My fellow writers and I here at Beale Street Bears have written a decent amount about how the Grizzlies could win it all next season. First, there was this after the Mike Miller trade. Then we talked about the need to start Quincy Pondexter here, then we talked about the role Tayshaun Prince needs to fill here.
All of these posts, however, introduced the idea that as long as the Grizzlies do x, y, and z, they can be title contenders.
However, what happens if they don’t do x, y, and z? What happens if they eschew floor spacing for Tasyshaun Prince in the starting lineup again? What happens if Mike Miller doesn’t get more than 5 minutes a game? The truth is, I don’t know — and can’t really know, until the season starts — but presumably, the Grizzlies don’t get better that way.
The Grizzlies will get better if they can recognize their weaknesses and start to fix them, something they went about doing with their roster upgrades this summer. However, Memphis’ ultimate success depends upon that roster being used to its maximum utility, and in that sense, new coach Dave Joerger is the real mastermind who will determine whether this team is just very good, or whether it’s putting in a bid for title contention.
To an extent, of course, I could just be wrong about the Grizzlies’ ultimate potential next season, or what they need to do to reach that potential. Maybe the season starts and Miller’s body can’t take more than 5 minutes a game, and playing him more than that could jeopardize their long term success. Maybe QPon tells Dave Joerger that he’s been improving, but mentally he isn’t ready to start. There’s any number of things that I could be missing when I say that ________ needs to happen for the Grizzlies to win.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of other things, too, that Joerger can do to propel this team to success that we haven’t even talked about before; like what offense that Joerger plans on running. For every decision that he has to make that’s less than ideal (i.e. deciding that Miller’s body can’t handle more minutes. Presumably he’d have no real control there) there’s another decision to be made that’s entirely of his design that could bolster or harm the team.
In that sense, Joerger will have as much influence as the players — or more — on how the Grizzlies ultimately perform.
The end result is that there’s something really important to remember here, as we approach the most wildly speculative part of writing season, which is that every bit of prediction and that every thought experiment that we do entirely hinges on a set of assumptions that may or may not actually happen. The Grizzlies could be title contender, assuming that Dave Joerger develops his rotation the right way and maintains the team’s defensive integrity. The Grizzlies will almost certainly be a second round force of nature, assuming that everyone can stay healthy. This will be a great season, assuming that the team has really solid chemistry. And on and on and on and on.
Of all the wild variables, coaching and injury are the two biggest ones; anyone can get injured, and a coach can wildly miss on an ideal game plan in any given year.
Both things, too, can ruin even the best teams: look at last years’ Lakers. For all the crap they got about bad chemistry, and about Kobe not being a team player, and whatever other vitriol was thrown their way, would they have really been so bad if Nash had played for more than 1/3 of the season, if Dwight hadn’t had back problems, if Pau’s foot actually worked, and if Mike D’Antoni had any idea how this team’s offense needed to be run? I doubt it. Maybe they were never the titans we predicted, but without the injuries and bad coaching, they were certainly better than 8th seed and a sweep.
Dave Joerger, then, is our great unknown. We can sit and spitball about how starting Pondexter will space the floor in a system where Conley starts, and Gasol runs the show from the elbow, but if Joerger can speed up the action on offense, QPon’s floor spacing may not necessarily be as valuable as we’ve assumed it will be (though it could never hurt). Similarly, Gasol’s effect on offense could be diminished, though not necessarily to the detriment of the team.
So as much as we need to watch out for Pondexter running to the corner, for Tayshaun playing more inside, or for Mike Miller running off of back screens, we need to watch and see what Joerger decides to do with these people, because, ultimately, the role that Joerger sets for his players will have as much of an influence on the team’s success as the player’s performance itself.