A season is ultimately defined as a success or failure based on an a simple premise – did the team meet or exceed expectations?
Since only 1 team can win the title, the other 29 teams and their fanbases judge the season based on the expectations they had going into it. Most Grizzlies fans would probably have said going into the season that the hope was playoffs. Another year in the lottery would have been a disappointment, and playoffs would be a success. (And most Grizzlies fans weren’t even Grizzlies fans this time last year. But I’m happy to have a full FedExForum, even if you never donned the teal and red of yesteryear.)
Expectations can ebb or flow as the season goes on. Once the Grizz made the playoffs, the expectations were to give the Spurs all they could handle. After the Game 1 win, fans started to truly “believe.” And even though the season ended in a blowout loss at OKC, the season was ultimately a success, succeeding the expectations of even the most optimistic of Grizzlies fans.
So what will this year’s Grizz have to do to succeed? Looking at the Grizzlies in a vacuum, anything less than a Western Conference Semifinals appearance would be a disappointment. Assuming Marc Gasol signs soon, the Grizzlies return a near identical roster except this year’s playoff squad would have Rudy Gay in the lineup instead of Shane Battier. (And as much as I love me some Shane Battier, this is an upgrade.)
Expectations are rising. What was success last year would be disappointment this year. So what are the chances the Grizz exceed expectations again and they move closer to a title? (Also, what are the chances I wear this jersey again?)
Looking at last year’s Western Conference standings, Dallas has weakened with the loss of Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd turning 39 in March and Dirk on the outskirts of his prime (age 33). Even if the Mavs land Lamar Odom (rumors at this point), I’d say the defending champs have taken a small step back.
San Antonio was dispatched by the Grizz last year and haven’t done much, if anything, to upgrade their roster or get younger. It’s weird to type this, but the Spurs don’t concern me at all.
The Lakers are the biggest wild card at this point. They’re still a juggernaut but their title window is closing. They imploded vs. Dallas in the playoffs last year. They failed to land Chris Paul last week and are still pursing Dwight Howard. A Dwight Howard-Kobe Bryant tandem would make them favorites in the West, but they’d lack depth beyond that. I’d like to avoid this team as much as possible.
Oklahoma City is the Grizzlies natural rivals for several reasons a) the 7 game series last year, b) the fact that both teams are the young, up-and-coming teams in the West, c) smaller markets, feel-good stories and d) great matchups (Rudy vs. Durant, Gasol vs. Perkins, Z-Bo vs. Ibaka, Westbrook vs. passing). Grizzlies fans assume that having Rudy Gay back would push the Grizz past the Thunder this year. Home court advantage could be the key. All I know is this, Thunder-Grizz is must watch this season.
Vegas currently has both Portland and Denver as more likely NBA Champs than the Grizz. Denver won a single playoff game last year and might lose their starting center to free agency. Portland’s Brandon Roy just retired. Maybe I got too much Growl Towel lint in my eyes, but I don’t see either of these teams as a legitimate threat.
The rest of the Western Conference teams would be low-seeded playoff teams at best, and would most likely only face Memphis in the playoffs if the Grizz landed a top-4 seed. The Clippers could be the surprise team this year, with lots of young talent, but they’re probably still a year away from making serious noise.
The Grizzlies road to the Western Conference Finals will depend on the following things:
1. Resign Marc Gasol
This is a no-brainer. Yet why hasn’t he signed yet. Quit messing around Grizzlies.
2. Keep the key players healthy
I suppose this goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. Deal with it.
3. Landing a top 4 seed.
The Grindhouse is a suddenly tough place to play and it would behoove the Grizzlies to play as many playoff games at home as possible.
4. Roster movement
The Grizzlies roster is pretty much intact, so really, what shakes out with the Lakers, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, etc. could alter the landscape of the West.
So what are the Grizzlies expectations? I honestly think it’s Western Conference Finals or bust. A second round loss could be stomached depending on the circumstance. A tough series loss vs. a Kobe/Dwight Lakers squad would be acceptable. Another series loss to the Thunder would be heartbreaking. Anything less than the Western Conference Semis would be a failure. Expectations are rising. Can the Grizzlies exceed them again?