Grizz Again Seeking New Team Identity

By Don Wade

The Grizzlies’ Lionel Hollins might have just made something up. It probably would have been easier. Instead, his answer to the question of how the Grizzlies were adjusting to the return of Zach Randolph was just honest.

Also, inconclusive.

“We just gotta find whatever our new identity may wind up being,” he said. “It’s definitely a feeling-out process going forward.”

A process that, for a time, probably will take the Grizzlies backward. After losing at Sacramento on Tuesday, March 20, they were 1-2 since Randolph’s return. And they put up minimal defensive resistance against the Kings at the start of a four-game road trip that includes back-to-back games in L.A. with the Clippers and Lakers.

Not a great time to be looking in the mirror and asking: Who are we and how do we play now?

That said, if the Grizzlies (25-19 before their Thursday, March 22, game at Portland) can weather this adjustment period, they may find they have a team that can play effectively in multiple ways.

Hollins much prefers a wider distribution of scoring, saying, “The balance makes tougher preparation for the other team and more guys are happy.”

We know what worked in the playoffs last year when Rudy Gay was out: pound the paint, feed Z-Bo and center Marc Gasol. In Randolph’s absence, the Grizzlies changed out of necessity. While they still went through the paint often enough for Gasol to make his first NBA All-Star team, they also opened things up.

“We’ve played a more free-flowing game,” Mike Conley said.

When Randolph returned, Conley did his point guard due diligence: He looked for the big fellas first, so much so that Hollins chastised him.

“I just gotta find that balance,” said Conley.

The equation changes again with the recent signing of veteran combo guard Gilbert Arenas, who is expected to spell Conley and also play some two guard. Hollins also continues to look for creative ways to get Marreese Speights, Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter on the floor, to preserve good team chemistry.

As for Randolph, he has shown some nice flashes but he’s clearly heavier and he said, “I’m still trying to get my legs under me.”

So whatever they wind up being, they are not there yet.

“We’re a different team,” Gay said. “So we’ll learn how to play different.”

What does that mean?

The coach himself only wishes he could tell you.

Don Wade is a native of Kansas City and a former feature writer for The Kansas City Star and sports reporter for The Commercial Appeal. His column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.