Memphis Grizzlies face decisions after Western finals loss to Spurs
Danny Johnston, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Grizzlies have little time to celebrate and appreciate the best season in this franchise's history after being swept from the Western Conference finals.
The organization faces several pivotal decisions, including the future of coach Lionel Hollins, free agent Tony Allen and how to handle a couple of burgeoning player salaries.
"We're definitely thinking the future," guard Mike Conley said Tuesday. "We're definitely thinking that we got a good taste of what we could be, and now we're going to have to make some decisions this offseason obviously based around Marc (Gasol) and myself and the core guys and see if we can improve ourselves and get back to where our goals are at."
The Grizzlies found themselves swept from the postseason Monday night after a 93-86 loss to the Spurs. It was not the way they wanted to cap the best season ever for the small-market franchise. Several players made it clear Tuesday they want Hollins back as their coach after he helped them improve each season since taking over in January 2009.
They were at their best this season going 56-26 and just missing the Southwest Division title by two games to the Spurs. They set franchise marks winning 32 games at home, 24 on the road and with a 58.5 winning percentage. They had never played or won as many postseason games as they did this season.
They also extended their postseason sellout streak to 17 straight games.
That is why Hollins already is being mentioned as a candidate elsewhere with openings at the Clippers, Bucks and Nets being possibilities. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was at Game 1 of the Western finals in San Antonio with speculation that he was taking a close look at Hollins, who knocked Los Angeles out of the playoffs in the first round.
This is the first time the veteran coach has been a hot commodity. Hollins said nobody has asked to talk to him yet. He wants to be paid fair-market value but he said money will not be the final factor.
"Hopefully, I will be here," Hollins said. "I love the guys. I love this city and the fans and everybody associated with the team. But we've got to be very, very realistic in what the future holds."
Hollins had little negotiating leverage in 2010 when he accepted a contract from then-owner Michael Heisley. Now Robert Pera heads up the new ownership group, and Hollins had his longest talk with the new boss after Monday night's loss though his future did not come up in conversation.
"I think he just wants to win," Hollins said.
But Hollins also wants to know what chief executive officer Jason Levien plans to do with the roster. Levien traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay on Jan. 30, the second trade clearing up space away from the luxury tax threshold.
Now Levien must decide whether the Grizzlies can afford to keep Allen, 31, and a two-time member of the NBA All-Defensive first team who received votes for Defensive Player of the Year. Allen said he wants to stay in Memphis where he coined the team's "Grit and Grind" mantra and is the self-named "Grindfather" at the arena known as the Grindhouse.
"Getting to the Western finals shows that it's a team to be reckoned with," Allen said.
Guard Jerryd Bayless, who helped handle the ball to relieve the pressure on Conley, has a player option for next season. Tayshaun Prince, acquired in the Gay trade, will cost more than $7 million each of the next two seasons, but he struggled so much with his shot this postseason that teams left him open, daring him to shoot.
Zach Randolph is a candidate for a trade or amnesty with a contract for two more years at $34 million. The two-time All Star led Memphis with 15.4 points and 11.2 rebounds a game with 45 double-doubles during the season.
He averaged 20 points against the Clippers and 18 against the Thunder only to be limited by the Spurs to 11 points in the finals. They frustrated him with a wave of big bodies pushing him off his usual low block, and the Grizzlies couldn't adapt or make the Spurs pay.
Randolph said reaching the finals for the first time helped him learn exactly what he needs to do now in his game. He also wants to finish his career in Memphis.
"But it's a business, and I understand that."
The Grizzlies still need perimeter shooting after the Spurs dominated the paint in the last three games, able to focus on shutting down Randolph and Gasol. Quincy Pondexter should push for a starting spot after shooting 49 percent from the floor and 45 percent from 3-point range, but it wasn't enough.
Right now, Memphis' core is Gasol and Conley. Gasol was voted Defensive Player of the Year, and Conley was voted to the NBA's All-Defensive second team. Gasol said the Grizzlies themselves can work this offseason to get better as players.
"I got to get better, Mike has to get better, Zach has to get better," Gasol said. "Everybody has to get better. Now we seen what it takes to make it to the finals and you see how you got to work through the whole season creating those habits, those good habits to play at the highest level."
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.teresamwalker.com
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