A few years ago, Bill Simmons of ESPN.com wrote a classic column about the "levels of losing," a kind of Dante's Inferno of memorable ways for sports teams to lose.
In getting swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks, the Memphis Grizzlies experienced nearly every one of those levels.
In fact, the team's epic overtime loss to the Mavs in game three last Saturday might qualify for half of Simmons' 12 types of memorable defeats, including the two lowest levels: "The Stomach Punch," which "ends with an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play" (Dirk Nowitzki's game-tying three-pointer off a loose ball), and "The Guillotine," where "your team's hanging tough but you can feel the inevitable breakdown coming."
Monday night's game four, by contrast, was clearly a "Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking," and the whole series can be labeled as an "Alpha Dog," where "a superior player made the difference ... unfortunately, he wasn't playing for your team."
Grizzlies coach Mike Fratello's post-game press conference after Monday's season-ending loss was actually a lighter affair than the increasingly morose pre- and post-game appearances he'd made previously, as if he were relieved to have the nightmare end. At one point, he was asked to pinpoint what went wrong and said, "I think it exposes ... " but then he trailed off, declining to get into specifics. So allow me to finish the thought, because the Grizzlies' dismal playoff showing exposed plenty, especially about the team's key on- and off-court figures.
Jerry West: West's off-season trades and signings may have added solid-citizen veterans to clean up a poisoned locker room, but his moves also left this team without the requisite perimeter athleticism to compete in the post-season, primarily the ability to penetrate defenses on one end of the court and deny them on the other. In this series, the Grizzlies' slow perimeter players were completely outclassed by the Mavs' speedier and more explosive scorers. And this is to say nothing of West's perennial inaction when it comes to the Grizzlies' widely acknowledged weakness on the boards.
Mike Fratello: For the second straight year, Fratello's post-season performance didn't inspire much confidence. The coach never seemed to settle on a game plan against the Mavericks, searching fruitlessly throughout the series for workable match-ups. With Bonzi Wells, the player Fratello banned from the building last post-season, starring in Sacramento and whispers around the Forum about players and front-office personnel having grown weary of his coaching style, Fratello's future in Memphis has to be in question.
Pau Gasol: After making a definite leap in the regular season, Gasol's series against Dallas was distressingly similar to his previous performances against Phoenix and San Antonio, performing very well for stretches but struggling -- or disappearing -- just as often. Gasol's post-season made it crystal clear that he's not the kind of top-tier superstar who can put a mediocre supporting cast on his back and win in the playoffs. Despite the agonizing over Gasol you'll hear on talk radio, the franchise's first All-Star isn't this team's problem and may yet be part of the solution. But, at this point, trading Gasol is an option that should be on the table this off-season. And if he stays, the team has to build with him, not around him.
Mike Miller: No one on this team got exposed in the post-season as much as Miller, who headed into the Dallas series with dismal career playoff averages of 9.1 points per game on 40 percent shooting through 16 games and performed almost exactly as poorly (8.5 points/40 percent shooting) in this series. Miller's Houdini act in the crucial game three -- going scoreless in regulation on the night he received the league's Sixth Man of the Year award -- was a painful confirmation of his inability to perform under pressure. Coming off a fine regular season, it's time for the Grizzlies to sell high on Miller to a team that hasn't noticed his post-season shortcomings.