VOL. 128 | NO. 102 | Friday, May 24, 2013
The Press Box
Can Grizz Dig Out of Conference Finals Hole?
By Don Wade
So the family room is full for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. It’s the third quarter, or maybe early in the fourth, and there’s a moment of quiet.
“Wow, that’s a slow-moving system,” my wife says.
Everyone in the room assumes she means the Grizzlies’ offense; she’s actually talking about the weather system that left behind tragedy in Oklahoma and fortunately weakened by the time it went through the Mid-South.
And yes, this is the transition into perspective before getting into a possible long-range forecast for changes the Grizzlies might make after the playoffs. Which isn’t to suggest I’m giving up on this series, where the Grizzlies are in a 0-2 hole that feels much deeper than the 0-2 hole they escaped in the opening round against the Los Angeles Clippers.
But it must be acknowledged that the Spurs are coached by a Hall-of-Famer in Gregg Popovich and the Clippers were coached by the now-unemployed Vinny Del Negro. It must be acknowledged that having a State Farm commercial doesn’t make you the season’s best point guard. Sub in Chris Paul for Tony Parker right now and the Grizzlies’ chances improve, believe it or not.
All that said, even if the Spurs were to sweep the Grizzlies – and I don’t see that happening, either – it would hardly qualify as a disaster. We know what a disaster looks like. In real life, it’s a tornado a mile wide bearing down on subdivisions.
In the NBA life, it wasn’t even going 0-for-12 in the Grizzlies’ first three playoff appearances under coaches not named Lionel Hollins. It was all those years of winning 20-something games.
So let’s step back and look at the 2012-13 season, shall we? The Grizzlies won a franchise-record 56 games. They dispatched the Clippers in six games and after losing Game 1 of their series with Oklahoma City won four straight to reach their first-ever conference finals.
True, the Thunder not having Russell Westbrook helped. Maybe even changed the outcome of that series, though I’m not willing to say that’s a certainty.
The fact remains the Grizzlies broke through to a new level this season, just months after Robert Pera became controlling owner and a new regime took command. The Grizzlies adjusted to all of that, including trading Rudy Gay (which was a good move no matter how this series turns out).
But all that said, the first two games of this series with the Spurs have exposed the same flaws the Grizzlies have failed to address the last two off-seasons. They still lack a deadeye 3-point shooter. They still lack a legitimate back-up point guard.
The Spurs have exploited both these vulnerabilities and on nights when Zach Randolph is bad, or even ordinary, the Grizzlies just don’t have enough to beat a team like the Spurs when the NBA Finals are at stake.
Pera and CEO Jason Levien said on the front end they want to avoid the luxury tax and its escalating punitive measures, which is reasonable. But they also said they would consider going into the tax for the right move that gives the Grizzlies the best chance to win a championship.
Now that Grizzlies have landed in the NBA’s Final Four, Pera may have to spend more than he wants to spend to help the Grizzlies take the next step. The starting lineup, for one example, cannot continue to have two inferior offensive players at shooting guard and small forward (and no, I’m not suggesting the Grizzlies let Tony Allen leave via free agency).
The current team is beloved for grit and grind and the “we don’t bluff” mantra. It’s only fair for fans to expect ownership live by the same credo. In this case, “we don’t bluff” means “we will spend what’s necessary to improve.”
After the last playoff game, the ball is in Pera’s court.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.