Grizzlies optimistic playoffs within reach

Rudy Gay has a gold medal from the world championships and a

patch on the front of his jersey marking the Grizzlies’ 10th season

in their second hometown.

With his success and the franchise milestone, there is pressure

to make the playoffs.

The owner and the fans are impatient, they want to see the

Grizzlies back in the postseason.

”It could be a great season for us,” Gay said Monday at the

Grizzlies’ media day. ”We have a lot of high hopes. … We’re one

year older. They say we’re a young team. We’re one year older. We

had some success last year. Now we want to build on that. I think

we have the tools to be a great team.”

The Grizzlies are coming off a 40-42 season with Gay signed to

an $82 million contract in July, coach Lionel Hollins has his own

new three-year deal and with new additions like defensive stopper

Tony Allen and draft picks Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez added

to provide much-needed minutes and points off the bench.

Owner Michael Heisley has made no secret of his desire to see

the Grizzlies finish their 10th full season in Memphis in the

playoffs for only the fourth time in the franchise’s 15-year

history and the first time since being swept in the opening round

in 2006.

General manager Chris Wallace said he believes the owner’s

three-year plan is on track. But Wallace said he won’t imitate Joe

Namath before his Super Bowl prediction. Hollins is a bit more

realistic.

”In the big picture, we really haven’t done anything. We didn’t

make the playoffs. We didn’t even finish .500. There’s a lot of

good talk going on around town, which I appreciate. But the reality

is we haven’t accomplished anything. We have a lot of work to do in

order to get better,” Hollins said.

He noted the Grizzlies led the NBA in scoring in the paint last

season, ranked third in fast-break points, jumped to fourth in

rebounding. Memphis also boosted its scoring to 102.4 points per

game, and Hollins said their 46.9 percent shooting was the best in

team history.

But defensive struggles meant the Grizzlies also gave up the

most points in the paint, and Hollins said they were near the

bottom in points allowed off turnovers and off the fast-break. That

led to Memphis finishing 10th in the West, two spots out of a

playoff berth. That’s why defensive improvement will be a big focus

when training camp starts Tuesday.

Hollins also put to rest any thought that O.J. Mayo will be used

at point guard. Mayo played the position a bit during the

summer.

”O.J. is a shooter and a scorer. That’s what we need him to do

is get open and hit shots, not run the team,” Hollins said.

It’s a much different atmosphere now than a year ago when

Heisley brought in Allen Iverson hoping to sell more tickets. The

Grizzlies went to Birmingham, Ala., for training camp to meld a

roster featuring lots of new faces along with Iverson. That

experiment failed as the Grizzlies opened the season 1-8. Iverson

didn’t stick around and was waived in November.

The Grizzlies are spending training camp in Memphis, taking

advantage of the practice gym inside the arena built to lure this

franchise from Vancouver back in 2001. They open the preseason Oct.

6 hosting Indiana with the season opener Oct. 27 against

Atlanta.

Zach Randolph, the franchise’s second All-Star after leading the

team with 20.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in his first

season in Memphis, said he sees a team that got off to a bad start

a year ago.

”I think it’s important for us to get off to a good start and

look at the big picture, and the big picture is making the

playoffs. That’s what we’ve got to remind ourselves each and every

game what we’re playing for,” he said.

That could be challenging. Randolph is in the final year of his

contract and wants a new deal. Guard Mike Conley and center Marc

Gasol also will be restricted free agents at the end of this season

without new contracts.

Randolph said he’s only playing, leaving the talks to his agent

and team officials. He’s busy thinking about all the games Memphis

blew double-digit leads in last season and how the Grizzlies can

turn those into wins.

”We’re at a point where we have to finish our games, and we

know what to do to win the game,” Randolph said.

Now the Grizzlies just have to prove that.

Notes: Vasquez is recovering from surgery on his right ankle to

remove a bone spur. Wallace said the rookie is a couple weeks away

from being cleared to run, then will start working himself back

into shape. Vasquez was the 28th pick in the June draft.