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VOL. 131 | NO. 136 | Friday, July 8, 2016
Don Wade

Don Wade

Conley + Parsons = Renewed Belief for Grizz

By Don Wade

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At the end of his essay for the playerstribune.com, in which free agent Mike Conley discussed why he returned to Memphis on a five-year max contract worth $153 million, he wrote the following:

“I feel like everything that’s happened during my career has led up to this point. This is the launching point. This is just the beginning. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to #BelieveMemphis.”

And it is time to believe. Again.

Disclaimer: If you want to talk about the absurdity of giving what presently stands as the richest contract in NBA history to a point guard who has never made an all-star team, you’re welcome to do that. But if you put your focus there, you are doing so absent all context.

This cycle of free agency has carried the NBA into a fantasy realm. I get it that it’s hard to grasp. But it’s also crazy that actor Jim Parsons made $29 million to play a socially maladjusted scientist, albeit very well, for the 2015 season of “Big Bang Theory.” And I don’t hear near as much outrage about that.

So enough about the paychecks, already. Let’s talk about the notion that, as Conley put it, this is a new beginning for the Grizzlies.

And to do that, with the new reality of the NBA Western Conference, we also have to talk about the Golden State Warriors adding Kevin Durant to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and supporting cast.

Question: Should we really just cede the Western Conference title to the Warriors right now?

Sure, it’s tempting. It also didn’t matter that they won a record 73 games this past season and had a 3-1 lead over Cleveland in the NBA Finals. They lost. Stuff happens.

Still, the narrative is that their talent advantage is so overwhelming that no other team could possibly compete in a seven-game series. Odds are, this is right if the Warriors are fully loaded. 

But I’m unwilling to give the go-ahead for the printing of 2017 Golden State Warriors NBA Champion caps and T-shirts. Things could go wrong in Paradise by the Bay. This collection of stars is generally regarded as a good group of guys, good teammates to have. But they are still human. And there is the potential for dysfunction.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr himself, when still an NBA player, told me that what an NBA team needs most is a clearly defined pecking order. This will not exist for the Warriors. Some nights, Curry will be No. 1. Other nights, it will be Durant. Who is the third option and who is the fourth? What happens when in back-to-back games Curry has cold shooting nights and other guys don’t get enough shots?

There could be in-fighting and there could be injuries. Say what you will about the Grizzlies’ track record of injuries – and yes, it’s long and concerning especially with Conley, Marc Gasol and new four-year $94 million man Chandler Parsons – but Curry and Durant both have a history of foot and leg injuries. 

The Warriors could be unlucky next season. 

Can the Grizzlies match their 2013 Western Conference Finals run?

If – and that’s the biggest two-letter word in sports – they can stay healthy, well, it’s not impossible.

Once you get past the Warriors, there is no team as scary as last season’s OKC Thunder or San Antonio Spurs. Yes, the Spurs will always be in the mix. But after them, who’s the third-best team in the West?

It’s a claim sitting out there for the taking. The Grizzlies also will have the advantage of their best players having clearly defined roles. Gasol and Zach Randolph both qualify as “bigs,” but they play different games. And no two players could be more different than the sharpshooting Parsons and Grindfather Tony Allen.

Conley didn’t guarantee a trip to the NBA Finals, mind you, he promised a hard-hat mindset as the new season begins and suggested that the journey could be special, fun and, as always, ultra-competitive.

As Conley said in his essay: “In Memphis we don’t talk. We ball.”

See you at The Grindhouse, Captain.

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.

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