Grizzlies took long road to conference finals
by Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports
MEMPHIS — Looking back, Jerry West calls it “one of the lowest points in my life” as an NBA executive. It was May 22, 2007 and West was sitting in a television studio in Secaucus, N.J., a long way from the kinds of playoff games the Memphis Grizzlies are now winning.
At stake, West thought, was the most precious of opportunities in the NBA: The chance to draft a transcendent star and build a title contender in one of the league’s smallest markets. The Grizzlies had suffered for that chance by going 22-60 — the NBA’s worst record by two games — but the payoff was supposed to be either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, and surely Memphis’ luck wouldn’t be bad enough to miss out on both.
But when NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver opened an envelope that revealed Memphis had slipped all the way to the No. 4 pick, West sat stone-faced, seething at a lottery system he has always detested.
“If you don’t get one of those players, and I call them branded players, you know you’re probably going to have to wait for a while,” West, now a consultant for the Golden State Warriors, said by phone Thursday. “When you get a branded player, and you know who they are in the league, those guys are ticket-sellers. They help a franchise so many little ways other than winning.”
Since moving from Vancouver in 2001, the Grizzlies’ pursuit of a branded player has been a fool’s errand: poor draft decisions combined with horrible lottery luck. Whether it was missing out on LeBron James by one spot in 2003 (and ending up with nothing) or picking Hasheem Thabeet instead of James Harden and Stephen Curry in 2009 or swapping Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo at the 2008 draft, Memphis has not often thrived on the night small-market franchises need most to succeed.
But even though the Grizzlies haven’t followed quite the same playbook as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs, whose rosters were largely built around draft successes, they were able Thursday to celebrate the pinnacle of their … [For more on Memphis Grizzlies took long road to conference finals, click here.]