Although there are several months until the 2016-17 NBA season graces us with its presence, most teams, the Memphis Grizzlies included, have already executed the bulk of their important off-court transactions.
Following a bizarre, injury-stricken, quasi-competitive regular season, it has been a tumultuous offseason in the Bluff City. The Grizzlies kicked things off by firing head coach Dave Joerger on May 7th, two weeks after getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in an understandably-poor, but not lifeless, display in the first round of the playoffs.
Joerger had been with the team for nearly a decade starting, off as an assistant in 2007 before taking over as head coach in 2013. In his three seasons at the helm, the Grizz never missed the playoffs and averaged 49 wins per season. As they have been for the entire Grit n Grind era, the Grizz were a model of consistency that never quite made it over the hump. Despite that, they gave the Golden State Warriors arguably their toughest challenge en route to winning the title during the 2015-16 playoffs, the last moderately healthy playoff run Joerger and the Grizz were able to make (even still, Mike Conley was playing with the infamous goffball-esque injury to his foot and Tony Allen was not at 100 percent).
Whether through frustrations with the front office, the hopes of greener pastures, or a combination of both, Joerger felt the need to move on to the Sacramento Kings and away from a group of players he obviously cared about and gave his all for.
Joerger was replaced David Fizdale, a long-time assistant for the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, where he was an integral part of Erik Spoelstra’s multiple title-winning staff.
From the countless articles profiling Fizadale after his hire, it seems the consensus is that he is known for developing young players and willing to adapt the Grizzlies’ style of play while still keeping the Core Four of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen heavily involved in the action, aka the three most important things Memphis needed in a coach. Plus, after reading Marc Spears’ revealing and thoughtful Q&A with FIzdale, it’s hard not to believe in the guy.
The draft was more of a mixed bag. Memphis came away with four players: Wade Baldwin IV, Whang Zhelin, Deyonta Davis, and Rade Zagorac, who ended up resigning with his European club. The Baldwin and Davis picks were applauded by most draft experts, as both seem to have tremendous upside for the slots they were taken at. Baldwin had the upside of a lottery pick, while Davis was expected to be a first round pick. Getting him in the trade with the Boston Celtics seemed to be a steal. Zhelin, on the other hand, was not expected to even be drafted. He had not received any attention during most of the pre-draft speculation. With several solid options remaining at that point in the draft, including many “fan favorites,” it was a definite surprise to see Zhelin’s name called.
For a few days at least, it seemed as if Conley was leaning toward actually leaving Memphis in free agency to become the Spurs’ point guard of the future. But most evidence, whether it was from Conley himself or an inside source, pointed to the formerly-masked man re-upping with the Grizz. The perennial Most Underrated Player in the NBA is now the highest paid player in NBA history, signing a 5-year, $153 million contract.
With the Core Four settled in for at least one more run, the Grizzlies had a few more tough choices to make in free agency. Not wanting to let their best free agent escape from their grasp, Memphis offered the oft-injured Chandler Parsons a 4-year, $98 dollar contract. Parsons is the type of sweet-shooting, wing player the franchise has been trying to sign for years. He’s a perfect fit for a team desperate to stretch the floor on offense. Let’s just hope he can stay healthy for a potential 90+ game season.
James Ennis was also signed in free agency. Although he was used sparsely in his brief 10-game stint with the Grizz last season, he showed some potential at the end of the season with the New Orleans Pelicans. For 2-years at $6 million Ennis is worth the flyer.
Troy Daniels, acquired in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets, could provide three-point shooting off the bench for a team starved for it. Everywhere he’s been, no matter the playing time, he has generally shot a high percentage from deep.
Locals are excited about the arrival of former Memphis Tiger D.J. Stephens, freshly signed from the Summer League squad. He's a high-flying freak athlete, something the Grizzl have sorely lacked over the years, but it seems as if his odds of making the roster are low.
Memphis had a high number of players on the roster heading into the offseason thanks to the injury epidemic. Playoff-hardened veterans Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Matt Barnes left for the word champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the Joerger-led Sacramento Kings, receptively. The jury is still out on wildcard Lance Stephenson, not to mention the likes of Xavier Munford, Jordan Farmar, P.J. Hairston, and Bryce Cotton, who each showed various levels of potential. Of all of the “mercenaries” brought in to help right the ship last season, Stephenson seems to have the most potential going forward. He could be a lively spark-plug off the bench for the Grizzlies as well as insurance for the inevitable Parsons injury.
With such a busy offseason full of mostly positive moves, it is still not guaranteed that the Grizz keep their six-year playoff streak alive. With several Western Conferences teams having improved their roster, and one mega-contender dropped down to middling playoff team status, there will be plenty of teams waiting to steal the Grizzlies spot. Just don’t count out the old men down on Beale Street. They always put up a fight.