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Playoffs' second round: A look ahead, and back...

  • Blog Post by: Jerry Zgoda
  • May 1, 2011 - 2:49 PM

Just two short seasons ago, the Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies finished with the exact same 24-58 record.

Back then, both teams had accumulated extra future first-round picks and had or were positioning themselves for substantial cap space and you could have argued the Wolves' future looked brighter.

Today, the Grizzlies just beat Oklahoma City (winners of just 23 games that 2008-09 season) in the opening game of the playoffs'  second round.

So what happened?

Lots of things.

For starters, the Grizzlies:

* Added a difference-making veteran to their core of youngsters when it gambled big and acquired Zach Randolph, who came to Memphis carrying plenty of baggage and an oversized contract.  

That gamble paid off. Right now, Randolph is the best player on either the Memphis or Minnesota roster.

He also has been the best low-post player -- maybe the player period -- in the playoffs so far.

The Wolves still have to find, add and pay that veteran.

* Developed a point guard.

Just like Jonny Flynn, Conley was a high lottery pick (fourth overall in 2007) who disappointed in his first couple seasons. But give both Conley and coach Lionel Hollins credit for not giving up on him, as the Wolves already have on Flynn.

Conley, unlike Flynn so far, has developed into a steadying influence who involves his teammates and has played nearly 41 minutes a game while playing Tony Parker at least even in the first-round upset of San Antonio.

Look at that 2009 point-guard draft class Flynn came out from -- Ricky Rubio, Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison, Rodrigue Beaubois and Tyreke Evans if you want to call him a point guard -- and then consider that the Wolves by far weren't the only team that thought so much of him.

Only time will tell, but I'll bet that the Wolves will someday look to be more at fault than Flynn -- as immature, dribble-crazy, me-first (and injured) as he has been his first two seasons -- for his failure here.

In a different situation and system and given time, I bet he still thrives in this league.

Conley's rise shows these young guys need time.

* Added toughness seemingly at every turn by getting Randolph in July 2009, acquiring Darrell Arthur late in the 2008 draft's first round and Sam Young in the 2009's second round, signing Tony Allen from Boston last summer and acquiring veteran Shane Battier at the trade deadline.

The Wolves went and traded the 16th overall pick last summer for Martell Webster, who showed glimpses of promise in an otherwise injury-filled season. But he was another player chosen more for his offensive possibilities on a team David Kahn is trying to build to run and gun while Allen's presence has been transformational in turning the Grizzlies into a tough-minded, defensive team.

Meanwhile, the Wolves have bet their future largely on the potential of Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Anthony Randolph and Webster.

* Got something lasting for their best player.

Remember how the Grizzlies were universally ridiculed for trading away Pau Gasol to the Lakers for nothing?

Well, that nothing turned out to be Gasol's brother Marc, who now is Memphis' starting center and a foundation piece at that position that the Wolves are lacking.

The Wolves, meanwhile, traded away superstar Kevin Garnett and have nobody left from that trade to show for it..

* Thrived despite making two huge personnel blunders and despite Rudy Gay's season-ending injury this year.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Grizzlies' ascension from lottery rubble is they've done so despite trading O.J. Mayo's draft rights to the Wolves for Kevin Love in a deal that looks more lopsided with each passing season and despite drafting Hasheem Thabeet second overall in 2009.

GM Chris Wallace -- who came up through the scouting ranks and was Miami's player personnel director before moving to Boston and then Memphis as GM -- has made one astute move after another and can't be faulted for that Love-Mayo trade, which was owner Michael Heisley's call.

And even though he drafted him, Wallace still was able to turn Thabeet, despite his disappointing first two seasons, into that trade-deadline deal that brought Battier back to town.

The Grizz are missing Gay's smooth 20 points a game, but as crazy as it sounds to say, they just might be grittier and  more playoff tough without him.

* Have a Coach of the Year candidate in Hollins, who should have gotten more votes for the award than he did? He has gotten more out of Randolph than anyone could have hoped and has molded this team even without Gay.

* And they paid up.

While the Wolves have the league's third lowest payroll, the Grizz have signed Gay to an $80 million-plus contract extension, Randolph to $65 million-ish deal and Conley to a $45 million extension.

And Gasol and Mayo will be looking for their paydays, too, although it's likely the Grizzlies will trade Mayo, as they tried to do at the trade deadline, because they can't afford to re-sign everybody.

Remember when these two teams were side-by-side in the race toward the future?

Not any longer.

 

 

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