Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Worst Thing To Ever Happen To The Grizzlies

With a title like that, I'm sure that a lot of you flashed back to last year's draft lottery. Some of you probably flashed forward to this year's draft lottery, where you are already expecting the worst possible outcome. I'm sure others conjured up images of the Pau Gasol to the Lakers trade, Shane Battier to the Rockets trade (believe me, there are some who think that was the worst move of the franchise), drafting Drew Gooden over Amare Stoudemire or Robert Archibald over Carlos Boozer or Dahntay Jones over Josh Howard. For that matter, some longstanding fans probably even thought about Bryant "Big Country" Reeves or Michael Dickerson.

But in this blogger's humble opinion, none of those compare to when the Memphis Grizzlies made the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

Ok, I'll wait for you to pick your jaw up off the floor -- and no, I won't buy any of you new monitors. Settle in and I'll explain why I feel this way

When the team moved to Memphis from Vancouver, it was the worst professional sports franchise in the history of the world. Even the Washington Generals thought that these guys were a bunch of losers. The first season by the Mississippi River, they tied a franchise record with 23 wins. The next season they hired longtime commentator Hubie Brown as head coach. He led them to 28 wins by employing his patented 10-man rotation to wear other teams out using two separate 5-man units. The following season, with the additions of James Posey and Bonzi Wells, the team won an astounding 50 games and made the playoffs, shocking fans, experts and opposing teams alike. The team hired another commentator in Mike Fratello to replace the departing Brown the next season and made the postseason each of the next two years to make it three straight appearances. During this time, the team shipped out members of its "core group", such as Wells, Posey and Jason Williams for veteran players such as Damon Stoudamire and Eddie Jones

Ok, now that we've got the history lesson out of the way, let's take a closer examination of what making the playoffs that first time really did for the organization and its fanbase. For the fanbase, it raised expectations substantially. Rather than rooting for a team that was the doormat of the league, suddenly they were cheering for a team that made the Final 8 in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Even after they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs, there was still talk of "minor moves" to be made that could make this team a title contender. Looking back it all seems quite ridiculous for anyone to believe that team was even within shouting distance of a title, but that's what fans were thinking and talking about in the 2004 offseason. Ever since then the expectations have always been obscenely inflated. Even going in to this season people predicted that the team would double their win total from last year and others even said that we should expect another 50-win season.....just like in 2003/04. Making the playoffs legitimized this team for a fanbase that was begging for something to believe in. The unintended consequence of that was to superglue Beale Street Blue goggles on the heads of those same fans and render most of them illogical and unreasonable. They became fanatics and desired more success and more improvement, no matter what the cost

That sentiment carried over to the front office, unfortunately. Rather than developing a plan to supplement the team with young, promising players loaded with potential, the powers-that-be chose to surround the young core of Pau Gasol, Shane Battier and Mike Miller with proven veterans (the aforementioned Stoudamire and Jones) and drafted 4-year college players with limited upside like Troy Bell, Dahntay Jones, and Hakim Warrick. When JWill, Bonzi and Posey proved to be distractions incapable of remaining with the team, they could have formulated a model that would have meant taking a step back in order to achieve long-term success. Instead, they listened to their customers who demanded more, more, more and now, now, now. They piece-mealed a roster around a talented player in Gasol that never truly emphasized his strengths and didn't take a chance in the draft until 2006 with the trade that brought in Rudy Gay and drafting Kyle Lowry. They were faced with a "dare to be great" situation back in 2004 and they whiffed on it. Now they are mired in a rebuilding process with a disgruntled fanbase calling for changes by the dozen. Of course, lest we forget, it was the cries of that same fanbase that helped usher in a lot of these issues to begin with.

Realistic expectations -- is there truly such a thing? Yankees/Red Sox fans expect a World Series ring every season. Colts/Patriots fans expect to see their team deep in the playoffs each January. Spurs/Pistons fans always think that their teams will be playing come June. I think that Memphis Grizzlies fans should learn how to temper their expectations and that the front office should never, ever listen to that fanbase when it comes to personnel moves.

But what do I know? I'm just a guy with a keyboard who thought this year's team was good enough to win 13 more games than last year. I guess I should learn how to take my own advice.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. It makes the same point I've made here and other places: Grizz Fans act like we're SUPPOSED to have a winning team every year. There are older franchises in larger markets who have struggled for years without sniffing the playoffs, let alone advancing (think Knicks, Hawks, Cavs and Nuggets).

NBA success relies on a number of things, and one of those things that nobody really acknowledges is flat out dumb luck. A huge part of the Spurs success is that they've been lucky enough to have Duncan, Parker and Ginobli mostly healthy the entire time.

All that said, I understand your reasoning, but I'll still take the 50-win season over the alternatives. ;-)

L3E

hptmatt said...

hey Sparty..you and I guessed the same number of wins at the beginning of the season-our glasses and koolaid must be the same "hue of blue"...or was that "shade"?

Agreed with the concept that the first playoff appearance was like giving an addict just enough to get "right" for an hour or two-it just leads to crazy unrealistic jonesing for a long time thereafter.

But this time I really do think that we're just one or two pieces away...

oh wait...aaarrrrgggghhhh ;)

Chip Crain said...

I personally believe that the worst thing to happen was not the raising of expectations (which began with the hiring of Jerry West not the 50 win season). The worst thing to happen was the failure of Jerry West to capitalize on the opportunity after the 50 win season.

Everyone has expectations. They are like opinions and ... well you know the rest. The point is not that the team won too fast but that the team failed to continue to build on that success. If everyone, including the Grizzlies front office, planned on the team reaching a plateau at that level then expectations wouldn't have risen that high. Where was the big center West promised? Where was the impact player to pair with Gasol?

Sure missing LeBron in the draft hurt but something needed to be done and it wasn't. Now people are believing it never will. That is as far worse than believing the team would get better.

Anonymous said...

I think the Ottis thorpe trade that denied us of the number 2 pick really hurt. I'm not even using the missing out on Lebron,b/c we didn't get the number 1. However had we gotten the number two we would have gotten Anthony. While Anthony is not my favorite player I think having him, Pau, Shane, and Miller could have been a very strong core of players.

Anonymous said...

Great post. This is exactly what ive told so many people before when it comes do being a Grizz fan. So many people actually ask me "Why do you like the Grizzlies!?" as if it is some odd thing that i cheer for my cities only pro sports franchise. I cheer for them b/c i like the team no matter what and dont expect them to win the championship every year or even be a good team every year. The biggest part of being a sports fan is usually the waiting period in which you wait for something good to happen that changes your franchise. This winning part in most cases doesnt occur that often.

zack said...

no real argument that making the playoffs that year was, as it now turns out, not the best thing to happen to the Grizzlies and their fans....

I also think that giving Pau a max contract was one of the turning points for the worse for the franchise...

but, on the flipside........making the playoffs might have been bittersweet for the Griz, the game 3 against the spurs was, is, and probably will be for some time, the greatest Griz game I've seen in person......

so, one way to say it is, although making the playoffs for the first time was the worst thing to happen to the griz....the first playoff game might simultaneously be the best thing to happen to griz fans....

zack said...

that first sentence didn't come out the way i wanted....

i agree....i don't have any argument to refute that making the playoffs wasn't the worst thing to ever happen to the griz....

still not sure if that sounds anymore sensible....i hate English... :)

MemphisX said...

I still think the worse thing was making the coaches and GM the prime acquisitions.

I also hate that Jerry West did not nuke the team upon arrival but he was such a horrible drafter it might be best he didnt.

We held on to Stro to long. Did not trade for one of the many All Star level talents that came available.

Signing Brian Cardinal was horrid. Especially when you consider we could have flipped Bo Outlaw's expiring contract into something instead of cutting him.