For five seasons, being a fan of the Memphis Grizzlies was simple: Watch the games and root for your team. But this season, fans are getting their first strong taste of how complicated team building can be in the NBA.
Everyone's instinct, from the front office to the court to the stands, is to win every game possible. But this season, the reality for the Grizzlies is that more than a little losing, especially if done the right way, could be in the team's best interests. The pot of gold isn't an elusive playoff victory; it's a high draft pick.
This somewhat unnatural dynamic has divided Grizzlies fans. To borrow a concept from the world of professional wrestling, you can separate Grizzlies fans this season into "Marks" and "Smarts." In the wrestling world, fans who voluntarily suspend disbelief and watch matches simply to see who wins are dubbed Marks. Fans who embrace the fakery and are interested in who wins because they're analyzing how the scripted action is meant to court the Marks are called Smarts.
A similar schism is developing among Grizzlies fans this season, with Marks helplessly hanging onto an honest desire to see their team win -- because that's what fans do. Smarts, by contrast, are watching this season with a different set of criteria, knowing that, in the long run, developing young talent and securing a high pick in next summer's loaded rookie draft are probably more meaningful than wins and losses this season.
On Sunday, the day after the Grizzlies lost an ostensible heartbreaker to the Miami Heat, a game in which former Griz fan-fave James Posey delivered the dagger with a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer, a friend and fellow Griz fan (definitely a Smart) called to exclaim that it had been the perfect Grizzlies game for this season. It was competitive and exciting. Key young players had played well. And, crucially, not only did the Grizzlies lose, they did so in a way that "none of the fans [by which my friend meant the Marks] can get mad at the team about."
In Smart terms, the whole season has been a win-win so far. The Grizzlies have the worst record in the league but have been competitive. Second-year forward Hakim Warrick has taken a dramatic leap forward. Fellow sophomore forward Lawrence Roberts and now-or-never swingman Dahntay Jones are establishing themselves as valuable role players. High-profile rookie Rudy Gay has flashed spellbinding all-around skills. And rookie point guard Kyle Lowry, before fracturing his wrist, proved to be better out of the gate than anyone imagined.
Of course, these distinctions aren't as clear-cut as they sound. Most Marks understand that this year's Grizzlies team, beset by injuries and in the midst of a roster transformation, is unlikely to return to the post-season and could really use the infusion of a future star that the combination of heavy losses and luck could provide. But they can't help but root for every win and get upset at every loss. That's what fans do.
And most Smarts are Marks at heart. No matter how much you might focus on the big picture, when a moment happens like Posey's dagger, you're deflated, right along with the Marks. For Smarts, this Griz season is a conflict of head and heart: You spend games rooting for the team to win -- you can't help it -- only to be relieved when your irrepressible desires are thwarted.
For more Grizzlies coverage throughout the season, see "Beyond the Arc" at MemphisFlyer.com/GrizBlog.