The Grizzlies' magical run through the West is over, as Memphis was avenged by the San Antonio Spurs in the most fierce way possible: a sweep. After the franchise's most successful regular season and postseason in history, the Grizzlies face an inordinate number of questions. Here they are in order of importance, with suggested solutions.
1. Keep Lionel Hollins?
New owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien didn't hire Hollins. And frankly, he doesn't fit Levien's style, as far as we can tell. Hollins complained about the Rudy Gay trade and seemed to feed the nonsensical arguments that new management was more about cost savings than winning. That said, he did help mold the pre- and post-trade Grizzlies into a wonderful little team. He's been here for the total rise of the squad -- he had them for the back half of the 2008-09 season, a 24-58 campaign. Memphis darn near flipped that at 56-26 this season.
He's developed Mike Conley and helped turn Jerryd Bayless into an NBA player. He's effectively managed Zach Randolph. He's developed Marc Gasol. His rotations can be bizarre, and he likes Keyon Dooling a little too much. He forgot what Ed Davis looks like. He seems like the last coach who would do something useful with one of John Hollinger's scouting reports.
To me, the bottom line is this: if the Grizzlies hadn't made the West finals, would Memphis be looking at keeping Hollins? That seems unlikely. If Russell Westbrook wasn't injured, would Memphis have gone to the West finals? That seems unlikely. So a major, multi-year determinant in the team's future could be altered based on the luck of an opponent's No. 2 player going down in the first round.
What I really worry about is that the Grizzlies feel pressured to keep Hollins around, but there's a measure of distaste that lingers when they do and they can him at the first sign of trouble. Stability is one of Memphis' great strengths. If you set Hollins up to disappoint, you're crushing that as much as you would from replacing him now on your own terms.
In the end, I don't think those concerns matter as much as the proven success Hollins has had with this core, and I think it'd be awfully risky to try to replace him.
2. Keep Tony Allen?
The two-time first team All Defense guard will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He started all 79 games he played this season, but averaged just 26 minutes per night. Hollins often went with double point guard line-ups behind T.A. to help soften the team's lack of shooting. But that just couldn't be softened enough. The Grizzlies ranked No. 24 in three-point shooting despite taking fewer long-range shots than all other teams. That contributed to a No. 17 offense that failed Memphis in the West finals.
Every minute T.A. plays is a minute that the Grizzlies lack any sort of shooter at the two-guard position. (Allen went 3-24 from beyond the arc this season.) And while T.A.'s defense is as superb as it's been billed, Memphis does have two other stud defenders -- Conley and Gasol -- and needs shooting desperately. If the price gets too far toward (or above) the NBA average salary ($6 million), it may be wise for Memphis to pass and look to add a gunner like J.J. Redick or Kevin Martin.
3. Trade Zach Randolph?
A few weeks ago, as Memphis stood down 0-2 to the Clippers, before the magic, I advised that the Z-Bo era may be coming to an end. Randolph went on a tear that lasted until this week; he shot 9-27 in Games 3 and 4 at home.
My question stands. Is Z-Bo fluttering toward massive decline, and if so, doesn't it make sense for Memphis to flip him while his eight-figure salary still holds some value? Even with some excellent games against L.A. and Oklahoma City, Z-Bo's postseason was still just above-average. He remains an elite rebounder, but he no longer averages close to 20 points per 36 minutes as he did in his heyday, and he remains wholly inefficient. And he's due $34 million over the next two seasons.
It'd be a bigger shake-up than losing Hollins would be. But it's all about how much you believe in this Memphis squad's potential for doing this again vs. how far into the future you want to think as you move forward. It's almost a suicide mission to dissemble a championship contender, but the same could have been said about the Gay trade, and you see where that went.
In the end, I think the status quo ends up being the answer on Z-Bo, as it likely will be for Hollins. If Pera wants to own the Grizzlies for a long time, he needs to avoid antagonizing a base that has wanted this type of success for so long. As the Warriors showed, winning can cure all distrust between owners and fans. But that was a different situation. Memphis is riding high, and being the person to bring Bluff City to a screeching halt is unenviable and ultimately avoidable. Long live the Grizz.
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