When a season ends, people search for a nonexistent black and white reason to explain it. Beyond the why, people want to put a label on the season. The Twitter fights commence almost instantaneously with the sunny-sides proclaiming it a successful season and the miserables proclaiming that the team is flawed and must be overhauled.
Of course, the need to define a season isn’t strictly relegated to the internet. Before he exited the post game press conference, Lionel Hollins was asked whether or not he viewed the season as a success. He began his response with a sarcastic, “Naw, It was a total bust.” but then continued with his view of the season:
“We had the best winning percentage in franchise history. We had two of our core players go down with injuries and we still won 41 games and we found a way to get it done. It’s a very satisfying season with a bitter end. You know, every team but one will have a bitter end and so every team will have to evaluate whether their season was good or not. If you made the playoffs, you probably had a good season. If you didn’t then you can’t say that.”
Apart from the last sentence, I have to say there is a lot of truth in that quote. Of course, some would say this series was a failure and as we are often reminded, the season is all about what you do in the playoffs. So who is right?
There are approximately 18,000 seats in the FedEx Forum, each with a slightly different perspective on the action from the one next to it. The guy in the top row of the upper deck is watching the same game as the one sitting in the first row of floor seats. However, the way in which they perceive the action can’t help but be drastically different.
The way you feel about the 2011-2012 Grizzlies is as much about you as it is about what happened. There are hundreds of different ways to view what happened Sunday and they aren’t necessarily defined by wrong or right. They are defined by where you choose to sit when you evaluate sports.
I can tell you that my tendency is to roam. Like many, I vacillate between one view and the next. This being the case, here is a look at the season from four different “seats”:
Upper Deck – Franchise Snapshot
I’ve written about it before, but I’ve attended draft lottery parties. Yes, a party to see what draft pick the Grizzlies would get. This franchise arrived in Memphis in 2001 and started its tenure with two predictably poor seasons. However, the Grizzlies made the playoffs in year three and appeared to be on the brink of something.
What it was on the brink of turned out to be historical postseason failure. Despite making the playoffs in three consecutive seasons the Grizzlies entered the 2006-2007 season with the same number of postseason victories it had when the franchise arrived: zero.
That led to the dark years. The Grizzlies traded All-Star forward, Pau Gasol for what seemed like pennies on the dollar. The losing seasons began to mount and mistake after mistake was made in the draft. This resulted in unprecedented apathy among the fan base and media. Apart from one local radio host railing against the organization in both spoken word and parody songs, the Grizzlies barely existed.
The average attendance dipped below 13,000 and many games featured crowds closer to 18 than 18,000.
Compare that to where they stand now. The last two seasons ended in Game 7 of a playoff series. Regular season attendance, while still not fantastic, was the best it has been since 2005-2006. The Grizzlies playoff crowds are lauded as being among the best in the NBA. The team just hosted a playoff series.
Upper Deck Conlusion: From up here you can see more. You can see the entire scope of the franchise. All we ever wanted was a competitive team made up of guys that play their hearts out. We got it. Appreciate where we are and go get em’ next year.
Lower Bowl- What a Seaon
Before the season ever started, key reserve Darrell Arthur went down with a season ending injury. It was a concern, but not many people felt it drastically changed the ceiling for the Griz. Then in the fourth game of the season the unthinkable happened. Zach Randolph crumbled to the floor in Chicago holding his knee. Initially it looked terrible then a report surfaced that there was no serious damage. That turned out to be false as an an MRI revealed a partial MCL tear.
When he went down tweets and text abounded all communicating the same message: Season Over. On January 11 the team woke up with a 3-6 record and its best player out indefinitely. The pessimists declared the season a loss. The optimists hoped the team could scrap together enough wins to remain near the final playoff spot until Randolph got back.
Not a single person predicted the team would go on to set the franchise record for winning percentage and earn a top four seed in the Western Conference. Other issues persisted as the year progressed. Several key players missed a number of games and when Randolph returned he wasn’t the Z-Bo of the 2011 regular season much less the one of last year’s playoffs. This led many to believe that the team would never find its chemistry. Then the Griz beat the Thunder, Heat and Mavericks in one week with two of those wins coming on the road.
Lower Bowl Conclusion: While the end was disappointing, making the playoffs was a remarkable accomplishment. The season had so many high points as franchise records were broken and new milestones were reached. Next year, with another year of playoff experience and a healthy Z-Bo we will be a force to be reckoned with.
Floor Seats- Playoff Choke = Bad Season
They choked. They choked away a 27 point lead in game one. They choked away a six point lead with 4:13 left in game three. They choked. To top it all off they came out and choked for a full 48 minutes in a game seven at home. In game seven the players were miserable, and the coaching was worse.
They managed to lose a series in which they outscored their opponent. How do you do that? Over seven games the Grizzlies scored 494 points in the first three quarters while the Clippers scored 452. How do you lose a series in which you do that? By being miserable when it matters most. In the fourth quarter and overtime the Grizzlies were outscored 183 to 146. In the series, the Grizzlies led five times going into the fourth quarter, the Clippers only once.
Lionel Hollins tried lineups that had never played together and refused to go with what had proven to work down the stretch. The team often abandoned the post scoring that it is built on.
Rudy Gay’s play ranged from inconsistent to awful. In game seven, after playing a strong three quarters, he disappeared in the fourth the way he had so many times in the regular season.
It is also perplexing that an NBA team could have only one legitimate ball handler. Last year’s team had no shooting and issues at backup point guard. This year’s team still had no shooting and the backup point situation got worse. Yes, the front office made some nice moves to fill in when Randolph went down but how do you return to the playoffs without addressing the issues from last year?
Lower Bowl Conclusion: Success is measured by how you perform in the postseason and the Grizzlies lost a series they should have won. The time of being plucky underdogs has passed and it is time the team was held accountable for failure. The Grizzlies were exposed and it’s unlikely to get better in the future given the financial constraints. O.J. Mayo is likely gone and the team won’t be able to pay quality free agents. Add in the fact that Randolph isn’t getting any younger and the best case scenario for this group is to be the Western Conference version of the Atlanta Hawks.
I’ll borrow a little from everyone. First, I would say the regular season was a major success given the challenges. The postseason was a colossal failure. When you lose a game seven at home in the same series you blew a 27 point home lead, that can only be a failure. As far as the season on the whole I really can’t say. In my view, it may be determined retroactively. Was this an injury riddled year that bridged the franchise from upstart to contender? Or did it prove that while good, the team has a definite ceiling?
The options for next year are limited. Mayo is as good as gone and despite his postseason slump he was a valuable piece. Other than that the only key pieces in flux are Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur. I expect one to be here and the other one to move on. I suspect Arthur is the more likely returnee.
Beyond those moves there are two directions to go:
1. Trade Rudy Gay for a package that returns a quality player on a smaller contract along with a good draft pick.
The Grizzlies won’t be looking to trade Gay for the sake of doing so nor should they. It is unlikely they good get fair value but if they could I wouldn’t have an issue with it.
2. Stay the course and tweak the roster.
This is the most likely plan to take place and in my opinion a darn fine one. We still don’t know what this core is capable of doing together over the course of the season. Letting Randolph return to full strength and giving it a go with this core is perfectly reasonable.
The success of this plan relies on finding cheap, creative solutions to the backup point guard and shooting issues. It won’t be easy to do but the Grizzlies 2012-2013 success will hinge on it. Also, this goes without saying but this franchise has to draft better. Succeeding as a small market team without drafting well is not sustainable.
This offseason will be an interesting one to be sure. After all this time, it’s still nearly impossible to pinpoint the trajectory of this team. Maybe we’ll find out next year.