The Grizzlies are back and mean as anything: 2015-16 NBA Season Preview

It was a weird offseason in the NBA. The league’s salary cap sprang up, leading to max contracts being awarded to unproven players such as Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton and Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter. Chandler Parsons and DeAndre Jordan ate dinner together for a week and Jordan still couldn’t decide whether he wanted to play in Los Angeles or Dallas. Chris Paul rode a banana boat and Paul Pierce tweeted from a Gameboy Color. Most importantly, of course, Luke Ridnour was traded three times in one day (including a brief, 10 hour stint with the Grizzlies) and once more five days later. The Grizzlies had a quiet offseason compared to the big moves of their rivals. But did they improve?

Memphis’s main problem every season is lackluster outside shooting, an issue the team did little to address in the offseason. Perhaps the team didn’t attempt to solve the problem because it can’t be solved with the team’s current build. In today’s NBA, it is nearly impossible to have successful spacing on offense without outside shooting from either the small or power forward spot to complement shooting from the point and shooting guard slots.

While the Grizzlies have two passable shooters at the one and two spots with point guard Mike Conley and wing Courtney Lee, the team’s two forwards, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, are both abysmal outside shooters. The Grizzlies seemed to realize this and instead built around their current defensive core.

There was one major item on Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace’s plate this summer: resign Marc Gasol. The star big man’s contract expired, allowing him to sign with any team he wanted to join. After a few weeks in Barcelona, Gasol and the Grizzlies agreed to a five year, $110 million contract that will keep Gasol wearing blue until 2020.

The Grizzlies revolved around Gasol last season. The star big man played fewer minutes than in past seasons but despite this posted career bests in PER and usage rate. Resigning Gasol was the team’s main priority; if Gasol bolted to San Antonio or New York, the Grizzlies would have been forced to enter a rebuilding stage. Instead, Gasol re-signed and the team will continue to chase championships with its current core.

Gasol wasn’t Memphis’s only free agent center this offseason. Kosta Koufos’s contract also expired; he did indeed leave the team and signed a four year, $33 million offer sheet with the Sacramento Kings. The Ohio-born, Greek big man will go to the rebuilding Kings.

Other Grizzlies who left the team this offseason were free agent point guard Nick Calathes, who signed with Greek Panathinaikos B.C., and sweet-shooting power forward Jon Leuer, who was traded on draft night for former Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison.

To replace Koufos and Leuer, the Grizzlies turned to free agency, where they signed former Phoenix Suns forward Brendan Wright to a steal of a three years, $18 million deal. Wright, a graduate of Brentwood Academy in Nashville and former three-time Tennessee Mr. Basketball, is a hyper-athletic power forward who can provide a stark contrast to the plodding, bulky starting duo of Gasol and Randolph.

The Grizzlies also traded for swingman and former adversary Matt Barnes from the Los Angeles Clippers. Barnes, who before this offseason was one of the most hated opposing athletes in Memphis, will provide both strong perimeter defense and an underrated, crafty offensive game for the Grizzlies. The 34-year-old wing still has fresh legs despite his age and recorded 4.3 win shares for the Clippers last season.

The Grizzlies also signed center Ryan Hollins from Sacramento and drafted power forward Jarell Martin from LSU.

This season will likely be another tough one for the Grizzlies as the league’s western conference did nothing but improve. San Antonio signed star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to pair with future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan. The LA Clippers bolstered their abnormally bad bench with the acquisitions of Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce. Houston took a flyer on oft-troubled, ultra-talented guard Ty Lawson and with him, should be better than they were last season. Golden State has the exact same team as last year’s championship-winning squad. Utah’s young core of Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors will continue to progress. Anthony Davis is a man-child and New Orleans has improved around him. The West may very well be the hardest conference in any American sport. Life will be hard for the Grizzlies.

With their new signings and an untouched starting five, it would be foolish to write off the Grizzlies as so many seem to do every year. The Grizzlies should finish in the top six in the West again and have the potential to make another deep playoff run.