Pete's Perspective: Somewhere over Missouri
As the Grizzlies' charter flight works its way west toward Los Angeles, a healthy dose of optimism follows along. The core of a playoff team returns largely intact. Zach Randolph is back in fine form. Mike Conley's body looks still stronger. Rudy Gay looks even smoother. Marc Gasol looks refreshed and hungry for another run at the playoffs. Tony Allen? Well, TA is TA which means he's ready to play some ball.
The health of this team will determine a large portion of its ultimate fate as will the ability of new additions Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington and (to a smaller extent) Tony Wroten to produce. A lack of effective play behind Mike Conley and spotty three-point shooting were the Grizzlies' most glaring weaknesses last season and General Manager Chris Wallace addressed both via free agency (Bayless), trade (Ellington) and the draft (Wroten).
Bayless has the best chance to make an immediate impact because he'll be relieving Conley and is a huge upgrade over O.J. Mayo at the point and is at least as good a three-point shooter. Ellington has impressed me with his defensive effort and if he can take a page from Tony Allen's defensive playbook and also hit threes at an upper 30% clip, the departure of Dante Cunningham will be worth it. Wroten is, at least at this time, a luxury for the Grizzlies. He's a 19-year-old rookie who doesn't have to get thrown into the fire immediately. He'll have time to learn from veterans who've been to the playoffs and will likely see brief duty behind Bayless.
Finally, there's optimism and good feeling about new owner Robert Pera and the local ownership group he's assembled. Mike Heisley was a passionate and diligent owner who green-lighted the moves that turned the Grizzlies from an also-ran into one of the great small-market success stories in the league. His vision of philanthropy via professional sports along with his fervent representation of small market teams at league meetings will be two significant pieces of his legacy as well. With Pera and the local group in place, the future of the Grizzlies is secure in Memphis and the hopes are for continued success both on and off the court.