Let's take a look at Tinsley, past, present, and future:
Glory Days: Jamaal Tinsley's been a non-entity for so long that it's easy to forget how good he was not so long ago. Here's an excerpt from John Hollinger's last Pro Basketball Forecast book previewing the 2005-2006 season:
With Indiana's three best scorers suspended, Tinsley shifted his energies from setting up others to scoring himself. He raised his 40-minute scoring average by six points and more than tripled his rate of free-throw attempts… Also, Tinsley has improved as a shooter, making 37 percent on three-pointers for the second straight season after struggling with the jumper early in his career.
Defensively, Tinsley is one of the best guards in basketball. He has good quickness and fast hands that plucked two steals a game. Moreover, he's a good rebounder for a guard and is big enough to defend shooting guards if the situation requires.
Overall, he's on the cusp of becoming an all-star point guard if he can ever stay healthy. Tinsley has played only 92 games the past two seasons and has limped through Indiana's playoff defeats in two straight postseasons. While much of the attention will be on Ron Artest, Tinsley is arguably a bigger key to Indiana's championship hopes. If he's in one piece in June, the Pacers will be tough to beat.
That Was Then: Hollinger wrote that coming out of a 2004-2005 season that ended up being Tinsley's peak year. He averaged career highs in point, rebounds, shooting percentage, and three-point percentage, along with a solid 6.5 assists. It was also the season of the infamous brawl between the Pacers and Pistons. The team never recovered from that and Tinsley's game didn't bloom as Hollinger suggested, but instead regressed. He started only 27 games in an injury-plagued 2005-2006 season, averaging 9 points and 5 assists. Tinsley was reasonably healthy in 2006-2007 — his last full season — playing 72 games and averaging 13 points and 7 assists, but his shooting percentages tanked and so did the team. The next season he missed half the season again. When he was on the court, his 8.4 assist average was a career best, but he was an increasingly inefficient scorer. And in 2008-2009, his off-court problems became too much for a team that had understandably grown very sensitive about those issues, and Tinsley was asked to stay away from the team, missing the entire season.
Troubled Times: Tinsley's banishment resulted from a series of incidents, which David Aldridge enumerated in an NBA.com column this summer:
In October, 2006, just after the start of training camp, Tinsley and several teammates were at a strip club when an altercation occurred, which led to then-teammate Stephen Jackson being hit by a car outside the club — and firing a gun into the air several times. Tinsley wasn't disciplined by the team (the league suspended Jackson for seven games the following season).
In February, 2007, Tinsley and then-teammate Marquis Daniels were involved in a fight at a local bar that led to a felony charge of intimidation being filed against Tinsley, along with misdemeanor counts of battery, disorderly conduct and intimidation. The charges were dropped in March 2008, after an agreement was reached where Tinsley and Daniels agreed to perform 32 hours of community service and stay out of trouble for two years.
However, during that interim period, Tinsley was involved in another incident, this one even more serious.
In December, 2007, Tinsley and members of his entourage were shot at in a high-speed chase through the streets of Indianapolis in which Tinsley was the apparent target of a robbery. Cars followed Tinsley's party out of a local club and followed them for several blocks, into a gas station, and to a local hotel, where one of the passengers in one of the cars opened fire, striking the Pacers' equipment manager in both elbows. (He was treated and released at a local hospital.)
Tinsley was not blamed for the incident by the Pacers, but he was suspended one game during each of the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons for "conduct detrimental to the team" and for a verbal altercation during a film session, respectively.
Tinsley's off-court trouble is why he was no longer welcome with the Pacers, but his contract (nearly $15 million owed over the next two seasons until Tinsley and the Pacers agreed to a reduced buyout this summer) and inability to stay healthy was probably an even bigger factor in the Pacers failing to find a trade partner for Tinsley.
What to Expect: If the Grizzlies had signed Tinsley this summer I would have disapproved. Now I just shrug. Given the position the team has put itself in, this signing makes sense: The team desperately needs depth and talent and Tinsley probably is the best player the Grizzlies could have signed at this point, and it helps that he happens to play the position where the team's current starter has been a big disappointment and the current backup is far from an established, reliable alternative. I would be worried about Tinsley's off-court resume, especially given the gamble the team's already taken on Zach Randolph, and would thus keep Tinsley on a very short leash in that regard. At a one year, presumably vet minimum deal, he's not worth any trouble.
But if Tinsley gets in game shape and can get back even close to what he was when last seen on an NBA court, he can help the Grizzlies. I would expect him to push Marcus Williams aside in short order if he's in game shape. With Mike Conley averaging 28 minutes over the past five games and not playing more than 32 minutes in any individual game, there are currently 16-20 minutes at point guard to be had behind Conley. That's plenty to start with for someone who hasn't played in a year and a half. The degree to which he cuts into Conley's minutes or forces a change of roles should be dependent entirely on how the two players perform and how the team performs with them.
But I would caution fans to not expect too much. Tinsley will turn 32 this season, hasn't played in an NBA game since February 5th, 2007, and was riddled with injuries even in his younger years. Even if Tinsley can get in game shape and stay reasonably healthy, chances are he won't be much more than a platoon-level point guard — something more than a typical back-up but less than a quality starter. But if Tinsley can just be that for 20+ minutes a night, it will be very helpful to the Grizzlies.