30 Teams in 30 Days: Grizzlies try to stay in hunt

Memphis gives reins to new coach, huge deals to Conley, Parsons and hopes for improved health

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule

Today’s team: Memphis Grizzlies

2015-16 record: 42-40

Who’s gone: Coach Dave Joerger, F Matt Barnes, C Chris Andersen, G/F Lance Stephenson

Who’s new: Coach David Fizdale; PG Wade Baldwin, C Wang Zhelin, PFDeyonta Davis, SF Rade Zagorac (via Draft); F James Ennis, F Chandler Parsons, G/F Wayne Selden, Jr., G/F D.J. Stephens (via free agency); G Troy Daniels (trade); G Tony Wroten (waiver claim)

The lowdown: A member of the West elite over the last half-dozen seasons, Memphis experienced slippage last season.

When Mike Conley reaches age 33, he’ll be paid $34.5 million. Anytime you can make more than your age in millions in a single year, life is wonderful. Such is the state of Conley, who became the highest-paid player in NBA history this summer when he accepted $153 million over five years to stay in Memphis.

The decision by the Grizzlies to blow Conley away was a byproduct of the rising salary cap, for sure, but also because they had no leverage or realistic options. There was no youngster on the roster to take his place, and since they gave Marc Gasol the max last summer, re-signing Conley was necessary to remain competitive and keep continuity. Not every team would’ve reached that deep for Conley, yet the Grizzlies felt it was necessary to send the right message to their fans.

Whether that message says exactly is unclear yet. Not only did they write a hefty check to Conley, they gave four years and $94 million to Chandler Parsons. That’s $247 million tied up into a pair of players who have never made an All-Star team or fit the profile of franchise player. When you add the remaining $72 million owed to Gasol, the Grizzlies are locked into a nucleus that would do well to be as good as recent history.

And that was pretty much the meat of Memphis’ offseason. The Grizzlies made news from a financial standpoint mostly, although if health is on their side, next season should keep them among the West playoff mix. Plenty of attention will be paid to Parsons, coming off knee surgery. He has never played a full 82 games in his five-year career, and the last two seasons suited up for 66 and 61 games, respectively. Parsons is a very efficient shooter (47 percent for his career, 38 percent from deep) and is someone the Grizzlies never had during the Grit ‘N Grind era: A scorer who can stretch the floor and open space for the bigs.

The only problem is, suddenly, the Grizzlies don’t seem so big and ferocious anymore. Gasol is coming off a bum foot, while Zach Randolph is aging fast. There are no other proven low-post monsters on the roster, and it’s quite possible the personality and flavor of the team will undergo an adjustment as a result.

Mainly because of injuries, the Grizzlies suited up 28 different players last season. Conley played only 56 games, Gasol 52 and Tony Allen 64. And yet they still went to the playoffs and represented themselves well, although that wasn’t enough for Joerger to keep his job.

He had a weird experience in Memphis anyway, and nearly took the Minnesota Timberwolves job three years ago. So, in one sense, his departure wasn’t a total shock. The Grizzlies replaced him with Fizdale, the right-hand man to Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra who had solid relationships with LeBron James andDwyane Wade (among others).

Fizdale must find a way to maximize whatever the holdovers have left while putting Parsons in position to give Memphis its first high-scoring wing player since Rudy Gay left. Since then, they experimented with marginal talents (Jeff Green) and past-their-prime stars (Vince Carter) with less than stellar results.

The Grizzlies used their first-rounder on Baldwin, who might be able to play both guard positions, and also added Davis. So there is an infusion of youth, although breaking into the regular rotation will be a challenge for both.

The core of the Grizzlies remains Conley, Randolph, Allen and Gasol with help from a newcomer in Parsons. That’s a solid starting five, although the Grizzlies are on the clock with Allen and Randolph, both in their mid-30s. Plus, they have a rookie coach and no proven sixth man.

The summer was considered a success if you ask them. They kept Conley and found a shooter. That was the goal and mission accomplished. Yet, despite spending hundreds of millions the last two summers, you wondering if the Grizzlies remain a player short in their fight to stay among the West elites.

Coming Next: Chicago Bulls

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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 onTwitter.

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