Jacob Eisenberg reports on the Memphis Grizzlies and their frustrations following the Rudy Gay trade…
ATLANTA — At the outset, they were saying all the right things in the post-game interviews. However, once the cameras and microphones were turned off, shouted expletives and sighs of frustration persisted throughout the Grizzlies’ locker room following their 103-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night
It is easy to sympathize with the players. After all, it was only two months ago that Memphis owned a 14-3 record and looked well on its way toward a deep playoff run.
Now, the Grizzlies look confused, uncertain, and downtrodden.
Call it their post-trade blues.
For the players, the worst part about this downward spiral is that it was completely self-inflicted by the front office and ownership. There was no devastating injury that shook the team’s confidence. Instead, the roster had been overhauled to save money.
On January 22nd, the Grizzlies dealt role players Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby along with a future first round pick to Cleveland for Jon Leuer. The move made little basketball sense. (Speights alone is significantly more valuable than Leuer.) In the eyes of Memphis ownership, however, saving six million dollars in salary and getting under the luxury tax line was worth compromising the team’s depth.
Then, just eight days after depleting their depth, the front office shipped out their leading scorer in Rudy Gay and backup center Hamed Haddadi for Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye in another trade that was completely driven financially.
When the dust cleared, the Grizzlies had traded five players and had brought in four in just two weeks. On the court, the trades have certainly affected the team’s play.
At just 1-3 since the Gay trade, morale has clearly been shaken. “It has been tough for us to stay confident,” admitted Mike Conley. “We understand that getting acclimated takes time but time seems to be working against us as the season is winding down. We have to turn it around quickly because we don’t have an offseason to get guys acclimated.”
Getting players acclimated has proven to be only a part of Memphis’ problem. What concerns Tony Allen more is his team’s apparent lack of motivation.
After losing to Atlanta, Allen said, “I don’t think guys had the mindset to come out, seek and destroy. Coach blames the loss on our poor start but, personally, I think they just outworked us. They outworked all 12 of us. It seemed like we had no emotion in the game. There was no griminess to it. There was no grittiness to it. Once they made plays, it was like we put our heads down.”
Zach Randolph agreed that the team lacked the fight necessary to succeed.
“It’s really frustrating to be outworked. We didn’t hit shots and we didn’t get back in transition. We have to run and get back on defense.” All-Star Marc Gasol added, “Obviously we are struggling a bit right now. We have to stay strong and stay together. We know each other and we have to be more consistent.”
Beyond the issues with chemistry and motivation, the most obvious problem is the team’s sudden void in scoring that Gay’s departure left behind. Still, a contemptuous Lionel Hollins insisted that there is no looking back to what the team once was, “Rudy is not here. We are not talking about Rudy. We are not even thinking about Rudy. What this team is trying to do is be a good team as it is currently constructed.”
Unfortunately for Hollins, being a good team with what is currently constructed is proving to be a challenge. There are several obvious holes in the rotation. Most obviously, without Speights or Haddadi, the Grizzlies have no backup center on the bench. While Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur are both capable reserve forwards, neither has played center extensively at any point in their careers. Still, Hollins will not make excuses, “We are going to have to deal with what we have. They are going to go out and play and I am going to go out and coach with what we have.”
Allen, the most visibly frustrated of the players in the locker room, believes the team can still be successful without their leading scorer: “I’m not thinking about Rudy Gay, period. I’m thinking about how good we were when we didn’t have him two years ago. We were the same team two years ago without Rudy. The same team! The same exact team! So I don’t know why we are not fighting the same way we used to fight and why we are not gelling together. We overcame adversity then, and now we are back to where we were. We can’t have any distractions in our locker room. We need to stay together.”
Randolph insists that the chemistry will get to where it needs to be eventually, “We’re straight. We have had some tough times. We will keep going to work. The hardest part of this all is just being patient.”
Still, Hollins has no clear idea of how long his team will need to be patient for, “Nobody knows how long this will take. We just have to keep working and try to figure out where everybody fits and find ways to play to everybody’s strengths.”
While Allen believes the roster can be equally successful to the one that took Oklahoma City to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals in 2011, Mike Conley has tempered his expectations, “I don’t think we have the same team as the team we had two years ago. We had a lot of different personnel other than Rudy that contributed to that team. But, man, we had played together for so long with those guys. Now we have a slew of new faces, so we just have to get everybody adjusted and get used to playing with each other. Patience is the hardest thing. We have all been in the league for a while and we understand that when moves are made either via trade or free agency, there are growing pains. I think we will be fine but it will take some time.”
In early December, Memphis looked poised to finally break through for their first deep playoff run in franchise history. Now, in February, the organization once again finds itself with a locker room filled with sighs of frustration and questions of uncertainty about the future.
Could the Grizzlies have won a championship with the roster they had to start the season? Unfortunately, we will never know. One thing is certain: they were a heck of a lot closer back then than they are today.
Originally published on Sheridanhoops.com on 02/07/13