“It’s really frustrating to be outworked. We didn’t hit shots and we didn’t get back in transition. We have to run and get back on defense.” All-Star Marc Gasol added, “Obviously we are struggling a bit right now. We have to stay strong and stay together. We know each other and we have to be more consistent.”
Beyond the issues with chemistry and motivation, the most obvious problem is the team’s sudden void in scoring that Gay’s departure left behind. Still, a contemptuous Lionel Hollins insisted that there is no looking back to what the team once was, “Rudy is not here. We are not talking about Rudy. We are not even thinking about Rudy. What this team is trying to do is be a good team as it is currently constructed.”
Unfortunately for Hollins, being a good team with what is currently constructed is proving to be a challenge. There are several obvious holes in the rotation. Most obviously, without Speights or Haddadi, the Grizzlies have no backup center on the bench. While Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur are both capable reserve forwards, neither has played center extensively at any point in their careers. Still, Hollins will not make excuses, “We are going to have to deal with what we have. They are going to go out and play and I am going to go out and coach with what we have.”
Allen, the most visibly frustrated of the players in the locker room, believes the team can still be successful without their leading scorer: “I’m not thinking about Rudy Gay, period. I’m thinking about how good we were when we didn’t have him two years ago. We were the same team two years ago without Rudy. The same team! The same exact team! So I don’t know why we are not fighting the same way we used to fight and why we are not gelling together. We overcame adversity then, and now we are back to where we were. We can’t have any distractions in our locker room. We need to stay together.”
Randolph insists that the chemistry will get to where it needs to be eventually, “We’re straight. We have had some tough times. We will keep going to work. The hardest part of this all is just being patient.”
Still, Hollins has no clear idea of how long his team will need to be patient for, “Nobody knows how long this will take. We just have to keep working and try to figure out where everybody fits and find ways to play to everybody’s strengths.”
While Allen believes the roster can be equally successful to the one that took Oklahoma City to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals in 2011, Mike Conley has tempered his expectations, “I don’t think we have the same team as the team we had two years ago. We had a lot of different personnel other than Rudy that contributed to that team. But, man, we had played together for so long with those guys. Now we have a slew of new faces, so we just have to get everybody adjusted and get used to playing with each other. Patience is the hardest thing. We have all been in the league for a while and we understand that when moves are made either via trade or free agency, there are growing pains. I think we will be fine but it will take some time.”
In early December, Memphis looked poised to finally break through for their first deep playoff run in franchise history. Now, in February, the organization once again finds itself with a locker room filled with sighs of frustration and questions of uncertainty about the future.
Could the Grizzlies have won a championship with the roster they had to start the season? Unfortunately, we will never know. One thing is certain: they were a heck of a lot closer back then than they are now.