Tony Allen, still believing, had “packed for a three-day trip to L.A.” and another playoff confrontation with the Clippers.
The Grizzlies might have been going into Game 7 at Oklahoma City with point guard Mike Conley on one leg and without power forward Zach Randolph at all because of the NBA suspension over a quasi-punch, but Allen wanted to believe that grit-and-grind could overcome one more time.
“We just lost Game 7 and I’m hurting,” Allen said the day after, his eyes covered by Louis Vuitton sunglasses; he had awakened the morning of Game 7 with an eye infection. “It’s just unfortunate the way it ended.”
Zach Randolph’s contract situation is well-documented. He can exercise a player option for $16.5 million for next season or opt out and become a free agent, possibly signing for more years at less money.
(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
The unfortunate particulars of Game 7 no longer matter. The Grizzlies had played the entire season with their backs against the wall, and on the season’s final day, they were turned around and had their faces smashed into said wall.
But about 500 fans weren’t ready to let go without a personal goodbye. Center Marc Gasol says that’s about how many members of Grizz Nation showed up at Wilson Air Center to greet them upon their return to Memphis, the season finished but never to be forgotten.
Gasol has no trouble showing emotion on the court. Off the court, he is stoic. But this time Gasol was sharing himself, lamenting that in Game 6 at FedExForum, the Grizzlies had shown all the ferocity of teddy bears in a potential series-clinching game as fans went streaming out of The Grindhouse with about four minutes left to play.
“It broke my heart we didn’t give them reasons enough to stay the whole game,” Gasol said. “It really hurt me. … Flying back home hurt, not too happy, and seeing people there supporting you at 1 in the morning – that means a lot. To me, it means a lot personally.”
Conley’s way of dealing with the bitter, or maybe bittersweet, end?
“First, I don’t watch the playoffs,” he said. “I can’t. It’s too hard. I know that could be us.”
First-year coach Dave Joerger processed the end philosophically, talking about the struggles that Memphis the city faces – “a lot of single-parent homes, unemployment and people just try to work their way out of it” – and how his team “didn’t let go of the rope.”
The Grizzlies’ challenges weren’t as real, certainly not life-and-death or about whether food would be kept on the training table, but it did feel like they were forever trying to work their way out of their circumstances.
And on that score, they did remarkably well just by rallying from a 10-15 start to win 50 games, make the playoffs a fourth straight season, and push league MVP Kevin Durant and the Thunder to seven games.
So what about the future?
Randolph’s contract situation is well-documented. He can exercise a player option for $16.5 million for next season or opt out and become a free agent; the general feeling is if he goes the latter route he will re-sign with Memphis for more years at less money per season. Z-Bo repeatedly has said he wants to stay.
Mike Miller is a free agent and perhaps willing to listen to other offers after his body held up enough to play every game in the regular season. Veteran point guard Beno Udrih showed he still had game in the playoffs after filling in for rookie Nick Calathes, whose season ended with suspension for violating the league’s banned substance policy.
Forward Ed Davis, once viewed by management as the key to the Rudy Gay trade, couldn’t even get into Game 7 with Randolph not in uniform. The club has an affordable pick-up on backup center Kosta Koufos, and one would expect him to return.
Big picture, the question is this: Do the core players believe Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien are truly in it to win? Do they have faith in their bosses?
“Absolutely, I do,” said Gasol, who can become an unrestricted free agent after next season. “They want this team to win. There’s no reason for me not to believe it.”
Said Conley: “I believe 100 percent. They came in and not only had the players’ best interests, but the team … making moves that fit the personality of this team, bringing in Courtney Lee and guys that can change a season. Big-times moves.
“There’s a trust level and they keep us involved,” Conley continued. “They’ll call and (ask), ‘What do I think about this? What do I think about that?’”
Tony Allen, of course, doesn’t get involved at that depth.
“I ain’t no general manager,” he said.
Rather, he’s The Grindfather. And designer sunglasses or no, he has the same vision for next season as this season.
“I will grind with them brothers any day of the week,” Allen said.