The immediate past features a franchise-best 56-win season, a first-ever trip to the Western Conference Finals and a declaration from ESPN The Magazine that the Memphis Grizzlies are the No. 1 pro sports franchise in North America.
Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph meets with the media Monday at the team’s Media Day gathering. Training camp kicks off this week in Nashville.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
But as the Grizzlies gathered at FedExForum on Monday, Sept. 30, for Media Day, the focus was on the future. On Tuesday, the Grizzlies begin a five-day training camp in Nashville under first-year coach Dave Joerger, who was elevated from his assistant’s position when the team decided not to retain coach Lionel Hollins.
So in Music City this week, the Grizzlies hope to begin building a new harmony that will be unique to this team and this season.
“Going away will be good to create a bond,” said All-Star center Marc Gasol.
For his part, Joerger’s first wish is to come out of camp without any injuries. Beyond that, the man who had much charge over the team’s defensive sets under Hollins now turns attention to the offense and getting the Grizzlies to play at a faster pace.
“The ball has to move,” Joerger said, stressing that the goal is not to take quick jump shots, but to make better use of the 24-second clock and create more space.
“He wants the tempo to increase, start our offense with 20 seconds on the clock,” said point guard Mike Conley. “And with more shooters, we’ll have more space.”
Another wish for the season: a decrease in Conley’s minutes. To that end, the team signed European league veteran Nick Calathes, 24, a 6-6 point guard who played collegiately at Florida but is an NBA rookie.
“I just need to get to know the guys and how they play and how to put them in the right position,” Calathes said of what he hopes to get out of training camp.
Also new to the team: former Denver center Kosta Koufos, who is 7 feet tall and weighs 265 pounds. The hope is that Koufos will allow the team to play Gasol a more reasonable number of minutes.
“He’s got soft touch around the basket, great hands,” said forward Zach Randolph. “I was surprised (Denver) traded him.”
Back for an encore is the sweet-shooting Mike Miller. The longtime, fan-favorite Grizzly won two NBA titles with the Miami Heat and now returns as the oldest player on the roster (33, but just nine days older than Tayshaun Prince).
“It’s crazy putting this jersey on,” he said. “I was here for so long.”
First time around, which included once winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, he wore No. 33. But that’s Gasol’s number and Miller wasn’t about to ask for it, so he’ll wear No. 13.
“He’s done way better with that number than I’ve done,” Miller said.
Training camp signals the start of serious work, but there is no hiding the fact there are big, even giddy, expectations for this team. If the Grizzlies can maintain their Grit-n-Grind defense led by “Grindfather” Tony Allen, while adding some punch to their offense, they could do something special.
At minimum, preseason conversation about legitimate contenders in the West must include the Grizzlies. And from the top man on down, that’s a good feeling.
“A lot of better than being the Kings or the Sixers, right?” controlling owner Robert Pera said.