Five burning questions and answers about the immediate future of the Memphis Grizzlies in the wake of their 120-109 loss Saturday night in Game 7 in Oklahoma City:
1. How long will the Grizzlies be haunted by the fact they didn't close OKC out when they had the chance?
For days. Maybe even weeks. The Grizz had won 15 out of their previous 16 games in a row at home when they hosted the Thunder in Thursday night's Game 6.
They fully expected to finish the Thunder off.
Yet when the wounds heal, when they've summoned the strength to reflect on the season that was, Memphis has to feel like it made progress in 2013-14. Even after a first-round ouster.
It's quite clear that the Grizz were no ordinary No. 7 seed. They were forced to open the playoffs against the Thunder only because of those 23 games Marc Gasol lost to injury. Throw in what they lost when Quincy Pondexter went down -- an athletic shooter on a team that still needs all the shooting it can muster -- and you have to hat tip the Grizz for getting to 50 wins and putting OKC through such immediate playoff torment.
By the time Game 7 rolled around, Memphis had no Zach Randolph (suspended), no Pondexter (injured), no Nick Calathes (suspended) ... plus a hampered Mike Conley (hamstring) and Tony Allen (eye). Conley clearly wasn't the same Conley for much of Game 6, either.
Don't think this group, as a result, could have done much more than it did.
2. Are you going to tell me now that Z-Bo was suspended for what was his final game as a member of the Grizzlies?
With free agency nearly two months away, Memphis still isn't quite sure what Z-Bo has planned when it comes to his $16.5 million player option for next season.
Randolph himself has said for much of the season that, at 32, he hasn't quite worked out whether it's best to opt out now to hit the open market in July or put off free agency for one more summer.
The general sense around the team is that the Grizzlies want to keep their face of the franchise in his adopted hometown, but at a friendlier price point.
Those who know Randolph best are adamant that he hopes to stick around and re-sign on a multi-year deal -- you'll recall him telling Stein Line Live back in November that he hopes to retire a Grizzly -- but the extent to which he's willing to accept a pay cut remains a bit fuzzy./p
Another question: How much external interest will Z-Bo command, at this stage of his career, if he does opt for free agency?
And another good one: What about the fan factor? The Beale Street locals eventually got over the departures of Rudy Gay and Lionel Hollins. Yet I suspect they'll have a much tougher time letting go of the lefty low-post powerhouse they love so dearly.
The reality is that, at this stage, we've got more questions than answers when it comes to the big man whose arrival in Bluff City changed the course of this franchise as much as anything post-Pau Gasol.
But something tells me that these next couple months, when it comes to Z-Bo, will pass quickly.
3. With or without Z-Bo, what does this team need?
Besides some sustained good health for Gasol and Conley?
A reliable shooter to play in the backcourt next to Conley would be a good place to start.
4. What do the Grizzlies do with Ed Davis?
It's the trickiest part of their summer outside of Z-Bo's future.
And the reality is that the futures of the two players are connected.
The inconsistent playing time Davis received in his first full season in Memphis would suggest that there is a measure of uncertainty within the organization whether the former Toronto draftee really is the ready-made replacement for Z-Bo (if necessary) he's been billed by some to be.
The safe bet, though, is that Davis' agent, Rob Pelinka, will be able to generate an offer sheet in free agency that comes in higher than Memphis was hoping to spend on the 24-year-old. Stay tuned.
5. And what about the rookie coach?
Dave Joerger didn't get the fanfare of a Jeff Hornacek. Or a Jason Kidd. Or even a Mike Budenholzer.
But his debut season on the bench was no less memorable.
Stepping into Hollins' big shoes, Joerger had a lot thrown at him in Year 1 and, judging by those 50 wins in the regular season, more than survived the skepticism about his readiness to replace a figure almost as beloved locally as Zach Randolph.
The Grizzlies thus proceed to another big offseason with management and head coach on the same page. Which is certainly a decent place to start.