Oh you just know Big Country has gotta be smiling somewhere right now. A big congratulations from BangInThePost to the Memphis Grizzlies and their owner Michael Heisley. Not only did the Grizzlies win their first playoff series in franchise history, they did it in style by putting a whooping on four time NBA champion Tim Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs. It was only the fourth time in NBA history an eighth seed defeated a one seed, but it was the first time an eight seed manhandled a one seed! For those who watched this series, there was no doubt early on who the better team was. It’s been a long journey for this franchise, literally!
The now Memphis Grizzlies inception began in Vancouver in 1995. Bryant “Big Country” Reeves was the franchise’s first ever draft back. After six seasons of futility and mostly empty seats the team moved to Memphis. Although the team showed some improvement as their young star Pau Gasol developed, the team’s seasons always ended in disappointment. Three consecutive seasons of making the playoffs only to get swept each time (the Grizz were 0-12 in franchise playoff history going into these playoffs) added to their misery. Things only got worse during the 2007-2008 season. The team seemed to be regressing, Pau Gasol was lollygagging, local interest was waning and the team was losing money. Heisley was fed up and was trying to sell the team. In the interim he was looking to shed payroll and their highest paid player was Gasol. Now this is where things got weird. Heisley was so anxious to unload Gasol he offered him straight up to the Chicago Bulls for PJ Brown and his expiring contract! What is really hard to fathom is the Bulls said no! (Jerry wasn’t going over the salary cap with a team not good enough to win it all was the story from our sources). Don’t be too miffed Bulls fans, with Gasol you never would have fallen into the lottery and that lucky ping pong that got you Derrick Rose. Eventually, as we all know, Gasol was dealt to the Lakers for Kwame Brown (expiring contract) and two other throw-ins for salary purposes…it was deemed one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history and has resulted in the mini-dynasty of this current Laker team. To this day BangInthePost is convinced then Memphis GM Jerry West (West orchestrated this trade with his old prodigy Laker GM Mitch Kupchak) was a double agent still employed by the Lakers. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was so annoyed by the trade he suggested the NBA should get involved and have it voided. Guess this is what they mean by Karma, huh Pop? Of course, the forgotten part of the Gasol/Kwame trade was that the rights to Pau’s little bro Marc were dealt as well to the Grizzlies. During the Spurs/Grizz series Marc pretty much made future first ballot Hall-of-Famer Duncan look…well, old. Now Pau is still the better player, but there are more than a handful of teams today that would not swap Marc for Pau straight up (including the Grizz!).
Ah, but how fast things can change in the NBA. The attempted sale of the Grizzlies to a group led by former Duke stars Thomas Hill and Christian Laettner never came to fruition. Now the organization turned their focus to rebuilding without Gasol. The biggest move came in what truly was a lopsided trade. Zach Randolph to the Grizz for forward Quentin Richardson. Yup, that was all the Clips got…and then they cut him! Now Zach did have an NBA rap sheet (all misdemeanors) a mile long, but low post scorers that give you 20/10 every year don’t just fall out of the sky. Meanwhile, former lottery picks Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, OJ Mayo were all turning into quality NBA starters. More importantly, Marc Gasol was making Grizz fans forget about Pau. Marc is a burlier version of Pau and his selfless play and high basketball IQ was becoming the perfect complement to Randolph’s game. The team was really seeming to gel this season after an erratic start when Rudy Gay went down for the season with a shoulder injury. Hey, we at BangInThePost thought “That’s too bad, maybe they can hang on to a playoff spot” – but just to get swept again?? Well, clearly the brain trust in Memphis saw something we didn’t and weren’t cashing in the season. By no means! At the trade deadline they brought back fan favorite small forward Shane Battier to takeover Gay’s starting position. They also found the Rockets willing to take their one mistake, Thabeet, off their hands and threw in a future number one draft pick ta-boot. Even the failed trade of OJ Mayo to the Pacers (minutes passed the deadline) has worked out for the Grizz. Hey, long term, the team is better with Gay on the floor, but in his absence, this team found their identity and actually got better. With Tony Allen getting more minutes and Battier starting, this team suddenly became a beast defensively. By season’s end they led the NBA in steals and forced turnovers. With Gay out of the picture, the offense ran through Zach Randolph and Memphis closed the season with the most points scored in the paint in the league (this is a REALLY good thing come playoff time, folks). Randolph’s play is no fluke. Zach is as talented in the post as any player in the world and unlike many other of our NBA “stars” this dude is CLUTCH!
The playoffs introduce us to team’s role players. A lot of the playoff teams have strong benches with guys with specific skills. The Grizzlies bench is unique because their guys are all complete players. OJ Mayo, after a brutal regular season (beat up by Tony Allen, suspended for consumption of a banned substance, almost traded to the Pacers and just general shitty play) has his confidence back and brings instant offense off the bench. Darnell Arthur looks like he could start on most teams… he has a post-up game, mid-range jump shot, blocks shots, and runs the floor. Rookie point guard Greivis Vasquez looked like he had been in the league 10 years playing huge first quarter minutes in game six when Conley was on the bench with two fouls (not too shabby for the 28th overall pick in last year’s draft). Sam Young mysteriously dropped to the second round in the 2009 draft. Young has hit threes, taken charges and blocked shots during the first round…guys off the bench usually give a team one of those things – not all three!
When we started this post, our angle was going to be look out for the Grizz next year (and by the way anything less than 55 wins next year will be a disappointment. Sorry – with our accolades come PRESSURE), but then it dawned on us: why does this team have to wait at all?? Besides Ginobili missing game one, that Spurs team was the same team that won 61 games this year. If you win 60 games in the regular season, you have a REALLY REALLY good team. Once again, the Grizz WHOOPED the Spurs. Nobody in these NBA playoffs has played better than the Memphis Grizzlies thus far. Please tell us what the Grizz are missing?? Experience you say. Well, we say see the 2006 Miami Heat or 2008 Boston Celtics as teams that won a championship their first year with a new core of players. The Grizz have the talent, the defense and most importantly a swagger now. In our opinion every team left in the playoffs has a shot to win it all this year, (okay, not the Hawks) but if the Grizz play as well as they did in round one – look out everybody else!
P.S. Mr. Heisley, we believe it goes without saying that season’s success comes to a screeching halt next season if you fail to re-sign Gasol. (Beware! If the new collective bargaining agreement allows the Knicks to be a player, they will throw whatever money they can at Gasol this summer). We understand OJ is moving on and probably Battier, but sign Gasol and then make sure you reward the brain-trust behind your personnel decisions for a job well done!