Grizzlies still trying to contend without Rudy Gay
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)
It's time to prove it again.
The franchise's best postseason run came with Gay injured two seasons ago, with an upset of top-seeded San Antonio and then a thrilling seven-game Western Conference semifinal series against Oklahoma City. Before that, Memphis had never even won a playoff game.
''I don't think we're too scared. I think we've been here before without him,'' point guard Mike Conley said Thursday at the team's shootaround before a game at Oklahoma City.
''We've been without Zach (Randolph). We've had guys go down and we've had to deal with it. This team is great at playing with adversity,'' he added. ''Hopefully, we can kind of mock what we did when Rudy was out that year and we made the playoff run and play that style of basketball.''
Gay was out with a shoulder injury when Memphis fell a win short of the 2011 West finals - a series that included a triple-overtime loss. That created hope that Gay's return would push the Grizzlies over the top. Instead, they exited in the first round of last year's playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers and have settled into fourth place in the West this season - albeit with the best first half of a season in team history.
''We're still one of the best teams in the league,'' general manager Chris Wallace said at a news conference at the FedExForum. ''I don't believe we have taken a back seat in that regard. There's a tremendous amount of basketball still to be played here this season in Memphis, and hopefully a nice run in the playoffs as well.''
The pressure of luxury tax penalties mounting led to the Gay deal, which also included backup center Hamed Haddadi going to Toronto. The Grizzlies also got a second-round pick in the trade, and point guard Jose Calderon went from the Raptors to Detroit.
It was Memphis' second budget-minded deal in just over a week, after reserves Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby were sent to Cleveland - along with a future first-round draft pick - for Jon Leuer and a trade exception.
Before the season, the Grizzlies opted not to re-sign O.J. Mayo and let him leave as a free agent.
''When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget,'' coach Lionel Hollins said, before going on to say he understands the challenges Memphis faces as one of the NBA's smaller markets.
Hollins, who advocated keeping the starting five together and is in the final year of his contract, said ''time will tell'' if the Grizzlies are a better team after the trade.
''I think we're still a good team. Other people can cry the blues about this, that and the other,'' Hollins said.
Hollins didn't give a ringing endorsement to any of the Grizzlies' new players, taking instead a show-me-what-you've-got approach. Even with Prince, a 10-year veteran, he said Memphis only faced him at most twice a year and he couldn't provide an assessment yet.
As for the success in 2011, Hollins quickly pointed out that Memphis added Shane Battier after Gay's injury to fill that void.
''He was a big part of why we won, and hopefully Tayshaun Prince can come in and contribute on a level that can help us continue to be competitive and successful in the West,'' Hollins said.
The Grizzlies still have a solid core to build around, with the All-Star tandem of Randolph and Marc Gasol in the frontcourt. Randolph was picked to the All-Star team for the second time in three years this season, and Gasol was picked last season while Randolph was hurt.
Despite leading Memphis in scoring, Gay was never an All-Star.
''I feel like we've still got our All-Star bigs. Tayshaun is a champion, an All-Star as well,'' guard Tony Allen said. ''His resume speaks for itself. He's been proven to this league.
''I think our ambition stays the same. Our motives are still to get as far as we can into the playoffs,'' Allen said. ''Each game that we have coming up, we intend to win.''
The newcomers weren't ready to join the Grizzlies for their game Thursday night at Oklahoma City. At the earliest, they could play in a Friday night home game against Washington but all the players in the trade must first pass physicals.
''We've been a contender. I believe we still are a contender,'' Randolph said. ''A lot of people counted us out, but I think we're still right where we was at. We got good players back, good up-and-coming players. We got a solidified player who has won championships and knows how to play and play defense and shoot pretty good from the field and from the 3-point line in Tayshaun.''
One lingering issue is whether the Grizzlies, under new ownership that has committed to keeping the team in Memphis, are done with their cost-cutting or if more big moves could be ahead.
''We're hopeful that this is the end of the trade scene for us but it's a business and you never know. One day we're here and one day we're not,'' Conley said. ''We've just got to make do with what we've got and go forward.''
Wallace said the new owners are ''in it to win'' and the trade is not an indication that they are selling out because they can't afford to run the franchise.
''That's not my call or anything like that,'' Gasol added. ''We have to play. We have to play and we have to win. It doesn't matter who's on the court and who's not.''
AP freelance writer Clay Bailey contributed to this report from Memphis, Tenn.