Are the Grizzlies Ready to Take the Next Step?

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Rudy Gay Grizzlies

I will admit it; I totally missed the boat on the Grizzlies last season.  I thought the Zach Randolph trade would terrorize the team.  Instead, Memphis was one of the pleasant surprised in the NBA even though they were still ten games back of the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference.  Can they build off last year’s performance or will they take a step backwards?

By: David Kay

Memphis Grizzlies (40-42 in 2009-2010)

2010-11 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Marc Gasol/Hasheem Thabeet/Hamed Haddadi
PF: Zach Randolph/Darrell Arthur
SF: Rudy Gay/Sam Young/DeMarre Carroll
SG: O.J. Mayo/Tony Allen/Xavier Henry
PG: Mike Conley/Greivis Vasquez/Acie Law
Head Coach: Lionel Hollins (3rd season)

2010-11 Team Salary: Approximately $67.8 million

Offseason Moves:
Grizzlies sign PG Acie Law to 1-year, league minimum deal
Grizzlies sign SG Tony Allen to 3-year, $10 million deal
Grizzlies re-sign SF Rudy Gay to 5-year, $81.6 milllion deal
Grizzlies acquire Cash Considerations from Mavericks for G Dominique Jones (25th pick)
Grizzlies do not extend qualifying offer to Ronnie Brewer making him unrestricted free agent

Off-Season Grade: C-

Memphis did not really have much of a choice but to offer up Rudy Gay an expensive, long-term deal.  Is he really worth about $16 million per year?  Probably not.  But you can guarantee some other team would have thrown that amount of money his direction so the Grizzlies were forced into a bit of a corner.

Other than re-signing Gay, it was a pretty quiet off-season.  They added Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez through the draft and then brought in even more backcourt depth by signing Tony Allen and Acie Law.  The Allen signing confused me because I think Henry will be a solid NBA player and that just congests the playing time on the wing.

Oh yeah, then there was the trading a first round pick for Ronnie Brewer, Brewer playing just five games with the Griz, and Memphis not making a qualifying offer to Brewer making him an unrestricted free agent.  So they pretty much gave up a first round pick for five games of Brewer.  FAIL.

2010-2011 Outlook:
The same young core returns from last season’s team that saw a 16-game improvement.  With four of their five starters younger than 26 years old, there is still room for growth and improvement.  Whether or not that development is enough to catch up with the playoff teams out West is still debatable.

Zach Randolph GrizzliesIf Zach Randolph can behave like he did last season in his first year in Memphis, he will once again establish a formidable frontcourt with Marc Gasol.  Hasheem Thabeet proved to be an even bigger project than originally anticipated.  He made strides at the end of last season and if that growth can continue, Thabeet could be that defensive difference maker off the bench.

The Gay, O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley trio is in its third year of existence.  Their ages are 24, 22, and 23 so they are not near their full potential yet.  The talent is there for all three players and if one of them can make a leap this season, Memphis could see even more improvement.

Last season, rookie Sam Young was the only bench player to average more than 4.5 points per game which was a major downfall for the Grizzlies.  That area should be improved a bit with the additions of Allen and Henry but there are still plenty of questions revolving around this team.

Was last year a one-year enigma for Memphis or is the franchise really heading in the right direction?  Can Randolph play nice and not fall back to his old habits?  Is Conley really the long-term answer at the point?  I am not sold on this team but it certainly would not shock me if they were in the playoff picture.

Looking Ahead to Next Summer:
Memphis will have some very important decisions to make next summer.  Randolph will be an unrestricted free agent and the Griz will have to decide whether or not they want to re-sign him to a long term extension or pursue another power forward in free agency.  Gasol is also in the final year of his contract and will be due for a hefty raise.  Gasol is too talented for the Grizzlies to just let him walk away so expect them to try and reach an extension before the season ends.

Mike Conley will be a restricted free agent but has not exactly cemented his status as the team’s point guard of the future.  It will be interesting to see if Memphis makes a commitment to Conley or let his rookie contract play out and then move in a different direction.

A positive; Marko Jaric’s contract finally comes off the books!

NBA Power Ranking: 18th

Other NBA Season Previews:
#19 Philadelphia 76ers
#20 New York Knicks
#21 Los Angeles Clippers
#22 Indiana Pacers
#23 Golden State Warriors
#24 Washington Wizards
#25 Detroit Pistons
#26 New Jersey Nets
#27 Sacramento Kings
#28 Cleveland Cavaliers
#29 Toronto Raptors
#30 Minnesota Timberwolves

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