Grizzlies have high expectations with Gasol, healthy Conley
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies know only too well that they won’t outshoot or race up and down the court with the likes of Golden State and Houston. Their version of grit ’n grind that got them to seven straight playoff berths might not work with this current roster.
But Memphis still has guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies know who they are and that they need to play defense to be competitive in the loaded Western Conference.
“We’ve got to be a contrarian team, and we’ve had a lot of success here over the years in this grit-grind era of being a contrarian team,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said.
Most of the Grizzlies’ confidence stems from having Conley back from a heel injury that limited him to 12 games last season , and Conley averaged 17.1 points per game in his short stint. Gasol remains one of the NBA’s top centers, and he and Conley are the NBA’s longest-tenured teammates without any interruption.
Memphis revamped the roster in the offseason, swapping some youth for more experienced players. The miserable 22-60 season at least netted the Grizzlies the No. 4 overall pick on forward Jaren Jackson Jr. of Michigan State.
“It’s good as long as they have the mindset of winning and improving and the growth mindset,” Gasol said. “I think the young guys bring a breath of fresh air, a new swag, they call it.”
Some other things to know about the Grizzlies who open this season Oct. 17 at Indiana:
The 7-foot-1 center, who turns 34 in January, can opt out of his contract next summer holding a $25 million player option. Gasol has started 709 of the 716 games he’s played for the Grizzlies, and this will be the 11th season for a three-time All-Star who has yet to play in the NBA Finals. The closest Gasol and Memphis came was the 2013 Western Finals before being swept by San Antonio.
“I cannot promise you anything, or what the future is,” Gasol said. “What I can tell you is how much I’m going to put in this season and how much I care about the success of the team.”
ANOTHER NEW COACH
J.B. Bickerstaff has plenty of experience taking over as interim coach first in Houston and last season with the Grizzlies when David Fizdale was fired in late November. The Grizzlies gave him the job in May, and Bickerstaff had an entire offseason to pick his own assistants and plan for the season.
Forward Chandler Parsons played 34 games in his first season with Memphis, and he managed 36 games last season for the Grizzlies. He averaged 7.9 points per game and shot a career-high 42.1 percent from 3-point range. The Grizzlies need more, and Parsons, who signed a four-year, $94 million contract with Memphis in 2016 , believes his knee issues are past him after playing with no limitations this summer.
“Let’s face it the last two years have gone horribly and not the way I planned, but the reasons why I came to Memphis are still all intact and with J.B. as the coach and still able to play with Mike and Marc and the fan base we have here is the reason I came here,” Parsons said. “And they’re all three still in play.”
The Grizzlies have whiffed on many draft picks during their tenure in Memphis. Conley, the fourth overall pick in 2007, is the rare first-round selection who has thrived. The Grizzlies need Jackson, the Big Ten defensive player of the year last season, to live up to the promise shown in his summer league debut, and the 19-year-old forward understands the expectations he faces. He said he embraces the pressure to prove himself. “You feel it inside you,” Jackson said. “You just got to show everybody else.”
NEW SUPPORTING CAST
The Grizzlies signed Kyle Anderson, who started 67 games last season for San Antonio, with being ready to take a big step forward after signing him to a three-year, $37.2 million offer sheet. They traded away Ben McLemore and Deyonta Davis to Sacramento for Garrett Temple, who set career-highs last season for both points per game and 3-point percentage. Omri Casspi shot 58 percent overall and 45.5 percent beyond the arc for Golden State last season, while Shelvin Mack averaged a career-high 4.9 assists last season with Orlando. They also drafted Jevon Carter, who won both Big 12 defensive player of the year and the new Naismith defensive player of the year award.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker