Feeling so close last postseason, Grizzlies start camp with goal of winning title this season



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MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies know exactly what they are playing for this season.

A championship ring.

The Grizzlies held media day Monday before flying to San Diego for training camp, and they're happy to be back at work. Last season ended with the Grizzlies ousted in the first-round of the playoffs in seven games by Oklahoma City after failing to close out the Thunder in Memphis in Game 6. Randolph was suspended from Game 7, and he says the Grizzlies feel they should have won that series.

"So we got something to prove, and we got a chip on our shoulder," Randolph said.

Memphis had a turbulent offseason with controlling owner Robert Pera ousting the man who helped him take over the team and turning to the general manager who put together the Grizzlies' current core players.

Coach Dave Joerger goes into his second season with a contract extension after interviewing with Minnesota about its head coaching job, and the Grizzlies also brought in Vince Carter with Mike Miller's decision to rejoin LeBron James — this time in Cleveland.

General manager Chris Wallace said this may be Memphis' deepest team yet coming off a franchise record fourth-straight playoff berth. The Grizzlies even are giving forward Michael Beasley, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2008, a shot in training camp, and Wallace said the next step is getting to the Finals and winning a championship.

"That is the high ground that's eluded us," Wallace said. "That's our quest is to bring that championship back to Memphis and have a parade here down Beale Street. That's really our only goal."

The Grizzlies had to overcome a slow start with Joerger as their new coach last season and survive not having Marc Gasol for 23 games while he recovered from a sprained left knee. Quincy Pondexter missed 63 games after season-ending surgery on his right foot. The Grizzlies grabbed the No. 7 seed and finish with a 50-32 record.

After losing in the playoffs to Oklahoma City, Gasol said he took off his knee brace and now feels very healthy. He played in the World Championships for Spain, and his biggest issue now is being in the final year of his current contract. The Grizzlies have made it very clear they want to sign Gasol to a new extension, something they can't even start on until mid-December.

Gasol said Monday he's not sure when work on an extension could start or what might happen. He made it clear he loves the city of Memphis and the Grizzlies and won't let his contract status be a distraction. He sounds very happy with this franchise's offseason moves that included hiring Jeff Bzdelik as an assistant and a mental endurance coach in Trevor Moawad who most recently worked for the football teams at the University of Alabama and Florida State.

"I think the franchise has taken a really big step on that," Gasol said. "Doesn't necessarily mean more wins, but it gives you a better chance to win more, and that's a big step."

Pera is the reason why the Grizzlies will hold training camp at the University of California San Diego, his alma mater, Tuesday through Friday. They open the preseason Oct. 8 at Milwaukee.

The Grizzlies will spend training camp assessing their backup point guard options. Beno Udrih agreed to a multi-year deal to return to Memphis, but Nick Calathes still has 13 more games he'll miss for a suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy by testing positive for tamoxifen using a nutritional supplement.

With the Grizzlies also adding Jordan Adams out of UCLA in the draft and trading for Memphis native Jarnell Stokes, guard Mike Conley goes into his eighth season saying this is a better team.

"You can go down the line," Conley said, "we've got so much improvement across the board."


Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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