The Memphis Grizzlies hope to build off last year’s playoff appearance. The Minnesota Timberwolves are just hoping to get to the playoffs for the first time in years.
Those two teams will open their 2016-17 seasons on Wednesday in Memphis. And they’ll each do so with new coaches.
Memphis’ David Fizdale is in his first year as an NBA head coach. Fizdale, 42, spent the last six seasons as an assistant with the Miami Heat. He inherits a club that finished 42-40 last season, which was good enough for the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
Fizdale has said he hopes to instill a balanced system in Memphis, with Mike Conley Jr. as the focal point. The Grizzlies also have weapons in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and new addition Chandler Parsons.
“When you know that the offense isn’t just predicated on one guy and that every movement you make gives you a chance to be a part of the action, to make you a weapon, it’s empowering,” Fizdale told Sports Illustrated.
Conley begins this season on the heels of the largest contract in NBA history. This past offseason, the Grizzlies signed Conley to a five-year, $153 million deal to keep the point guard in Memphis. That will put an added weight on the shoulders of the nine-year NBA veteran.
“As far as the pressure, it’s hard to really gauge that because I put pressure on myself to perform regardless,” Conley told ESPN.com this offseason. “The amount of money I make is not going to change how I approach the game.”
Like Memphis, Minnesota enters the season with a new coach and high expectations. Tom Thibodeau, former Chicago Bulls coach, takes over after the Timberwolves let interim coach Sam Mitchell go following last year’s 29-win season.
Thibodeau begins his first year in Minnesota with a pair of Rookies of the Year at his disposal. Karl-Anthony Towns emerged for a stellar rookie campaign last season, averaging a double-double (18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds). His honor as the top rookie came one year after Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins earned the award. Wiggins led the team with 20.7 points per game last season.
Minnesota has been starved for a winning team for years. The Timberwolves haven’t finished above .500 since the 2004-05 season and had the fifth-worst record in the league last year.
Thibodeau never had a losing season in five years as the Bulls’ coach and was ousted after going 50-32 two years ago. A record like that in Minnesota this year would be a huge step forward for the young Timberwolves.
But even Thibodeau knows Minnesota has a ways to go in order to be competitive in the West.
“We don’t want to fool ourselves,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We’re a 29-win team. We want to close the gap.”
These same two teams faced off in the preseason, with the Timberwolves topping the Grizzlies 101-94 in Minneapolis a week ago.
Copyright © 2016
TTWN Media Networks Inc.