Today's edition of The Questionable Blogger finds us querying Tom Lorenzo of the SBNation Memphis blog Straight Outta Vancouver. The Grizzlies did last season what the Clippers did back in 2006 -- they went from perennial playoff patsies (oooh, alliteration!) to a huge first round win and a great showing in the conference semi-finals. Now, they're hoping to build on that success, unlike the ill-fated 06-07 Clippers. See below for some great insights into this Grizzlies team, and check over at SOV for my answers to Tom's questions. (Warning -- I don't hate Jason Smith quite as much as everyone else.)
Tom Lorenzo: I actually wrote something on the site last week, just as the Gilbert Arenas rumors were really starting to heat up, about how what's become "normal" for Grizzlies fans is this idea that we have to remain patient. Starting last season, as you mentioned, when Rudy Gay went down, we were told to be patient, make a run at the Western Conference Finals, and then "next year we'll get 'em when we're healthy." So, we remained patient and quite content with the run we had. Then came "next year," meaning, this year. We had Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph health, made a few moves in the offseason, but it would only be a matter of time before we'd hit our stride. Just give it a few weeks, "be patient." Well, then Zach went down. So, our mantra lived on. We'll toss in Marreese Speights, who has played pretty well for us in Z-Bo's absence, and wait for Randolph to return. Let's just hope we can keep our heads above water and, well, wait. Enter, Zach Randolph AND Gilbert Arenas. Finally, a complete roster. It's what we've always wanted! But, here it comes, we must continue to remain patient as we try to fit and mold our offense around the return of Randolph, or so says Lionel Hollins. Long story short, this is "normal" for us. We're still waiting to see just what we have with a complete team -- or so that's what we continue to tell ourselves.
Truth is, on whether or not Gay and Randolph can coexist, I really think they can. I also, though, think we need to consider this team as more than just a two-man team. Consider Mike Conley, who is having his best season as a pro and becoming a more complete offensive player -- along with just a stellar off-the-ball defender. Add in the fact that Marc Gasol, an All-Star, has turned into one of the best big men in the game. I think on paper it might seem as if this is a Gay-Randolph issue, but I think we need to look at it as a team issue. Sure Gay and Randolph are our two rocks, but the offense no longer revolves around them creating on isos while the rest of the team sits back and watch. We have a more balanced set, so to speak. I will admit that it's much more fluid when you have only one player who "needs" to have the offense run through him on the court at a given time, as opposed to two, but that's not to say it can't work. It might be "apples" and "apple-based flavoring" here, but the New York Knicks seem to have figured it out under Mike Woodson. We have the offense framed in a way that doesn't solely run through Gay and Randolph, but right now it's a matter of execution. I suppose I'm a bit of an optimist, but I believe they can co-exist, and so too does the front office. They just ask that we remain... patient.
SP: What's your feeling on the Gilbert Arenas signing? I can see that he's an upgrade over Josh Selby or Jeremy Pargo, but do you have concerns about team chemistry or general character issues? Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Gilbert Arenas in the same locker room seems like a potentially volatile mix.
TL: I didn't mind the Gilbert Arenas deal. I think it's a low-risk, decent-reward type deal. Our two main needs prior to the signing were getting a veteran point guard to backup Conley and a shooter to help stretch the floor -- we are, hands down, the worst three-point shooting team in the league (possibly the history of the game). Now, Arenas, to a certain extent, fills both of those voids, albeit in a minimal fashion. But, on our team, anyone with a decent jumper is a huge plus.
As for chemistry-related questions, I think the best way to look at it is to go back to the Allen Iverson experiment. When that deal went down, people all of a sudden threw their hands up and wondered how the heck could Iverson and Randolph co-exist on the same team. Well, as we found out, they couldn't. Iverson played three games, annnnnd goodbye. That whole episode, though, left us fans with a bit of optimism in knowing that Lionel Hollins, who deserves a ton of credit in that particular situation, has things under control. Now, I know that you guys are going through a bit of a coaching debacle at the moment, and you might appreciate this, but I can almost guarantee that we will never, ever hear or read a story where Lionel Hollins has "lost the locker room." These guys have far too much respect for him, and he for his players. So, with that, I don't see a situation where guys like Tony Allen and Zach Randolph would even let it get to the point where Arenas is becoming a nuisance. Nor would I see Hollins allowing something like that to happen without making a stand of his own, and without the backing of the entire team. Sure, things can go sour in any situation, but really I just don't get an ounce of feeling from this team that they'd let it get to that point.
SP: 45 games into Marc Gasol's new big money contract, how are you feeling about the big Spaniard? I ask, because it's axiomatic in the NBA that you overpay for bigs -- the Clippers are paying DeAndre Jordan $11MM per, and the Nuggets had such a severe case of buyer's remorse on Nene's new deal that they traded him three months after signing him. What's the vibe like in Memphis with Gasol? "A bargain"? "Worth every penny"? "He is what we thought he was"? Or "wow that's a big contract for a lot of years"?
TL: I think the general vibe is mixed -- but in the best way possible! You would not have found a single Grizzlies fan this offseason who felt like they should let him walk. Under any circumstance, you re-sign this guy. Period. So it wasn't even a matter of debate. I think the money was an issue, because it came down to who was going to offer him a contract and how much would we be on the hook for, not if, but when we matched it. Enter, the Houston Rockets. And at the time, it seemed like a reasonable price for a building-block big man. But now, we're elated at the fact that we got him at $58 million for four years. The money seems reasonable, which in this day and age, as you mentioned, isn't so typical when you're talking about "over-paying" for a big man. Generally, I think it would be tough to find a Grizzlies fan who doesn't think this guy is worth every penny.
SP: On a related note, the Grizzlies are locked into huge money every season for three more years for Gasol, Gay, Randolph and Mike Conley (over $60MM for those 4 guys in the 14-15 season). How confident are you that this is a winning combination, because you're probably stuck with them for awhile?
TL: I'm fairly confident that we've got a great title-contending core in our "big four." But, as we all know, it starts with your core players, but it doesn't end there. What I love is that Chris Wallace has actually done a pretty good job at surrounding these four players with excellent complimentary pieces -- save for, we still can't find a shooter! The Tony Allen signing was excellent. Same goes for the Marreese Speights deal, plus getting Dante Cunningham and even Quincy Pondexter have really worked out. I like the prospect of Josh Selby, once he matures and learns the NBA game, and there's still hope that we can bring back Darrell Arthur, who prior to his injury was well on his way to making his mark on this team. So, I think making sure that we continue to add complimentary pieces that fit with our style of play -- Grit 'N Grind, as Tony Allen likes to put it -- we should be in the mix with this core going forward. Really, we all know about Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, but I urge Clippers fans to watch Conley and Gasol closely, if you haven't already this season, just to see how they've improved. Both players have really played up to their respective contracts, and as long as they can continue to develop, I have no doubt that this team will be a factor for some years to come.