MEMPHIS – It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.
But after a tumultuous season that included a controversial early-season coaching change, a rash of injuries, the eventual loss of two top scorers and the longest losing streak in the Memphis era of the franchise, the Grizzlies hit the offseason eager to push the reset button.
They are out of the playoffs for the first time in eight years, and headed toward the May 15 Draft Lottery assured of a top-five pick in the June 21 NBA Draft. So there’s reason to hope. There are also expectations – with catalysts Mike Conley and Marc Gasol still under contract, encouraging development of a few young prospects and the full midlevel exception to use in free agency – that this disappointing season in Memphis was a single bump in the road on a path back to playoff contention.
Over the next few weeks, Grind City Media’s ‘Offseason Outlook’ breaks down my personal analysis as to where the coach, general manager and each player on the Grizzlies’ roster stand in the process.
Player: Mike Conley, 30
Measurables: 6-1, 175 – 11th NBA Season
2017-18 Stats: 17.1ppg, 2.3rpg, 4.1apg in 12 total games (career low)
Status: Due $30.5 million for 2018-19 salary in third season of five-year deal
Conley is the Grizzlies’ career leader in games played (706) and started (676), minutes (22,985), points (10,050), field goals attempted (8,196), three-pointers made (907) and attempted (2,391), assists (4,011) and steals (1,055).
Achilles’ heel and foot issues that have been bothering Conley for the better parts of three seasons were finally addressed with surgery back in January, so the Grizzlies’ playmaking catalyst should be fully recovered by training camp. As general manager Chris Wallace also pointed out, getting essentially a season off to avoid wear and tear elsewhere on the body isn’t at all a bad thing for a high usage player now into his 30s. Barring any setbacks, there’s no reason to believe Conley can’t return to the form from his career season a year ago. What the Grizzlies developed in his absence most of this season are wing players that will also take some of the scoring pressure off his shoulders, especially if Tyreke Evans returns or the Grizzlies use the mid-level exception in free agency on a relative equivalent.
The injuries start to add up. Conley endured nagging ailments earlier in his career but has gone through a facial fracture, a broken back and foot surgery the past four years. He’s come back each time to prove there’s still plenty of fight in that 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame, although he’s missed 109 games the past three seasons. Yet, with $97.5 million left on one of the NBA’s most lucrative contracts, Conley is locked in as the anchor of the franchise – for better or worse. If healthy, he’s an All-Star caliber player vital to Memphis’ success. Conley was depressed sitting out as the season fell apart. The Grizzlies are banking on his health to help put the pieces back together next season. The team still faces plenty of questions and uncertainty at backup point guard, so it shapes up as a Conley-or-bust scenario yet again.
With Conley recently named among 35 players on the Team USA roster heading into July’s mini-camp in Las Vegas, there’s certainly an added layer of drive and motivation to get back to his peak game this offseason. Conley is hopeful he’ll be able to work out with other elite NBA players in the camp, but insists his primary responsibility is to be healthy and locked in for start of Grizzlies training camp in late September. Rightfully or not, Conley feels largely responsible for how this season got away. Expect him to be as hungry as ever to set things right next season. The Core Four was disbanded last year, and Gasol can opt out of the final year of his deal after next season. The Grizzlies go as Conley goes, so his game and his voice will be relied on to speak volumes at a crucial time for this franchise.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.