Just a few years ago; the Memphis Grizzlies were charter members of the Association’s “Cellar-Dwellers” and the club’s General Manager Chris Quinn, seemed to be destined to wind up on the NBA scrap-heap. Quinn, fell far short of success holding the same position with the Boston Celtics and things did not seem to be headed in the right direction for the team he was now the architect for. If Memphis had pushed the panic button at that point, chances are good that Quinn’s NBA career, could have ended there, or at the very least it would have taken a few years; before another franchise would possibly take a chance on him.
Fortunately for the club and their fans; Grizzlies management believed in their General Manager and stuck with him and soon there after; the confidence that the team had in Quinn, began to show results. After hitting bottom, with the low point being the trading of franchise player Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers, they followed the lead set by the San Antonio Spurs; building a squad through the NBA Draft, augmented by signing key veterans to help lead the way. One asset they did acquire in the trade with Los Angeles, was the rights to negotiate and sign Gasol’s younger brother Marc, a key part of their recent success.
The next move in the right direction was firing former head coach Marc Iavaroni, replacing him with the “L-Train,” Lionel Hollins, who soon won the respect of his players. The former point guard, took the reins in January of 2009 and by the end of the regular season, there was visible improvement on the floor. Memphis would end the campaign with an embarrassing record of 24-58, but they showed lots of progress the following season.
Although, the Grizzlies fell short of making the Playoffs, they ended the regular season with a 40-42 mark, a significant improvement from the previous season. Hollins may have also won the eternal respect of his players, when he stood up to former All-Star guard Allen Iverson, who had signed with the team as a Free Agent, just before the start of the campaign. Iverson expected to be put in the Grizzlies starting lineup, but the “L-Train” wanted him to play off of the bench. Hollins would win the battle, as Iverson soon parted company with the franchise.
Memphis also brought in another player who had undeniable talent; but known as a “Problem Child” in Zach Randolph. The big man played for Portland when the club was known as the “Jail Blazers,” only to be traded to “Team Dysfunctional,” otherwise known as the Isiah Thomas New York Knicks. Being a member of that toxic squad, did not help redeem his reputation in the Association. However NBA observer’s opinion of Randolph would change by the end of the campaign as he would become a leader on and off the court, for his squad.
Although Marc Gasol, lacked the finesse of his older brother, he soon showed that he had a toughness and a strength that Pau, very rarely displays. Rudy Gay completes the Grizzlies front-court, once again the leading scorer on the team this season as he is averaging 19.7 points per contest. Mike Conley Jr. will never be an All-Star, in this “Golden Age Of The Point Guard,” but the young man has talent as a floor general and as a scorer, while veteran Tony Allen; winner of an NBA Finals with the Boston Celtics, is his partner in the back-court.
They would show they were for real the following season, as they ended the campaign with a 46-36 record, then as the number eight seed in the Western Conference they defeated top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round and went to the Conference semi-finals, before heading home for the summer. Memphis would have a stronger regular campaign the following season, but they went home after losing in the first round. The quick Post Season exit, plus allowing key reserve O.J. Mayo to leave the team; made many pundits wonder whether they would take a step backwards at the beginning of this season.
It has actually been another season of improvement for the team that originated in Vancouver, as they are in first place in the Western Conference as of Tuesday morning, with a record of 10-2, and they lead the Association in winning percentage of .833 after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games, as well as winning their last two contests. According to the “Commercial Appeal,” Hollins believes that the secret to the squad’s success is simply playing like a team.
The coach told reporters “I have said from the beginning that that’s been the thing that I have been most impressed even in training camp; that they have been committed to each other. They are playing together. They talk a lot to each other. The spirit and camaraderie is so much better than it has been since I have been here. It is just their individual maturity and their individual commitment to each other.”
Conley said that the number of options the team’s talented roster gives them, makes them a formidable opponent to any team they play. The point guard said “It’s very dangerous to have so many different options. We have so many games, a lot of games. Some nights it’s Marc Gasol’s night, some nights it’s Rudy Gay’s night. You never know who’s going to step up and it’s hard to scheme for that and prepare for that when you have so many guys who can come up big at the end.”
It is very early in the 2012-2013 campaign, and 12 games are far too few to decide whether the Grizzlies hot start will carry through the season. However, with every additional victory, the squad will start to believe in itself more strongly, which could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.