This season began so heavenly for the Memphis Grizzlies, but recent trades could send them to purgatory. It remains to be seen how long their suffering will last.
In their 11 previous seasons of existence, the Grizzlies advanced to the second round of the playoffs only once. That does not include six miserable years in Vancouver, where the club's high-water mark was 23-59 (. 280) in its final season (2000-01) before relocation.
Memphis seemed well on its way to further advancement this season, but did the franchise just trade away all that optimism?
Gone from River City are leading scorer Rudy Gay, Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights, Hamed Haddadi and Josh Selby. New in town are Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Austin Daye and Jon Leuer.
Memphis made an early statement this season as arguably the best team in the Western Conference, but it now could end up in jeopardy of missing the playoffs if Utah and Houston hold steady and the Los Angeles Lakers ever figure out things.
The Grizzlies were the early toast of the NBA when they got off to an 8-1 start that included home wins against Utah, Houston, Miami and New York, plus road wins at Golden State, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City — all teams that would qualify for the playoffs today.
Memphis was 18-6 when it got drilled 121-96 at Houston on Dec 21, and the Grizzlies have traded water ever since with a 12-10 record.
Now the Memphis front office is trying to convince its fans these trades were not merely salary dumps, that the Grizzlies are still contenders.
Controlling owner Robert Pera said the moves have made Memphis “a far more dangerous playoff team today.”
“This team was built for playoff basketball,” Pera told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “In playoff basketball, getting defensive stops and creating high percentage scoring opportunities under pressure becomes much more important. And that is what this team can do best. Between (Prince's) winning pedigree, the (league's) best perimeter defense, and (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) returning back to the focal point of the offense, I believe we are a far more dangerous playoff team today.”
When the Grizzlies got past the first round of the playoffs two years ago, they upset No. 1-seeded San Antonio in the opening round and then lost to the Thunder 4-3 in a magnificent Western Conference semifinal series that could have gone either way.
That's also when Memphis learned it could survive without Gay, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-February that year.
Then again, those Grizzlies had O.J. Mayo and Shane Battier, who are now with Dallas and Miami, respectively.