The Memphis Grizzlies put together one of the best finishing runs in the NBA to reach the postseason for a fourth straight year, and Dave Joerger had the best season of all the league’s first-year coaches.
Now they must wait and see if they will be together for another playoff run.
The Grizzlies overcame a slow start and key injuries by grabbing the Western Conference’s seventh seed. They finally ran out of comebacks in their first-round series against Oklahoma City, with Mike Conley hobbled and Zach Randolph suspended for a 120-109 road loss in Game 7 on Saturday night.
It wasn’t the finish the Grizzlies wanted after advancing to their first Western Conference finals last year.
Now Randolph has a player option for next season, and Joerger is among those hoping he returns.
“He knows he’s loved,” Joerger said Sunday. “He knows he’s wanted here. We have a good relationship. A really, really good relationship. He was not difficult for me to coach at all. I really enjoyed coaching him. We’re really on the same page, so I hope we can continue that.”
Randolph has the option to play the 2014-15 season for $16.5 million. He led Memphis in scoring at 17.4 points per game and rebounding at 10.1 this season, and he was the Grizzlies’ leading scorer against Oklahoma City with 18.2 points a game until being suspended from Game 7 for punching Steven Adams late in Game 6.
He said he would have preferred a 10-game suspension to start next season rather than punish a whole team. Randolph said that’s something the NBA should re-evaluate.
As for his own future, Randolph has never been a free agent in his career and plans to talk with his agent in a couple days. He also wants to talk to the Grizzlies.
“This is where I want to be at,” Randolph said. “This is home for me. My kids go to school here. I bought a house, so Memphis is home. I’m not 21. I’m 32. I’m still in my prime the way I play.”
The Grizzlies’ other decisions include Mike Miller, the only one on the roster to play every game, and Beno Udrih. Miller said he thinks the Grizzlies have another run in them if they keep the nucleus together, but he has to make a family decision.
“I do know after going through this year and the way I feel, I’ve got a lot of good basketball left,” Miller said. “So it’s going to be a decision I’m going to have to make to see how long I’m going to play.”
The Grizzlies finished 50-32 despite struggling with a 10-15 start this season whether it was a hangover from their deep playoff run or adapting to Joerger after management decided not to bring back Lionel Hollins as coach.
Then the injuries started piling up with the worst to Marc Gasol out 23 games with a sprained left knee, Tony Allen missed 21 of 25 because of an injured left wrist, and even Conley missed nine with either a bruised left thigh or sprained right ankle.
Once Gasol returned Jan. 14, the Grizzlies finished 33-13 for the third-best record needing every win. They didn’t clinch their playoff berth until April 14 with a win at Phoenix and needed an overtime win over Dallas in the season finale to nab the No. 7 seed.
The teams combined for an NBA-record four consecutive overtime games with Memphis winning three of those, including two in Oklahoma City, for a 3-2 series lead. The Grizzlies couldn’t hold home-court advantage, losing first when up 2-1 and again ahead 3-2 on Thursday night.
The Grizzlies last lost in seven games in the first round in 2012.
“It’s a bad taste, but it’s defintely something to be excited for next year,” Allen said. “The time we got kicked out the first round a couple of years back, I think the next year we went to the Western Conference finals. So, who knows, next year we’ll probably win it all. You never know.”
AP freelance writer Clay Bailey in Memphis contributed to this report.
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