More Excuses Than Answers For Grizzlies

It's been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It would be easy to blame all of the Grizzlies’ problems on the absence of center Marc Gasol, who is out with a sprained left knee.

It would be popular to blame them on CEO Jason Levien, who shoved Lionel Hollins, the best coach in franchise history, out the door and put David Joerger onto the hot seat.

It would be fun, just for old times sake, to blame Rudy Gay, who is already two teams down the road from his days as traditional whipping boy in Memphis.

Truth is, the Grizzlies have collectively been nothing but hound dogs since opening night of the 2013-14 season, showing little inclination to play with any of their former bark or bite.

“I wish I could pinpoint it,” said point guard Mike Conley. “I don’t want to make excuses for having a new coach or losing a coach. Obviously losing a guy that’s been here four or five years, it’s going to be tough on a lot of people. But us as players, we had to come back ready to play and with the mindset of wanting to get further than we did last year. Honestly, we didn’t do that, and so, here we are.”

That is sitting in last place in the Southwest Division, rubbing elbows with the Jazz and Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference standings instead of battling with playoff contenders.

The Grizzlies still labor to score points, especially from the perimeter. The No. 2 rated defense that used to have sharp claws and gave up 100.2 points per 100 possessions a year ago, is now ranked 24th in the NBA. In the last half-dozen games they have not guarded the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 43.7 percent behind the arc. They often look clueless and toothless, even at home at the FedExForum, their beloved Grind House, where they’ll take a 5-9 record into tonight’s game against the Lakers (8 ET, League Pass).

“Really, I think we’ve got to establish our identity,” Conley said. “We have lost that in a sense. That’s defensively being a team that goes out and grinds out wins and finds a way to win. We’ve got to get back to that old motto of stopping each individual person, taking it upon ourselves to go out there and play defense and work hard.”

Though troubles have been magnified with seven losses in 10 games since Gasol was injured on Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were hardly ferocious before that. In opening the season a middling 7-6, the Grizz lost at home to the Pelicans and Raptors. After losing Gasol, they’ve lost at home to a Rockets team playing without James Harden and to the Nets minus Deron Williams and Paul Pierce. They lost on Friday night to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis.

“We started off slow because we were just thinking too much,” Conley said. “We were thinking too much about the new offense, the management changes, whatever it may be. There was just a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with what we were doing on the court. We needed to zone out and we started playing well for about a week or so and then the big fella got hurt and injuries started playing a role. It’s just been an up and down season so far and we’ve got to find a way bring everything in.”

The Grizzlies show little cohesion or conviction with what they are trying to do on the court. The latest round of rumors that they’re trying to move power forward Zach Randolph’s big salary may also be enervating. Though he has 13 double-doubles on the season and Memphis is 7-0 when he leads the team in scoring, Z-Bo’s production has dropped off lately. Without Gasol to attract attention inside, defenses are swarming Randolph in the paint and over the past 10 games he’s made half of his shots just once.

Conley has had to become much more of a distributor in the offense without Gasol passing out of the post and his assists are up. But it has cut into his offense on a team that has precious little to spare.

It’s created an atmosphere at home like a balloon with a slow leak. The Grind House has often become an echo chamber of empty seats in a town where the hard-earned fan loyalty of recent playoff success does not run deep.

“It’s been tough for us to show up at the Grind House and not deliver,” Conley said. “That’s an area where we have to improve. We’ve got to understand that having a bad year or a bad month or two can sway fans one way or another in Memphis. What we built can go away fast.

“You can’t just come back and say you’re a Western Conference finals team. I think that’s what we have to realize. We have to go out there and work back up to that point. I do think still we’re capable of getting ourselves back into that shape. But as of today, we’re just not that same team.”

14 Comments

  1. rich says:

    It has always been the same old story for the Grizzlies – every time they have a chance to be great they start breaking up the team, thiis time even the coaching is affected. They can’t afford to win enough games to get to the playoffs because they only have contract with the playing arena during regular season. Oh by the way same story with the Bobcats – watch how Jordan will break this team up after this season, or better yet, just after the all-star breaka

  2. sunysenorita says:

    Robert pera ought to check jason levine track record, got fired at Sacramento, Doug Collins said him or me in Philly, what would qualify him to run a NBA team, playing fantasy basketball with Pera money.
    Hires Stu Lash his birdog when he was in the agent business, and hires hollinger who has no basketball experience except numbers.
    Francise will do down the drink after Hollins and staff built it into a legit NBA franchise.

  3. Hesam says:

    The Pera/Levien/Hollinger combo ONLY did these WRONG:
    1. They fired Hollins without finding a better replacement
    2. They got rid of a 20point/7rebound Rudy-Gay before finding ONE player who can makeup for his lost points
    3. They waved the bargain $1.3Mil/yr 7’2″ backup center Haddadi & signed a $2.2mil Koufos who got 21 Less rebounds per min.
    4. They signed a burned-out Prince, mediocere-at-best Miller, 4th-grade Franklin, another below-average Davis and zero stars
    5. You can not buy an NBA franchise Wal-Mart merchanise and expect to get Bloomingdales quality! The problem with some NBA owners/managers is that they think they can always sign a player at $10mil less who would do the same job, wishful thinking, rare at best.

  4. jake s. says:

    hollins will be the new head coach of either an eastern conference team or the utah jazz next year.

  5. Kamote says:

    It really was a bad decision for the management to let Hollins go. True they got schooled by the Spurs last year… but hey, that’s the Spurs, the league’s most excellent and consistent organization after the MJ era. For the management to think that last year’s Grizz has already reached its ceiling and would need a shake-up, they’ve wasted all those time building the foundation they’ve had. They’ve wasted the time proving to everyone who doubted Conley is worth the money, those who believed they sold Pau for peanuts (who eventually became Marc), those who thought ZBo is a wasted-never-was from New York. It was only a few years ago that the Grizz are one of the bottom-feeders of the league. It took them years to build their identity, only to be destroyed in a year.

    OKC stuck with Brooks, Miami backed-up Spo, and Indiana believes in Vogel. These coaches have better luck working with elite talents, but I still believe Hollins has accomplished much more in turning the Grizz into a tough unit. They should’ve stuck with him.

    There goes the Grind House.

  6. Vandy says:

    The Memphis front office and Grizzlies players underrated Lionel Hollins. Foolish of management to think they could get away with plugging Dave Joerger in as head coach and have instant success simply because he was the “true architect” of their defense.

    With no superstar and a couple of players with overblown egos, the Grizzlies needed a strong presence and leader in that locker room. Hollins is/was that. The players may not have liked him, but most respected him. I doubt the same can be said of Joerger, who allegedly cozied up to the front office for the head coaching job.

  7. dustydreamnz says:

    I don’t think Tayshaun Prince helps, he starts and usually scores single figures, I know he’s defensively minded but used to do much better than that. They lack X Factor on offence but when Gasol comes back it will make a big difference.

  8. realknlckfan says:

    The dumbest move of the year in the NBA was letting Hopkins go

  9. nik says:

    Amen to that.

  10. charlie says:

    Joerger is not a good bench coach. The players are struggling with his new offense and clearly are not having fun. Each game there have been several shot clock violations ans several bad shots forced before the shot clock expired. Initially, zack was not getting many shot opportunities. Joerger has experimented with some very strange combnations that just don’t work. Joerger has often been slow to use time outs to counter the opponents runs. Overall, I believe neither the players or the fans have confidence in joerger or Levine. Petra is at best an absent owner and Levine has no experience running any type of basketball program. The Memphis area loves basketball, however, if thing don’t change soon, the Memphis tigers will be the only team the fans will be supporting. It cost too much to go see a team struggling because of a dysfunctional owner and front office. Levine and joerger need to go and Lionel hollies needs to return to try and salvage what is left of the season.

  11. The Claw says:

    Lack of motivation. They are mentally hurt and emotionally down when they are swept by the Spurs in the West Finals. Adding salt to their wounds is the departure of the architect that made this team unbeatable at home and successful on the road aka #grit and grind., It will takes time to heal, and i doubt if they will rise from the bottom of the Deep West if they continue the way they are playing right now., if you carefully look at them playing, there are so many mental lapses that seldom seen in the last season.. feel sorry for the Team.

  12. Chuck says:

    I have never understood the infatuation with the Grizzlies (the Lakers, as well. Sorry, Bill Simmons) They have been methodical even with Zach and Gasol on the court, and are slow in every direction. What is astounding is how most of. The beat and column writers are missing out on what the Thunder have built.

    Sam Presti is a genius, refuting all of the doomers as his senior citizens are just 25 and coming into NBA maturity. For the first time they have an agile and big center while still a work in progress should become a star as opposed to the worst center in the league. And when Jackson and Lamb are in the game, they have two freakishly long guards who can score in bunches. Plus the continued growth in Ibaka. And there are always KD and RW. It will be extra fun to see how this team develops as even the Coach seems to be maturing.

    • Frankenberry says:

      So you won’t be satisfied until every article is about the Thunder? Isn’t it enough that KD is in every other commercial? No one is sleeping on the Thunder, quit being a little phaggot.