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Grizzlies Face Three Big Challenges This Summer

The Grizzlies’ front office faces a trio of challenges this summer — and little margin for error.



The firing of Coach Dave Joerger wasn't a surprise to anyone who had been paying attention to the Grizzlies' tumultuous 2015-16 season. That's not to say that Joerger's dismissal was entirely about him, or his behavior, but it was clear to all involved — especially by the final media availability of the season — that Joerger and the Grizzlies' front office were headed toward some sort of divorce.

I won't get into the specifics of that divorce here — what's done is done, and Joerger is now comfortably ensconsed (complete with a $4 million salary) as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings. But with the Grizzlies' coaching search still in full swing at the time of this writing, I think it's important to talk about the three things the Grizzlies have to get right this summer.

Hire the Right Coach: Mike Conley is a free agent this summer, and hiring a coach for whom he would be comfortable playing is a big step toward retaining his services. In his final media availability, Conley talked about his desire to see a plan from the Grizzlies, given how much uncertainty faced the franchise, and that was before they'd fired Joerger. Hiring a coach Conley is happy with is a must.

By the same token, in basketball, your three best players determine the way you play. After this summer, Marc Gasol, Conley (assuming he re-signs), and Hypothetical Wing Free Agent (see below) will be the Grizzlies' three best players, and that will require a fairly radical reconsideration of the way the Grizzlies play, and the role of some beloved players — Zach Randolph and Tony Allen — may have to be scrutinized. The right hire is a guy who can get Gasol and Conley to buy in to the direction he's headed offensively — something Joerger was never able to do, as evidenced by the two player revolts against "the new offense" in 2013-14 and 2015-16. It's a big task on a team with some (quietly) headstrong personalities. Hiring a coach who can handle it is imperative.

Re-sign Mike Conley: The odds are in the Grizzlies' favor here. Conley's never played anywhere else, is very close friends with Gasol (with whom Conley consulted before Gasol signed his $120M deal last summer), and the Grizzlies can offer him a longer contract for more money than any other team. Conley's injury history and the mileage on his 29-year-old body are of concern at this point, and a five-year max deal is a gamble, but the Grizzlies don't have many other options if they want to avoid rebuilding the team completely, and Conley will probably have a hard time turning down the extra $35-40 million that the Grizzlies can pay him.

The only way this goes wrong is if the Grizzlies don't 1) hire a coach Conley approves of and 2) can't convince him they have a plan for staying competitive while retooling around him and Gasol.

Sign the Right Hypothetical Wing Free Agent: This is the thing the Grizzlies have never done before that they have to do this summer: attract a free agent making more than the mid-level exception salary (that is, around $5 million per season). It's no secret that the Rudy Gay/Tayshaun Prince/Jeff Green transitions at the starting small forward spot didn't do much to improve the team, and, if anything, they solidified Conley, Gasol, and Randolph as the team's three best players and primary scoring options.

This summer, they've got to do something, whether it's bringing in Nic Batum from Charlotte, prying Evan Fournier away from Orlando, throwing a big contract at Kent Bazemore, or trying to create a new wing player from a supercomputer à la Weird Science. As Randolph and Allen age, it becomes less realistic to rely on them to contribute at a high level every night. This summer is the Grizzlies' chance to reconfigure around a (presumably re-signed) Conley and Gasol core.

Achieving one of these challenges would make for a big summer for the Grizzlies, but they've got to do all three — and they've got to monitor Gasol's recovery, make a draft pick, develop their younger players, and fill out the rest of a half-empty roster. It's a challenge the Grizzlies' decision makers have to meet if the team is going to remain competitive.

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