MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Zach Randolph left for Sacramento. Tony Allen, aka the Grindfather who gave the Grizzlies’ home its Grindhouse nickname, will be wearing a Pelicans’ jersey on opening night in Memphis.
Guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol are the last remnants from the Grizzlies’ glory days of Grit and Grind. Yet Conley believes that even with the changing faces on the Memphis roster, the FedExForum will remain the Grindhouse if only because of the Grizzlies’ dedicated fans chanting and breathing on players’ necks all night long.
“Just because we’re going to play a different style doesn’t mean we are changing our mentality at all,” Conley said Monday. “We’re still going to be defensive minded. We’re still going to be tough. We’re still going to be that team that’s so blue collar in a sense from a mindset standpoint that we go out and work for everything. That’s where our fans will stick with us.”
The Grizzlies reached the playoffs seven straight seasons with Randolph, Allen, Gasol and Conley.
That run ended last spring after a six-game loss to San Antonio in the first-round. Randolph and Allen, along with Vince Carter, had gotten too old and too pricey for a franchise that has invested big money into Gasol in 2014, Conley’s $153 million deal in 2015 and a $94 million deal for Chandler Parsons in 2016.
General manager Chris Wallace insisted Monday at media day that the Grizzlies are not backing away from the grit and grind mindset even if the roster has changed. Coach David Fizdale, going into his second season, said he doesn’t want to do a disservice to the players who set that standard long before he arrived.
“That’s a great slogan for us,” Fizdale said. “I don’t’ want to lose that edge. I just want to play a little faster.”
In Fizdale’s debut, Memphis went 43-39. Conley became the Grizzlies’ leading scorer averaging a career-high 20.5 points per game, and Gasol ranked second as he hit a career-high 104 3-pointers after making only 12 combined his first eight seasons.
But Fizdale wanted a faster, more athletic lineup. Wallace brought Tyreke Evans back to the town where he played in college and signed Ben McLemore. Wallace also drafted Dillon Brooks from Oregon and Ivan Rabb from California, and Wade Baldwin IV is back for a second season along with Andrew Harrison looking to prove how much they’ve grown.
How much help Gasol and Conley receive will depend on how healthy Chandler Parsons is. He played only 34 games for Memphis last season before being shut down in March by surgery on his right knee .
“I look forward to hopefully not having crazy minute restrictions and not having all these limitations,” Parsons said. “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.”
With the roster so different, Gasol said the Grizzlies have to quickly figure out how they all fit together starting Tuesday in the first practice of training camp. They open the preseason Oct. 2 hosting Orlando, and then Allen and the New Orleans Pelicans visit Oct. 18 for the season opener.
To Conley, that’s what makes this upcoming season exciting even as he says that grit and grind mindset remains.
“It doesn’t mean the way we play by any means, not anymore,” Conley said. “I think the mindset is still to be tough, to be mentally stronger than your opponent, to not get rattled. And on the court, we’re going to transition to a different style of play, a different team. That’s it.”
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