Once upon a time there a pro basketball team in Memphis that always came in a distant second to Coach Calipari and his Memphis Tigers which had come within a free throw of winning a national title. Five years and four playoff appearances later the Fedex Forum are now always sold-out and the city of Memphis are fully behind this resurgent franchise that continues to show the nation and the league that they ain’t your daddy’s Grizzlies.
When the Grizzlies traded the cornerstone of their franchise Pau Gasol many believed that Memphis had been bamboozled getting two broom sticks, a rusty nickel (Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and Aaron McKie), and a vertically challenged little known big man and second round pick Marc Gasol. Although the janitorial appliances yielded little fruit as many expected the lesser known Gasol has become the franchise’s new cornerstone, ‘whose the dummy now?’
With his frontcourt mate, Zach Randolph fully recovered from a knee injury the Grizzlies embody the toughness and swagger of their two big men who can’t out jump an ant but constantly outwork and out hustle their more athletic counterparts. The toughness of this team is further fortified by defensive stalwart Tony Allen who was named to the NBA All-Defensive first team.
When Lionel Hollins was named coach at his disposable he had a collection of former lottery pick prema-donnas who only seemed to be concerned with their stat line and not with winning games. However, Hollins quickly cleaned house disregarding draft selections and only putting the players on the floor who exhibited toughness, hustle, and selflessness. Promising first round lottery picks Xavier Henry, OJ Mayo, Darrell Author found themselves riding the pine while second round after thoughts logged major minutes in the clutch.
It may have taken a while for young stars point guard Mike Conley and swing-man Rudy Gay to buy in the success the Grizzlies are experiencing can be largely attributed to the growth and maturity of these two. As early as high school Rudy Gay has only shown glimpses of the dominant that everyone knows that he is capable of. Gay has slowly come into his own become a match up nightmare that is reliable in the clutch.
Once only known as the robin to former number pick Greg Oden, Mike Conley has become more than just a facilitator finally living up to his early first round draft selection. Early in his career Conley was viewed as an offensive liability in the clutch due to a poor free throw shooting and a non-existent jump shot. Although he may never get selected to an All-Star due to the deep stable of talented point guards in the Western Conference his play during the NBA playoffs has left no doubt that he belong in the discussion of elite point guards.
Although the Grizzlies were on a 3-game losing streak there is no doubt in the minds of many that come playoff time this team would certainly be one to be reckoned with. Often lost in the discussion of NBA title favorites the Grizzlies have already logged impressive wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunders, and the New York Knicks. See a pattern, although the Memphis Grizzlies may never make a Sportscenter highlight, do not be surprised if the Larry O’Brien trophy calls the House of Blues its new home. Stay tuned… I know I will – A. Denmark