Michael Heisley is now a much copied strategy of how to reach higher by reaching lower.
But what does it take to break above the mediocrity treadmill? According to Wyc Grousbec, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, a team can’t realistically challenge for a title unless they havethree players capable of being all-stars on their teamwith at least one of them potentially being a top 50 player of all-time. The Celtics have that with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The Heat, Lakers, Spurs, Mavericksand Bulls all seem to have those types of teams. Oklahoma City would appear to be one all-star short. Portland could have been a contender but injuries to Oden and Roy seem to have side-tracked them. Denver was close with Carmello Anthony and Chauncey Billups but when the 3rd star wasn’t found and Melo made it known he was leaving the team jettisoned him to expedite the rebuilding process.
Which brings us back to Memphis and Mike Heisley. The Grizzlies have two players with All-Star potential right now in Rudy Gay and ZachRandolph and possibly a third in O J Mayo despite his poor play this season. So why was Heisley looking to trade Mayo at the deadline and for a journeyman with an expiring contract and a middle of the road 1st round pick? Was this a subtle admittance that the 3 year plan isn’t successful and the team doesn’t have the pieces to make a serious run? Is it implying that maybe the teamfeels Mike Conley could be that 3rd star so Mayo was not needed?Are the Grizzlies, as constructed today, ready to make in the next season or two theleap from playoff qualifier to playoff contender or is this justthe starting point for the team blowing things up again and starting from scratch?
We don’t know the answer to those questions yet but they arequestions well worth contemplating this summer with Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and ShaneBattier all free agents.Are the Grizzlies on the mediocrity treadmill or are they stepping past that trap tobecome legitimate playoff contenders?