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30 Teams, 30 Days: Grizzlies 'stuck' in comfortable position

Memphis stays true to its identity as grinding squad, but the lack of top-notch scorer could prevent it from securing title

POSTED: Sep 26, 2015 9:32 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell

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Since the Warriors grabbed their first NBA title in 40 years in June, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the summer break. NBA.com will evaluate the state of each franchise in the month of September with a look at 30 teams in 30 days.

Today's Team: Memphis Grizzlies | All 30 Teams

Who's gone: Kosta Koufos.

Who's new: Matt Barnes, Brandon Wright, Andrew Harrison, Jarell Martin.

The Lowdown: The Grizzlies are stuck in a nice place. We say "stuck" because they lack assets and cap room to shake up the team. We say "nice place" because no team gave the eventual champion Warriors more trouble last summer in the postseason.

Basically, Memphis has no real incentive to conduct a tear down, because the team as constituted should win 50 games and make another deep run. Yet, this isn't a championship team because once again, the Grizzlies lack a lights-out scorer who can stretch a defense and win games.

Their priority in the offseason was re-signing Marc Gasol, which means their goal was to keep the status quo. No fault there. Gasol had a career season and is a top-5 center. He's also immensely popular in Memphis and didn't want to play anywhere else. Therefore, it was a no-brainer, although the budget-conscious small-market franchise had to dig deep and pay Gasol $19 million this season, twice as much as the next highest-paid player in Memphis. For their sake, Gasol will stay healthy and in his prime for the duration of the contract. Memphis isn't in position to carry around dead weight. Maybe the Knicks or another big market team can get away with that. Not the Grizzlies.

Also, by keeping Gasol -- again, a no-brainer -- the Grizzlies chose to keep their identity as a grinding, plodding team that emphasizes muscle and defense and half-court play. Quibble with that if you will, it allowed the Grizzlies to take a stunning 2-1 lead against the Warriors in the West semis. The Grizzlies are exactly the type of team that worries teams like the Warriors, because Memphis forces you to get down and dirty and play its game.

The issue is scoring. Last season, Memphis generated more than one-third of its points from Gasol and Zach Randolph, a pair of brutes who live in the paint. This has led to success over the last few years, but how much longer can the Grizzlies live on the layup? In the postseason, Gasol shot 39 percent and Randolph just 42 percent, well below their regular-season figures. Plus, Z-Bo is an old 34.

Over the last two seasons, Memphis tried to address the issue of perimeter scoring with mixed results. Vince Carter arrived about five years too late, but came cheap. Courtney Lee helped, but not a lot. Jeff Green? Inconsistent. The situation flared against the Warriors when Golden State elected to leave Tony Allen wide open for jumpers. He shot enough bricks to build a new wing at Graceland.

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In a league that values three-point shooting, the Grizzlies made five per game and shot 33 percent, which is somewhat respectable but not nearly good enough considering how defenses collapse on Z-Bo and Gasol.

And so, what did Memphis do this summer to solve this recurring issue? Well, nothing really. A tough and intimidating team just got tougher and more intimidating by adding ace instigator Matt Barnes.

Mind you, Barnes can shoot the 3 from the corner, which is really his only weapon. Still, the Clippers gave up on Barnes because he couldn't generate enough buckets from a position that demands scoring. Which makes you scratch your head and wonder why the Grizzlies bothered, especially since Barnes is getting past his prime.

But he came cheap, and the Grizzlies figured that their team remains dangerous in the West. Besides, they must keep the cap clear to pay Mike Conley next summer, and Conley is their only reliable and consistent outside shooter.

The Grizzlies did fetch help from the Draft with first-rounder Jarell Martin, a nice power forward from LSU, and Andrew Harrison of Kentucky. But those players need minutes and time to learn the pro game and therefore probably won't contribute much to a team built to compete now.

If anything, the contribution from young players will rest with someone like backup big man Brandon Wright, a value pickup (three years, $18 million) in free agency. But again, Wright lives in the paint and doesn't shoot from deep (if at all). He was a cheaper alternative than keeping Kosta Koufos, who went to Sacramento on a four-year, $33 million deal.

So the Grizzlies remain relatively unchanged, from both a personnel and style standpoint. They're fine with that. They'd rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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