Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur

When the lockout ends, the Grizzlies need to…

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This is the next installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. You can also read up on all the teams in the Western Conference here, and on Tuesday we start with the Eastern half of the league.

Last Season: Well, that worked out nicely.

The Grizzlies had their best season in franchise history. Technically it was the third best in franchise history, in terms of wins and losses in the regular season, but when you factor in playoff wins, it was the best. It was the first time Memphis has ever really been excited about the Grizzlies and they responded with gusto. Tony Allen became the emotional leader. Zach Randolph became one of the top power forwards in the league and not just for numbers. Mike Conley evolved into a top-15 point guard. Lionel Hollins dragged absolutely everything he could out of the team. Sam Young was a contributor. O.J. Mayo had such a bad season that he was nearly traded after a fight on a plane with Tony Allen and getting busted for PEDs, but the deal fell through which resulted in Mayo playing a huge part in the team advancing to the second round. What more could have gone right?

Well, Rudy Gay could have not been lost for the season in January after a shoulder injury. But other than that, it was a tremendous year for the Grizzlies that not only showed that professional basketball can be successful in Memphis, but that this team has a nucleus that is on the rise and is locked in together, for the most part.

Changes since we last saw the Grizzlies: Zach Randolph simultaneously has more money owed him when the lockout ends after signing a massive extension after the first-round win, and managed to have his first real burst of trouble when a man was beaten with pool sticks at Randolph’s house during a pot deal. Rudy Gay has gotten healthy and is back on the floor. Mike Conley is organizing team workouts. And Marc Gasol beat the crap out of Europe again with the Spanish national team. Other than that, nothing really changes, other than Marc Gasol enters free agency which is going to be the deciding factor in whether the team moves forward or backwards. No biggie.

When the lockout ends, the Grizzlies need to: Re-sign Marc Gasol. So much. Very much. They need to over-sign him. They should throw gobs of money and whatever he wants on his doorstep.

Is Gasol a bigger star than Zach Randolph or even Rudy Gay or, hey, even Tony Allen? No. But he is the most important Grizzly. It begins and ends on both ends of the floor with Gasol. In a league where the great big man center has gone and died, Gasol brings a huge frame with great athleticism and tremendous skill. He has a versatile set of post moves offensively, but more importantly, he does the little things. He works exceptionally well from the pinch post as a passer. He sets solid screens and can roll effectively, drawing defenders. He rebounds well at both ends of the floor. He’s an excellent perimeter defender of the pick and roll on hedges, bodies up Tim Duncan enough to essentially shut him down in the playoffs, and is an intimidating presence that can also run the floor. Signing Rudy Gay was a must, even if he was overpaid. Extending Mike Conley was key, even if people like me thought it was suicide at the time. (People like me were wrong.) Extending Zach Randolph was the only thing that could be done after what he gave the team in the playoffs. But Gasol is the key to the Grizzlies going forward. Without him, the team falls apart.

You’re going to read a lot whenever the season starts about how the Grizzlies are going to adapt to Gay getting back on the floor. But it’s not like A. RG vanished when injured. He was on the bench for every game of the playoffs run. And B. the team went 9-5 in January before Gay’s injury. It’s not like they suddenly got better without RG, though that’s the perception. Having Gay back simply means less time for Sam Young, who’s still learning his role on an NBA team offensively, and gives them more lineup options. Gay’s return should do nothing but improve the team.

The team will have to come in focused, however. Accomplishing what they did last season was huge… for the Grizzlies. Everything was put into the context of the team that accomplished it. Collectively as an organization, they have to commit to building on 2011 and not settling. Otherwise a Clippers 2006-like step-back could occur.

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.

Pelicans shut down Tyreke Evans until after All-Star break

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 06: Tyreke Evans #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles the ball during the NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on November 6, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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the Pelicans have dealt with an inordinate amount of injuries so far this season to nearly every key payer on their roster. Tyreke Evans has missed the last five games with a lingering knee issue, and the team says he’s going to sit out their final four games before the All-Star break, as a precaution to make sure he’s healthy for the second half of the season.

From the Pelicans’ official site:

“We’re probably going to hold him out until after the All-Star break,” Alvin Gentry said during pregame at Quicken Loans Arena. “That gives him a situation where he has almost two weeks where he can rehab it and hopefully get it back. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go right after the All-Star break and we’ll be able to play him for the rest of the stretch (of the schedule).”

Evans initially missed the Jan. 2 game at Dallas due to the injury, then was sidelined again Jan. 18 at Memphis. Against Houston, he only played 16 minutes before being taken out of the game, suffering from the same issue.

“I think it’s just rest,” Gentry said of what it may take for Evans to get past the injury. “It’s one of those situations with tendinitis, where you rest and it feels better. That’s better than having him play two games, then sit out one (and have his status in flux). This may help him be able to play the last part of the season, without sitting out.”

Despite being 18-31, the Pelicans are just six games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Their resting of Evans could be read two ways—it could be gearing up to make a push for the playoffs, as much of a long shot as that may be; or it could be the first in a series of instances of shutting down or resting key players to try to position themselves for a lottery pick, effectively hitting the reset button after a season as ravaged by injuries as the one they’ve had.