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Was anything expected/surprising for the Grizzlies at the trade deadline?
What was expected was all the rumors floating around involving Tayshaun Prince being on the block; the Memphis Front Office has been trying to move him since the end of last season. The fact that Tony Allen's name surfaced in the talks was surprising. Granted, the interest was likely from the Minnesota Timberwolves wanting TA, not in the Grizzlies being willing to ship him. Those TA/Tayshaun for Chase Budinger and JJ Barea rumors buzzed Grizzlies Twitter for a couple days though.
How has Tony Allen's return to the lineup affected the team? Certainly his addition is a boost but has he returned to form?
TA has become the de facto sixth man for the Grizzlies; with Tayshaun Prince likely being most effective starting, Allen is now on the bench to start so that Courtney Lee can give the starting group more shooting from long range. Allen, alongside James Johnson, has become quite the tandem. They bring energy and intensity to a bench unit that has had to inject energy into games lately. "The Grindfather" looks to have fresh legs and is playing well at the moment.
And to piggy back that, James Johnson has been perhaps the best signing to come from the D-League this year, he's been really great for Memphis. What's his future with the team?
This off-season is going to be fascinating for Memphis. Zach Randolph can opt out of his contract, Ed Davis is a Restricted Free Agent, Tayshaun Prince will likely be the focus of trade efforts again and James Johnson has made the task of the Front Office that much more difficult. While he isn't the best three point shooter (about 24%), his athletic ability and tweener status as a wing/stretch 4 make him quite versatile and valuable. I can't think of many SF's capable of defending Blake Griffin.
I think Memphis wants him long term. How much that'll cost is the question. The Grizzlies would be wise to get a deal done quickly and not let Johnson hit the open market, where his value will likely rise.
If there was one move to be made for need at the deadline what would it have been?
The fact Ed Davis is still on the Grizzlies surprised me. He has potential, the ability to defend at the rim at an elite level and is a great athlete. He needs minutes, though, and they just aren't available in Memphis. He is a Restricted Free Agent this off-season and I would be surprised to see him still on this team come September. It would've been nice to have gotten something for the supposed "key piece in the Rudy Gay trade."
To be honest, I could see him as a good piece for the Bobcats.
Memphis is currently JUST on the outside looking in. The West is so good, is Memphis better off missing out this year?
The Grizzlies' roster is too deep and well rounded to not make the postseason in a normal season. The injury bug that every team seems to be bit by at some point has eaten Memphis alive, though. Only one Grizzly has appeared in every game so far this season, and that is...wait for it...Mike Miller. Because of injury Conley and Marc Gasol are not playing at the level necessary for Memphis to be a true threat.
That being said, you can't win if you don't play. If the Grizzlies can choose between the 13th or 14th pick in the draft and a chance at a title with this core of players, no matter how unlikely, I believe they pick the playoffs. The Grizzlies are in a place where a run of wins is needed and possible. It hinges on Mike Conley; if he can get back to his level of production before the ankle injury that made him miss several games, Memphis' goal will be to get between the 6 and 8 seed. If not, they will be lottery bound, something unthinkable for a fan base that enjoyed a trip to the Western Conference Finals just a season ago.
Mike Conley is one of the more underrated point guards in the NBA and has played well this year. What's been the biggest improvement for him?
Conley has taken on a larger shooting role and has improved his ability to score the basketball. He is shooting more three point shots, and while they aren't going in more than they did before, more attempts help space the Grizzlies offense. You can't just go under screens against Mike anymore, he can hurt you from range. He has also added a variety of moves to his game, be it hesitation or the floater. His offensive game is more versatile and he is utilizing his quickness in a variety of ways.
Conley is also finishing better at the rim than he ever has. He is shooting 52.3% in the lane, compared to 49.8% last season. Mike has always focused on one aspect of his game in the off-season to improve on in particular, whether it is long range shooting, his physical size/strength or scoring in the paint. All of these factors have led to Mike having a career year.