MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies took care of things they could control by assembling a roster good enough to challenge for the NBA title.
They couldn’t manage players’ health, and injuries derailed a promising season. Now, they face some tough decisions heading into the offseason.
The Grizzlies were fifth in the Western Conference on Feb. 8 with a 30-22 record before that dissolved under a myriad of injuries forcing Memphis to use a NBA-record 28 players. The Grizzlies lost 14 of their final 15 regular season games, slipping to the No. 7 seed in the postseason before being swept in the first round by San Antonio.
Coach Dave Joerger finally broke down after the final loss, 116-95 to the Spurs on Sunday, emotionally talking about how proud he was of every player who came through his locker room.
“This season has been hard, it’s been really hard,” Joerger said. “They could’ve quit, could’ve not made the playoffs and every day they came out and fought like crazy.”
The season started slipping away when Marc Gasol broke his right foot and needed season-ending surgery. The Grizzlies traded away Jeff Green and Courtney Lee, point guard Mike Conley didn’t play again after March 6 with left Achilles tendinitis and then his backup Mario Chalmers ruptured his own Achilles a couple days later.
The Grizzlies wound up signing eight different players to 11 10-day contracts. Yet they made the playoffs for a sixth straight season, a streak behind only the Spurs (19) and Atlanta Hawks (9) in the NBA.
“We did everything that we could do,” forward Matt Barnes said.
Some things to know as the Grizzlies head into the offseason:
CONLEY’S FUTURE: The Grizzlies are in the same situation as a year ago with a top leader heading to free agency for the first time in his career. Marc Gasol agreed to a new contract pretty quickly in July after talking with Conley, whose own commitment to the Grizzlies played a major factor in Gasol’s decision.
The point guard led the NBA in assist to turnover ratio despite not playing after March 6 because of Achilles tendinitis in his left foot. Conley plans to continue healing up and said his summer will be fun. But he wants to see what the Grizzlies do keep winning.
“We need to be committed to doing the things, whatever it may be and however hard the decision may be, to do the right things in order to get us where we need to go,” Conley said.
GASOL’S FOOT: Gasol was off crutches by the playoffs and stepping up his recovery. His full and complete recovery is crucial to the Grizzlies’ immediate future with four more years left on his contract.
CARTER’S FUTURE: Carter has another year on his contract but turns 40 in January. Carter played 60 games this season for Memphis and averaged 6.6 points per game. He started all four games of the playoffs against San Antonio, and he was on the court for the final minutes along with Barnes.
“I plan on coming back,” Carter said. “I feel good, body feels good, that’s all I got. We’ll still just go through the summer and it’s when I don’t feel like training, or I lose the passion I have for playing, then it’s time to walk away.”
WHAT ABOUT BARNES? Among the moves Memphis must consider is whether or not to bring back the veteran forward. Barnes is a pending free agent after the Grizzlies traded for him last summer. He started 45 of his 76 games, and he joined Randolph and Carter in leading the injury-dissipated roster down the stretch. Barnes played more than 41 minutes in Game 3 and nearly 45 in Game 4. Barnes, 36, had one of his best seasons averaging 10 points.
QUESTIONABLE MOVES: Brandan Wright, a big free agent signee, played only 12 games in a season where he needed surgery on his right knee. He had just returned in February when he sprained his right knee five games later. Forward Jarell Martin, their first-round draft pick, played just 27 games and two in the playoffs because of a left foot that he had surgery on last offseason. By reaching the playoffs, Memphis protected its first round draft pick and will choose 17th in June.
AP freelance writer Clay Bailey contributed to this report.