Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera rarely speaks to the media. In fact he’s rarely seen at a game. Still following the disastrous 22-60 2017-2018 season Mr. Pera made his expectations clear in a mid-June interview with Grind City Media. In that interview he stated “Assuming Marc (Gasol) and Mike (Conley) come back healthy, I think we have a couple of surrounding pieces that are younger players that are going to make a positive impact. We’ll get another good player in this draft. I see no reason why we can’t return to being a 50-win plus team.” Further it has been widely reported that the Grizzlies front office has been making a strong push for a return to the playoffs in 2019.
Now look, some of this may just be euphoria on Pera’s part from maintaining controlling interest of the team in April. It could also be the organization getting its feet back under itself after the failed David Fizdale experiment. Whatever it is, I’m not sure it’s grounded in reality. As of right now only the top 8 teams from each conference make the playoffs. I get the arguments that the Western Conference is so much harder than the Eastern Conference, but regardless as of July 2018 that’s the system that is in place. So the question that is really at hand is, are the Grizzlies a legitimate playoff contender, and if not should the fans be disappointed?
As of July 22, 2018 the Grizzlies roster is basically set. Sure, someone could come along and make a asinine trade offer for either Marc Gasol or Mike Conley and change things completely, but that is extremely unlikely to occur. So let’s make a few assumptions. First let’s assume that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are able to play at least 65-70 games together this season. This is a pretty big assumption since that hasn’t happened the last three seasons. Still, let’s assume Conley comes back from his injury and both guys stay healthy. Next, let’s assume that Chandler Parsons is able to play at least 41 games this season. Maybe unlikely, but hey there’s a first time for everything and I’m not asking him to be the 2nd or 3rd leading scorer, just get on the court and contribute something.
So, with the additions of JJJ, Omri, Temple and Kyle Anderson and the subtractions of Tyreke, DD, and McLemore where do we stand? Let’s start with teams only someone wearing teal colored glasses would possibly think are not better than the Grizzlies. They would be Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, and Lakers. Now lets move to the teams that are PROBABLY better than the Grizzlies. These are teams that all things being equal have more talent, but if things go badly they could slip to the Grizzlies level. They would be the Jazz, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Pelicans. Finally there is a level of teams that are POSSIBLY better than the Grizzlies. These are teams that have similar talent, but they are either younger or deeper. These teams are the Clippers, Nuggets and Mavericks. What I’m saying here is that the only teams I can confidently 100% say the Grizzlies are better than right now are the Suns and Kings.
So there’s no shot, right? Not exactly, see injuries do happen. They happen all the time to teams that should be good. It’s just that the odds of them happening to enough teams to put the Grizzlies in playoff contention seems unlikely. The reality is that Mike and/or Marc will probably have an injury of some kind this season. There is no Tyreke Evans to fall back on, and I don’t think Marshon Brooks can completely fill that role. So what should we expect? According to the European sportsbook Sky Bet the Grizzlies over/under win total stands at 27.5 as of July 5, 2018. That number might seem a tad low, but it’s not absurdly low.
What we should want from this season is hope. As mentioned in a previous column, it’s very likely the Grizzlies will lose their first round pick in 2019 to the Celtics. It would be nice to somehow find a way to make that pick as bad as possible for them, but the reality is that it will probably be a lottery pick. There’s still work to do on the roster, but the average age is going down. Now we need to see steps forward from JaMychal and Selden as well as some baby steps from JJJ and Jevon. However, going into the season with playoffs or bust attitude would seem like setting yourself up to be disappointed.