MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies made significant roster moves during the offseason and still believe they can extend the franchise’s streak of seven straight playoff appearances.
It all hinges on the health of Chandler Parsons’ knees.
Gone are veterans Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Vince Carter, all too pricey and old to keep around. The Grizzlies now revolve around guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol with Parsons the wild card on whether the forward can start delivering on the $94 million deal he landed in 2016. Memphis has so much invested in the trio that the roster is filled with youth hoping to complement them.
“I love the challenge of the unknown and knowing that we got guys like Mike and Marc coming back to the team, it’s really an exciting time,” coach David Fizdale said. “Obviously, we have a different team now. We have a team that I think has more skill and more speed, and that obviously is something that I’ve talked about that I’d like to have a team that can do that.”
Fizdale expects competition for playing time to push the younger Grizzlies into stepping up, or out.
But the Grizzlies must get more out of Parsons, who was limited to 34 games in his first season with Memphis. Parsons shot only 26.9 percent from 3-point range last season before needing surgery on his left knee in March. Conley talked of seeing Parsons, who spent the offseason training and healing, dunk on a couple of players. Parsons says he finally feels healthy.
“I had never been hurt up until three years ago, and I look forward to getting back to those rhythms and those minutes and doing the things I was doing and much more,” Parsons said.
Here are some things to watch the Grizzlies:
CONLEY AND GASOL: Fizdale pushed Conley and Gasol to take over leadership of the Grizzlies and embrace the faster tempo he wants on the court. Conley responded with the best season of his 10-year career and led Memphis in scoring for the first time in his career. Gasol averaged 19.5 points a game, and he turned in two triple-doubles. “There’s only two givens in the lineup right now, and I think you guys know who those are,” Fizdale said.
HEY RIO: Mario Chalmers tore his Achilles tendon playing for the Grizzlies in March 2015, and now he’s reunited with Fizdale, the former Miami Heat assistant coach who knows what the veteran guard can bring to a team. If Chalmers is healthy, then not only does Memphis have an experienced backup for Conley but a guard Fizdale can play to free up Conley to score in crunch time.
HEY TYREKE EVANS: The 2009-10 NBA rookie of the year has landed in Memphis after starting 376 of his 473 games played. Evans, who played his one year of college ball at Memphis, has averaged 16.1 points in his career, and he came in expecting to be a scorer for the Grizzlies. But Evans hasn’t played more than 40 games in a season since 2014. If healthy and Evans can score, he’ll take some of the pressure off Conley.
KEEP HITTING 3s: Fizdale got the Grizzlies to accomplish one major goal in his first season: Shoot more 3s. The Grizzlies set a franchise-record with 767 3-pointers made last season, smashing the previous mark of 620 set in 2007-08. They also made a franchise-record 17 3s at Sacramento on Dec. 31, and Gasol led the way as he made 104 3s. The center had knocked down 12 over his first eight NBA seasons combined before Fizdale.
PAINT D: With Z Bo no longer roaming in the paint , the Grizzlies will have to find a way to continue their stingy defense. Nobody allowed fewer points in the paint than Memphis last season, giving up 37.8 points per game inside. The Grizzlies held opponents to 35 or fewer a league-high 35 times and went 24-11. Now the Grizzlies will be relying on Gasol and Green to keep that up.
More AP NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker