Two teams in the Western Conference that can probably start planning next season while giving up on the playoffs in 2016 are the Memphis Grizzlies with Marc Gasol out until the rest of the season, while the New Orleans Pelicans don’t have Tyreke Evans any more.
To be fair, the Pelicans were probably going to miss the playoffs anyway. Firing Monty Williams after getting knocked out in the playoffs and hiring Alvin Gentry seemed like a step forward for the franchise as their tied the knot with Anthony Davis, signing him on a five-year extension before 2015-2016 began, and for Davis himself under an so-called offensive genius.
But injuries around him and defensive problems that won’t go away have sunken the Pelicans to 19-32, currently 6.5 games behind the 8th spot in the West. They were in bad shape last season before making a miraculous comeback to claim the 8th spot from the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it has more to do with Kevin Durant being injured than the greatness of Davis.
And there will be changes next season in New Orleans, with Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Norris Cole hitting free agency. There will be around $20 million to use in free agency and hopefully a player who can make an immediate impact coming out of college. Turns out building a team around Davis doesn’t guarantee success in the very difficult West.
The Grizzlies do have a cushion to fall back on, currently 5th in the West with a 30-22 record, 4.5 games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers who are in ninth place. But the Grizzlies nearly missed the playoffs in 2013-2014 when Gasol missed about half the season (the first half of it) and without him for the next 30 games, it might take some special, special performances from Jeff Green to keep them from slipping and fast.
The thing about Gasol is that he’s the only meaningful player the Grizzlies have locked up for a long time. Zach Randolph is a free agent in 2017, Mike Conley, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee in five months. It was a nice run for the Grizzlies in the last few years, the best in franchise history, but besides one trip to the conference finals, they failed to really contend in most years, and it won’t be surprising to see a very different Grizzlies team in about nine months surrounding Gasol. Maybe it’s for the best.