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The Vancouver Grizzlies along with the Toronto Raptors became expansion NBA franchises in 1995. Both teams were the first NBA teams to play in Canada since 1946. The Grizzlies were originally supposed to be named the Vancouver Mounties, but were forced to find a new name due to objections from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They then decided to adopt the name "Grizzlies," after the grizzly bear, a longtime cultural symbol of Canada.
The Grizzlies were initially composed of players taken from other teams via an expansion draft and the Grizzlies' first draft pick, Bryant Reeves. They were hampered by the NBA's decision to deny the Raptors and Grizzlies a shot at one of the top five picks in the draft—a reaction to the Orlando Magic snagging Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway in consecutive drafts and going to the NBA Finals in only their sixth year of existence. The Grizzlies' first home arena was the newly built General Motors Place. Although they won their first two games in franchise history, the Grizzlies finished with the worst win/loss record in the 1995–96 season, as is typical for an expansion team, and lost 23 straight games from February to April (setting an NBA single-season record now shared with the Denver Nuggets; the overall record of 24 is still held by the Cleveland Cavaliers). In 1996, the Grizzlies drafted Shareef Abdur-Rahim as the third overall pick. However, the Grizzlies continued to struggle and finished with the worst record in the league.
In 1997, the Grizzlies drafted Antonio Daniels with the fourth pick. The team however still finished in last place and repeated this feat again in the 1998–99 season, despite drafting guard Mike Bibby with the second overall pick in the NBA Draft. In the lockout-shortened season that followed, the Grizzlies would only win eight games. In the 1999 NBA Draft, the Grizzlies had the second overall pick again, and selected Steve Francis. Unfortunately, in what became a turning point for the franchise, Francis publicly announced that he did not want to play for the team, citing various reasons. He was heavily criticized for his antics, particularly in Vancouver, and he was subsequently traded to the Houston Rockets in a three-team, 11-player blockbuster deal.
After the NBA lockout, attendance at Grizzlies games began to drop slightly, and the team's owners, Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment (who also owned the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL), began to lose money. An initial sale of the team to Bill Laurie, (who at that time owned the St. Louis Blues of the NHL) was rejected by the NBA after Laurie openly stated that he would move the team to St. Louis, Missouri. Businessman Michael Heisley then bought the team in 2000 with a promise to stay in Vancouver. However, attendance at Grizzlies' home games was lower than expected in the 2000–01 season. Fan support increased after it was widely believed that the team would be moved before the next season.
In the 2001 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks drafted Pau Gasol as the 3rd overall pick and was traded to the Grizzlies. After the Grizzlies' first season in Memphis, Gasol won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. The Grizzlies also drafted Shane Battier, who quickly became an unofficial spokesman for the team and a fan favorite. However, despite the strong draft class, Billy Knight was let go. After Billy Knight's departure and the 2001-02 season, the team hired former Los Angeles Laker and Hall of Famer Jerry West as general manager in 2002, who later received the 2003–04 NBA Executive of the Year Award. After West's arrival the team was changed a great deal from Knight's team, with the removal of Sidney Lowe as head coach after a dismal 0-8 start to the season and a great deal of player movement with players such as Mike Miller and James Posey becoming vital to the team's success. During the 2002-03 season, Hubie Brown was hired to coach the Grizzlies. Brown won the NBA Coach of the Year Award during the next season when the Grizzlies made the NBA playoffs for the first time in team history in the spring of 2004 as the sixth seed in the Western Conference in a drastic change from being perennially one of the worst teams in the NBA.
However, Hubie Brown stepped down as head coach during the 2004-05 season. At the time of his resignation, the Grizzlies had a losing record but West was able to hire TNT analyst and former coach Mike Fratello to replace Brown. The Grizzlies' record markedly improved and the team advanced to the postseason for the second consecutive season. However, upon reaching the playoffs, the Grizzlies were once again swept out in the first round, this time by the Phoenix Suns. After this season, which ended tumultuously with anger between Fratello and many of the players, namely Bonzi Wells and Jason Williams, the team had an active 2005 offseason in which they revamped the team and added veteran talent. While the Grizzlies lost Bonzi Wells, Jason Williams, Stromile Swift, and James Posey, they acquired Damon Stoudamire, Bobby Jackson, Hakim Warrick, and Eddie Jones. They made the playoffs for the third consecutive year as well.
With their record they owned the fifth playoff seed in the Western Conference and would have to face the Dallas Mavericks. The Dallas Mavericks swept the Grizzlies in 4 games. The Grizzlies have the longest losing streak in the playoffs with 12 losses. This makes three consecutive years in which the Grizzlies have not won a playoff series, or even a single game, and they have remained winless in the playoffs during their short franchise history.
Following the 2006 NBA Draft, Jerry West traded Shane Battier to the Houston Rockets for first round pick, Rudy Gay of the University of Connecticut, and Stromile Swift. Before the 2006-07 season, the Grizzlies suffered a crippling blow when Gasol broke his left foot while playing for Spain in the World Championships. The Grizzlies started the season 5-17 without Gasol, and then went 1-7 while he was limited to about 25 minutes per game. At that point, Fratello was fired and replaced by Tony Barone, Sr. as interim coach. Barone was the team's player personnel director and had never coached an NBA game though he had coached at the collegiate level for both Creighton and Texas A&M being named coach of the year in their conferences three times during his tenure. The Grizzlies finished the 2006-07 season with the league's worst 22-60 record, and Jerry West announced resignation from his position as the team's general manager shortly after end of the regular season. The team also hired highly touted Phoenix Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni to be the team's new head coach. Despite their last place finish, the Grizzlies, who held the best chance of landing the first pick in a draft, ended up with the fourth pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. With this Pick, the Grizzlies select Mike Conley Jr. A guard from Ohio State
On June 18, 2007, the Grizzlies named former Boston Celtics GM Chris Wallace as the team's General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations, replacing the retired West. A few days later, the Grizzlies hired former Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic head coach Johnny Davis, longtime NBA assistant coach Gordon Chiesa, and the head coach of the 2007 NBA Development League champion Dakota Wizards, David Joerger, as the team's new assistant coaches. Gene Bartow, a Memphis basketball legend, was named the Grizzlies' President of Basketball Operations on August 16, 2007. On February 1, 2008, Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, rights to Marc Gasol (Pau's younger brother), and 2008 and 2010 first round draft picks