Success will always be measured by the comparison of reality and expectations. In the case of the 2013-2014 Memphis Grizzlies, the two are drastically different. The Western Conference runner-ups have been projected by the experts to finish anywhere from 5th to 9th in the West come playoff time.
You have been led to believe that the return of a healthy Russell Westbrook will mask Oklahoma City’s problems: a lack of quality depth, an absence of outside shooting after losing their best (and practically only, unless Jeremy Lamb finally lives up to the hype) deep threat not named Kevin Durant as Kevin Martin was sent to the Timberwolves in a sign-and-trade, and the fact that they still have Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher.
Golden State and Houston made big splashes and cut to the front of the line of the championship conversation, while landing Doc Rivers combined with a few shrewd moves have the Clippers pegged as a lock to finally win a game in the second round of the CP3 era (granted, maybe this slows down after the Lakers bench embarrassed them in the season opener).
A group of up-and-coming teams like Martin’s Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans led by the draft night trade for Jrue Holiday and the expected leap into stardom by Anthony Davis are pegged to be serious threats to make noise this season and compete for the playoffs. On the other hand, the new-look Nuggets should take a step back (Anthony Randolph starting at the small forward?!) and the Dallas Mavericks enter the season having missed out on Dwight Howard but poised to compete with a revamped backcourt and rejuvenated Dirk.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies seemingly kept their roster relatively the same and have stayed off the radar. There were no sexy offseason signings (on the court at least. I can’t speak for Mike Miller or Nick Calathes’ game off of it), but rather a perception of a downgrade amid turmoil as a 56-win team made a coaching change.
The addition of Kosta Koufos and increased roles for Ed Davis and Jon Leuer will both bolster front court depth while also adding fuel to the inevitable midseason Zach Randolph trade fires.
Coach David Joerger will have more options on the wing to avoid the floor-spacing nightmare combination of Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen as Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter continue their progression. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will look to build off of their impressive second half of 2012-2013. The duo must continue to play at an elite level if the Grizzlies plan to keep pace in a reloaded Western Conference.
Given another year to play together with the core intact, Memphis will benefit early in the season as their counterparts try to gel. Noticeably, the list of teams mentioned above did not include the Grizzlies’ opponent on opening night. The San Antonio Spurs are no stranger to being annually lost in the shuffle of offseason acquisitions, and they seem to do alright.
Expectations have the Grizzlies fighting for their playoff lives; reality began last night.