The 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies hopped a charter flight to La La Land on Tuesday with the look and feel of great optimism, like a kid at 5am on Christmas morning. Landing likely brought a feeling to giddiness and anticipation, like a kid going into a candy store. As they approach game time tonight against the new and improved (at least according to their roster) Los Angeles Clippers, those emotions will likely turn to determination and focus, like a matador staring down a Brahma bull.
The Grizzlies enter this season with their core intact; Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen. A core that has led them to a 40-25 record last year in a strike shorten season and a 1st round playoff upset of #1 seed San Antonio as a #8 seed in the 2011 playoffs. The caveat to those successes is that they have done it mostly without having that core playing on the floor together. Zach Randolph went down in the 3rd game of the season last year with a torn MCL that forced him to miss 37 games and star small forward Rudy Gay missed the 2011 playoff run with a shoulder injury.
One of the goals this year is to keep everyone injury free and on the floor playing together, so that they can make a deep run into the playoffs. That’s not necessarily an easy task for what can really be viewed as a young team.
“We’re a team that is capable of getting deep in the playoffs,” said point guard Mike Conley. “It’s an honest goal.”
No doubt the disappointment of an early first round playoff exit last year, bookended by blowing a 24-point lead in losing Game 1 and losing Game 7 at home, will be fodder for a more successful run this year.
“I think we’re a real contender. Why can’t we be?” says small forward Rudy Gay. “We’re a year older. We’re tougher. We’re smarter. We know how to play with each other. “
The two areas that plagued the Grizzlies last year, lack of an effective point guard behind Conley and less than stellar three-point shooting, have been addressed by GM Chris Wallace via free agency, trade and the draft.
Jerryd Bayless, coming in via free agency from Toronto, figures to be the solid back up to Conley as well as, contribute better three point shooting (he’s 35% for his career from behind the arc). New addition guard Wayne Ellington has also shown some prowess from behind the arc, even in limited action with his previous team the Minnesota Timberwolves. First round draft choice Tony Wroton brings in good size for a guard, but doesn’t figure to be much of a factor in his first season out of the University of Washington.
The Grizzlies have new ownership this year after longtime owner Michael Heisley sold the team to a group led by Robert Pera, a billionaire who made his fortunes by being CEO of Ubiquiti Networks, a wireless networks hardware company. High profile Memphis natives that are a part of the minority ownership group includes Ashley Manning, Peyton Manning’s wife, Penny Hardaway and Justin Timberlake.
One thing that will not change is the Grizzlies’ Grit and Grind, hard working attitude. An attitude that has carried them to some great wins recently. Let’s see what happens in 2012-13