Grizzlies ready to build on last season’s momentum

The Memphis Grizzlies are coming off their most successful

season in franchise history and still don’t think they are getting

the respect they deserve.

As the players prepared to open camp for the lockout-shortened

NBA season they talked about playing with a chip on their shoulder,

the benefits of continuity and getting Rudy Gay back in the

lineup.

They also feel confident that the only uncertainty at this point

– the signing of center Marc Gasol – will be resolved.

Memphis, which had never won a playoff game entering last

season, dispatched the Western Conference’s top-seeded team, the

San Antonio Spurs, in six games and then went to a deciding seventh

game against Oklahoma City before being eliminated.

Now, after waiting longer than expected for the season to start,

the Grizzlies are ready to carry that momentum with a new

confidence.

”It’s obvious that as a team, we have a lot of optimism. We

feel like we have a team to make a run at a championship,” point

guard Mike Conley said at Friday’s media availability before the

opening of preseason practice. ”That’s always been our goal each

year. We’ve got the team. We’ve got Rudy back and he’s ready to go,

and he says he was 100 percent.”

Gay missed the last part of the season and the playoffs after

suffering a shoulder injury in February, leaving the Grizzlies

without their second-leading scorer and third-best rebounder. Gay

continually talked about the drive he has to return and fit into a

team that some thought played better when he was out of the

lineup.

”Last year was a great season, but we’re not done there,” Gay

said. ”Obviously, I’m hungrier than ever.”

A key factor in the team’s success will be the status of Gasol,

who averaged 11.7 points a game and 7.0 rebounders. Gasol is a

restricted free agent, and team management has pledged to make sure

Gasol returns, vowing to match any offer sheet extended to him.

That is in keeping with what forward and leading scorer Zach

Randolph was told when he signed his own new contract with the team

last year.

”I hope he’s on the way back now,” Conley said of Gasol, who

was not at the Friday media availability. ”He’s our final piece,

so I hope that we get him back.”

But the Memphis players don’t believe their thoughts of their

team translate to others. Conley, Randolph and Gay all shook their

heads when asked if the team had earned the respect throughout the

league.

They noted that even though they became an exciting team to

watch with a ”grit-and-grind” approach and an unexpected playoff

run, they still didn’t get a Christmas Day showcase game.

”It seems like they are going to always try to keep us down

some way, somehow,” Conley said.

Randolph added: ”We take it how it comes, but we’ve got to take

care of our business and hopefully we can get some more games on TV

once we get to winning some games.”

All three players mentioned that the highlight of the season was

returning home after the season-ending loss at Oklahoma City.

Despite being eliminated, a crowd gathered at the Memphis airport

to welcome them home and congratulate the team on the season.

Gay, who was a part of that celebration from the periphery

because of his injury, said he keeps handy a photo he took of the

crowd at the airport.

”As a team, we still feel like we have a chip on our

shoulder,” Conley said. ”We’re never going to play as if we’re

the top team in the league. We are always playing with something to

prove. .We always play that way, and I don’t think it is going to

change.

”We’re still motivated. We’re not satisfied with what we did

last season. We felt like we could have gone further, so we were

disappointed, even though there was a bunch of celebrating going

on. This season is hopefully, just another stepping stone for

us.”