Matty B of Grizzly Bear Blues stopped by to answer a few questions before tonight's 7:30 p.m. tip-off at Philips Arena.
Daniel Christian: How have the Grizzlies adjusted to Marc Gasol being out? It's obviously a huge loss and will limit their ceiling for the season, but how have they been able to keep the ship afloat? In that same vein, how has this changed the expectations for the Grizzlies' season? Would you say the expectation is still to get out of the first round?
Matty B: The funny thing has been, there really has not been time to get used to Marc being out yet. When he went out with a broken foot right before the trading deadline, there was a definite readjustment of expectations as to what this team could be going forward. Maybe getting out of the first round would be a problem now. Maybe they should make a move at the trade deadline and replace him with a Roy Hibbert-type. Maybe they should blow the team up and get rid of one of their traded draft pick responsibilities (they owe a first round pick to Denver via Cleveland for the Jon Leuer salary dump of 2013, and that pick is protected 1-5 and 14-30). So there was plenty to process and go through, on both the team and the fan front.
Then there was the Courtney Lee trade to Charlotte. Then the Jeff Green trade to the Clippers. Then Brandan Wright, who was finally back from injury for the first time this season and was assumed to be Gasol's replacement, went down probably for the season. Then Mike Conley gets hurt and is out the rest of the regular season. Then the same for ZBo and Birdman from the same game (last Sunday against Phoenix), although they are expected to return. Then the Mario Chalmers injury hit on Wednesday. Last night Vince Carter goes down during an amazing performance by the team against New Orleans.
So when you ask if the team has had a chance to get used to the Marc Gasol injury, you have to ask yourself what team are we talking about? The starting lineups for Monday's Cavaliers and for last night's Pelicans win had a grand total of zero minutes played together. The team is adding two new players for tonight's game (Ray McCallum and Alex Stevenson). And this is March!
I'll talk about game to game expectations later, but as far as how far this team could go has definitely been downgraded, but not as much as one would think. Before the injuries the hope was to stay in the fifth seed or maybe get up to the fourth seed, play a series against the Clippers -which would have been a war- and then get mauled by Golden State, or pray for an injury. Holding on to the fifth seed would be an absolute success and pushing the Clippers to six or seven games would be an absolute delight.
DC: The Grizzlies traded for Lance Stephenson before the deadline. How has that trade been working out? Lance has been labeled as such a divisive personality, I was curious if it has had any effects, positive or negative, thus far on the team's chemistry. How does he fit in with their game plan?
MB: Lance is definitely something. Lance has got a lot of talent and loads of potential. He is young at 25. He may be one of the most confident players I have ever watched on the Grizzlies. I wrote last week that I wish I could do anything better than Lance Stevenson thinks he can play basketball. He can ball, that's for sure.
He's a misfit in the NBA for certain, but if you look at the roster, most of it is now misfits. And I think he knows that if he wants to stay relevant in the NBA going forward, this may be one of the last chances that he gets.
There have been situations where he has played well, especially in places where he really does not have to function within the team dynamic. However, he has been a bit slower trying to pick up on what the Grizzlies do on defense. This has kept him out of the starting lineup for all of the games so far, even though the team has been shorthanded. If Lance can Lance, then he is anywhere between good and great, as he showed last night with a career high in points. If we can get ‘2013-in-the-Eastern-Conference-Finals-Blowing-in-Lebron's-ear' Lance, he can make the rest of the season an absolute blast. If we get ‘Charlotte/Clippers' Lance, things can get frustrating.
However, does he fit with the team going forward? He has a 9.4 million dollar team option next season. The Grizzlies have a lot of pressing needs. Do you really want to be locking in a guy for that much if they're the 8-9 roster guy when everyone is healthy? That's a really tough question.
DC: How much longer will this Grizzlies core stay in tact? It seems as though their window has closed. Is there anything they can do to prolong their window, or are they going to be stuck on the mid-playoff seed treadmill, with no real hope of advancing for the next few years? Not to paint a dreary picture, as the Hawks often face the same questions, I'm just wondering where do the Grizz go from here if their window has truly closed?
MB: Last year, the Grizzlies front office had one mission: lock up your franchise player in Marc Gasol. Write him a blank check and keep him away from the Knicks and the Lakers who were absolutely salivating over him. They did. They also got Matt Barnes for nothing and added Brandan Wright on a good contract.
This year, the mission is a little more complex. Chris Wallace and the front office need to decide what to do with Mike Conley. It may be a risk to max him out, but who else are you going to get that keeps the team completive?
The team surprisingly found that they may have some future front court players in JaMychal Green and this year's first round draft pick Jarell Martin. Who knows what happens with 2014's first round pick Jordan Adams, who did not play much last season and has been injured this season. The team also picked a slew of draft picks in the Courtney Lee/Jeff Green trades that will most assuredly be used to acquire other assets.
The team would also need to find pieces to fit around the core of Gasol and Conley going forward. Being in a small market and in the Western Conference makes getting free agents difficult, as a majority of the roster has been acquired through the draft or through trades. So short of Kevin Durant deciding that he really likes those Memphis Sounds jerseys, there really is not a dramatic move that can be made in order to make this team magically compete with Golden State/San Antonio/ Cleveland/ Wherever Kevin Durant ends up.
To date, there is nothing about what the Grizzlies have done roster-wise or said from the front office that implies that they are willing to scrap this team and start over. And maybe that's a bit of blind optimism. But, if the team can continue to grow as a core, add a couple of difference makers, play good basketball, and maybe even get a little lucky, they may be able to make a little noise going forward. This is literally how this team made the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
DC: Is there anything you'll be particularly looking for in tonight's game? How do you feel about the matchup? Care to give a prediction?
MB: Honestly, I have no idea what to expect from this team any longer. My gast has been flabbered on a nightly basis. Lose to Phoenix twice in a week. Beat Lebron when he actually gave a crap and when the Grizzlies only had eight players. Hang with a good Boston team until a Mario Chalmers injury sends all Grizzlies fans looking for their prescriptions. Beat a rising Pelicans team with eight guys and not only a rookie point guard, but a guy making his NBA debut in Briante Weber. I have no idea anymore.
Best I can say is that the Hawks without a doubt have more talent on the court than the Grizzlies tonight, and the Grizzlies are on the second night of a back to back on the road. This one would have been tough to win even if the roster was completely healthy.
But you never know.