MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A season that opened with such promise for the Grizzlies wound up as one of the franchise’s worst since moving to Memphis.
The Grizzlies couldn’t have started better than 5-1, sitting near the top of the Western Conference standings with a pair of early wins over the Houston Rockets and a home victory over the Golden State Warriors. By the end, the Grizzlies’ hopes of an eighth straight postseason appearance turned to hopefully landing a top two pick in June’s NBA draft.
When the injuries started, most notably what wound up a season-ending left heel-Achilles tendon injury to point guard Mike Conley, the season imploded. And kept getting worse through multiple double-digit losing streaks. The first long slide cost coach David Fizdale his job after a short tenure and leaving interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff at the helm.
The change didn’t help as the Grizzlies lost 19 straight between early February and mid-March — the longest skid since the team moved to Memphis in 2001.
“It’s been a challenging year, obviously,” center Marc Gasol said.
Asked if he had ever endured a 19-game skid, Dillon Brooks, a rookie from Oregon, said, “There’s not enough games in college to go through a losing streak like that.”
Actually, there are.
But rock bottom for the Grizzlies came with the largest defeat in franchise history came with a 61-point loss in Charlotte in late March.
“It’s been difficult,” Bickerstaff said. “It wasn’t what we expected when we sat down over the summer and put our plan together and went through training camp. So, there’s always that shock value.”
Some things looking at the Grizzlies’ season and the future:
RARELY THIS BAD IN MEMPHIS: The Grizzlies’ win over Detroit in their home finale – their 22nd of the season — kept Memphis from notching the worst record since the team moved to Memphis for the 2001-02 season. The Grizzlies had two other seasons with 22 wins since relocating. So how did the Grizzlies deal with all the losses? “Red wine helps at night,” Gasol said.
BICKERSTAFF BACK? Bickerstaff was associated head coach when Fizdale was fired in late-November. Bickerstaff says he has discussed his future with management and would like to return next season. “I feel like we have started something,” he said. “We have started to build a culture. You want to be part of a group that you like. I think there’s going to be a tremendous bump next year, health permitting. I would love to be a part of it.”
OWNERSHIP RESOLUTION: One huge offseason concern was answered this week when majority owner Robert Pera said he would retain controlling interest. Minority partners Steve Kaplan and Robert Straus had invoked a buy-sell option in November. That forced Pera to buy out the shares of the other two or sell his interest to them. Pera told select season-ticket holders Monday he was retaining control of the Grizzlies, a move that should provide stability this offseason for Bickerstaff, front office personnel and the draft.
DRAFT PICKS: Memphis hasn’t capitalized on draft choices often even when blessed with a high choice. The franchise picked Hasheem Thabeet with the No. 2 pick in 2009, a player who never lived up to his potential. Beyond that, the best first-round choice has been Conley, the fourth overall choice in 2007. The Grizzlies did get serviceable play from a pair of second-round picks last summer in Brooks and Ivan Rabb out of California when forced into greater roles by injuries.
INJURIES: Not only did Conley get hurt, but replacements such as Andrew Harrison and Mario Chalmers also suffered injuries. Chandler Parsons played in only 36 games missing 32 games with various knee problems and not counting the nights of Memphis simply sat him for “rest.”
The strangest situation involved Tyreke Evans, Memphis’ offensive threat when shut down before the trade deadline in anticipation of a deal involving the guard and his expiring contract. But the Grizzlies never consummated a deal. Evans returned for six more games, and has not been with the team for “personal reasons” since scoring 16 points in the 61-point loss at Charlotte on March 22.
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