What was true before the opening tip on Sunday remained true when the final buzzer sounded: The Grizzlies were one of only two NBA teams — along with defending Western Conference champs and follow-up opponents the Oklahoma City Thunder — to rank among the league's 10 best in offense, defense, and rebounding.
The rebounding is not a mystery. The return of Zach Randolph, who currently leads the league at 14.5 boards a game, has pretty well taken care of that. Neither is the defense, which has been a constant since the Grizzlies put Tony Allen and Marc Gasol on the floor together two seasons ago.
But the offensive improvement — way up, from 20th to 9th, per possession — is a little more surprising, especially with each of the team's frontcourt stars — Randolph, Gasol, and leading scorer Rudy Gay — starting the season shooting below their career averages, and with last season's top bench scorer, O.J. Mayo, enjoying a bit of a rebirth with the Dallas Mavericks. Rather than individual dominance, a lot of small team factors have conspired to make this year's Griz squad deeper, more dynamic, and more efficient on the offensive end of the floor.
The win moved the Grizzlies to 5-1, the second-best record and best point differential (+9.0) in the Western Conference. All those “power rankings” columns tomorrow morning should be a fun read for Grizzlies fans.
The Heat were showing signs of making a run in the fourth quarter, cutting what had been a 16-point Grizzlies lead early in the second half down to single digits when the Sequence of the Game ended their momentum: Jerryd Bayless streaked downcourt in transition to block a Ray Allen dunk attempt at the rim. Six seconds later, Rudy Gay, who corralled the rebound, sent a long pass to Wayne Ellington, who drained his sixth three-pointer of the night. The Heat called a timeout, the Gap Band blasted out of the arena speakers, and the game was never again in doubt.
This game promised to be a fascinating battle of radically different styles — the league's fastest-flying, floor-spacing-est small-ball team versus one of the league's biggest, baddest, most traditionally post-oriented attacks.
But that's not what we got. With Heat bigs successfully fronting Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies could never get their inside game going consistently. Randolph again had a double-double (18 and 12) and Gasol got the team's high-low action going enough to notch 6 assists, but overall Griz bigs managed only 24 points on 10-28 shooting.
A Mike Conley three-pointer at just under the two-minute mark averted a possible collapse and the Grizzlies held on to extend their current winning streak to four following their opening night loss to the Clippers.
But if the Grizzlies' post players couldn't duplicate their Wednesday night feats, the team's bench could as the Grizzlies got yet another strong boost from their reserves.
The Grizzlies started the fourth quarter with a one-point lead and a lineup that featured the four rotation bench players (Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, Quincy Pondexter, and Marreese Speights) alongside Zach Randolph, and that group was finally able to amp up the team's energy and get into a groove, rattling off a 16-4 run in the middle of the quarter to build an ultimately insurmountable 12-point lead. Randolph, feeding off his own offensive rebounding, scored the first five points in this stretch, and then everyone else got into the act: Ellington hit a three and then followed that with a fastbreak layup off a Pondexter steal and Bayless feed. Bayless set up Speights for a long jumper and then capped with run with a fastbreak layup off a Pondexter steal and feed.
"I have a comfort zone with [the bench] so I'm not trying to feel around and change the rotation," Hollins said. "The rotation has pretty much been the same since we started the season. Our bench has been absolutely magnificent in every game but the first game. I keep saying, in order to do anything special, we have to have our guys come off the bench and do their jobs."
The Grizzlies face off tonight against the 2-2 division rival Houston Rockets to kick off what should be a fascinating weekend at FedExForum. This game became a whole lot more interesting — for better or worse in terms of making the conference and the division even more competitive — when the Rockets acquired James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, pairing him with Jeremy Lin for one of the NBA's most colorful and potentially dynamic backcourts.
Three things I'll be watching tonight:
2. Linsanity's Local Debut: The Intriguing Undercard. The Grizzlies missed Lin during his monumental breakout with the Knicks last season, and the young point guard will make his FedExForum debut with the hype considerably reduced. I'll be interested to see if Lin's presence affects any change in the typical Forum crowd. But I'll also be interested in the undercard battle between Lin and Mike Conley. Conley's individual defense is been improved this season and he should match-up reasonably well with the bigger Lin. Conley is also one of the league's great thieves and Lin tends to be turnover prone.
George Lapides reported on the individual contributions of investors in the new Grizzlies ownership group this morning on his radio show on Sports 56 WHBQ-AM. Based on independently obtained information, I can verify the Lapides report.
The breakdown, as I understand it and as Lapides first reported, is this:
Robert Pera $45 million/25.6%
SKMG LLC (Steve Kaplan group) $25 million/14.22%
Bridge Sports LLC (Daniel Straus group) $25 million/14.22%
Staley Cates $8.5 million/4.84%
Pitt Hyde $8.5 million/4.84%
Hand Family Hoops LP $5 million/2.84%
Elliot Perry $5 million/2.84%
Edward Dobbs $5 million/2.84%
Ashley Manning $5 million/2.84%
Bullish Bears LLC (Michael Wharton group) $5 million/2.84%
Joe Nicosia $5 million/2.84%
Billy Orgel $5 million/2.84%
Michael Savit $5 million/2.84%
Tennman Sports, LLC (Justin Timberlake group) $5 million/2.84%
CFR Memphis LLC $3 million/1.71%
Bill Rhodes $3 million/1.71%
Duncan Williams $2.5 million/1.42%
Anfernee Hardaway $2.5 million/1.42%
Bear Cub LLC (Doug Edwards group) $2.5 million/1.42%
Pace Cooper $2 million/1.14%
Wilson Bros. LLC $2 million/1.14%
Al Gosset $1 million/.57%
Harold Ford Jr. $250,000/.14%
That published price includes $168.4 million in assumed debt and other obligations, so the actual price paid to Heisley is $209 million.
The new owners are paying an additional $16.75 million in operational capital. Adding the $377.4 million purchase price and the $16.75 million in additional funds gets you to roughly $394 million. Subtracting the assumed debt/etc. brings the number down to roughly $225 million. You'll notice (or not) that the equity investment above amounts to $175 million. The roughly $50 million difference comes from a new loan first reported by Kyle Veazey of the Commercial Appeal.
But the real story last night was the performance of the Grizzlies' bench. Marreese Speights went off for 18 points and 9 rebounds in only 22 minutes, while the perimeter trio of Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, and Quincy Pondexter combined to shoot 6-9 from long-range. Bayless has hit a three-pointer in every game so far (50% overall), which is encouraging after his poor shooting in the preseason. Assuming Pondexter's development into a viable three-point shooter was one of the reasons I projected the Grizzlies to be a slightly better overall three-point shooting team even after losing O.J. Mayo, and the early returns are good, as he's 5-9 from long-range through four games. Ellington hasn't quite found his groove yet (3-9), but his sufficient defense and overall strong effort level has made him a general plus as a deep reserve.
The cherry on top of this one was three uneventful garbage-time debut minutes for rookie Tony Wroten Jr.
At 2:30 on Monday afternoon, only hours after being introduced as the new Chairman and controlling owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, 34-year-old Robert Pera was ready for game time. Not his new team's home opener against the Utah Jazz later that night, but his own. Pera, wearing full Griz workout gear, was exiting the Westin Hotel across the street from FedExForum, entourage in tow, on his way to the arena's practice court to put up some shots. Not ten feet away, departing Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley — not invited to the public press conference and recently disinvited to speak to fans before the game — was having a “last supper” of sorts, alongside his wife, right-hand man Stan Meadows, and other confidants. Heisley was not aware of Pera's presence — the two had only spoken twice and not since the sale closed — and Pera seemed similarly oblivious. An hour later, while Pera was still on the practice court, hoisting up halfcourt shots and working on his turnaround jumper, Heisley was quietly saying goodbye to team employees.
The contrast between the two men on a day of head-spinning change for the Grizzlies organization seemed profound, much more so than just their 41-year age difference. It was also an exchange of excitable for calm. Logorrheic for terse. (After Pera's one-liner statement to fans before tipoff, NBA commissioner David Stern reclaimed the microphone to speak for us all: “That's it?”) Assertive for deferential.
It's been said — Stern echoed the sentiment in his pre-game press conference and I believe it to be true — that ownership sets the tone for an entire organization. That, in addition to luck and still-relevant market advantages, the NBA is about management. If fans want a good reason to be hopeful about the Grizzlies' future in the “Pera era,” the significant increase in local participation is at the top of the list, but the prospect of better management is next in line.
Normally a home opener get a super-sized post-game notebook, but this year I'm committing myself to tightening up the game-night posts in order to make time for more carefully considered writing in-between games. And tonight, well, the game itself was rendered undercard by a surreal, convulsive moment in franchise history — an all-day transfer of ownership that left most people who had been at the arena since morning exhausted and wishing we could bypass the game itself. Robert Pera and Jason Levien and a boatload of new minority owners were in. Michael Heisley and Stan Meadows were out. And NBA commissioner David Stern was just passing through, long enough to bless Pera's ownership while also wondering out loud about his terseness on the mic and assert the NBA basketball in Memphis is in the best shape it's ever been.
I'm going to get back into ownership stuff as the week goes on. For now, a very quick acknowledgement that, yes, a basketball game was played tonight:
The Lead: The Grizzlies overcame some unfathomable early shooting — include lots of out-of-control Tony Allen forays and lots of point-blank misses — to cruise to a victory in the fourth quarter. The bench, led by Quincy Pondexter, gave the team a great boost of energy late in the first quarter, which ignited team-wide defensive intensity. And then Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph took over, with often dominant interior play.
Man of the Match: Quincy Pondexter deserves an honorable mention here for his hustle plays and three-point marksmanship, but Marc Gasol was just too splendid to deny: 22 points (on 6-11 from the floor and 10-10 from the line), 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocks for the most skilled center on the planet.
Nightly Number: With 18 rebounds tonight, Zach Randolph is averaging 16 a game through the first three contests. His timing on his shot still seems a little off, but, physically, the beast is back.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies travel to Milwaukee on Wednesday night to face Bucks.
Announced Attendance: 17,401, a good crowd for Griz-Jazz on a weeknight any other time, but anything less than a sellout on opening night is a disappointment.
The first day on the job for Pera and Levien did not result in any staff changes for the Grizzlies, but the character of the organization is certain to change over the coming days and months regardless. And today was the first chance we've had to try to figure out what that evolution will look like.
While all of the current basketball and business operations staff remain in place, my guess is that there will be additions in the coming weeks even if they're aren't departures, though Levien was non-committal on that subject in a brief one-on-one session I had with him after the press conference.
“I think we're going to look for ways that we can add value, sure,” Levien said about potential additions. “I've been in the league a long time, so if we can find black belts we're going to try and find them.”
After a private meeting with team employees that reportedly lasted about five minutes and included no big news, the new Grizzlies “controlling owner” Robert Pera and his right-hand man Jason Levien made their first public appearance at a 10 a.m. press conference in the lobby of FedExForum.
Pera, looking even younger than his 34 years, made very brief comments before turning most of the press conference over the Levien, who will oversee the organization from a newly created post of Chief Executive Officer & Managing Partner of Memphis Basketball, LLC. Where in the past the organization has had business and basketball operations honchos who separately reported to owner Michael Heisley, now Levien seems to have total control, and sole access to Pera's ear. Instantly, he's become the most powerful person in the organization's history to not have an ownership stake.
From the way the press conference went, you'd be forgiven if you got the impression that Levien was a co-owner.
Pera, who came across as calm and sincere, said, “I consider myself very, very fortunate. Probably the luckiest man in the world right now.” Pera spoke about his belief in recruiting talented people and empowering them and about the importance of the Grizzlies to the Memphis community. But then Levien took over, making it clear that he's one of the talented people that Pera is now empowering.
Pera joked that Levien, a former agent and Sacramento Kings executive whom Pera called one of his best friends, is “a cross between Jerry Maguire and Ari Gold from Entourage, only smarter.”
What had been widely speculated broke officially Sunday night. As first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.com, former NBA player agent and Sacramento Kings executive Jason Levien, who had been acting as a representative for prospective Grizzlies owner Robert Pera for the past several months, has been named to the top post in the new Grizzlies organization.
Levien will be named Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner of Memphis Basketball, LLC (the new name for the Grizzlies' governing organization, replacing the previous Hoops LLP), overseeing both the business and basketball sides of the organization and reporting directly to new controlling owner and board chairman Pera. There's no exact precedent for this in Grizzlies history. Think of Levien as some union of Jerry West, Andy Dolich, and Michael Heisley right-hand man Stan Meadows. In other words, he now has more organizational power than any non-owner in franchise history. (For an inside look on how Levien's tenure with the Kings came to an end, check out this breakdown from friend of the blog Tom Ziller.)
Pera and Levien met with members of the Commercial Appeal on Sunday, but as of Friday, representatives of the new ownership group had not been on the scene, according to multiple Grizzlies sources, and current staffers seemed uncertain about the degree of change that was looming.
The plan, apparently, is for Pera and/or his representatives to meet with team employees early this morning, ahead of the 10 a.m. public press conference to follow. As one Grizzlies employee joked, “Hopefully you won't see a line of us walking out with pink slips when you show up.”
After dealing with injury problems in the preseason, the Warriors were able to start their optimal lineup in their own opener, and squeaked out an 87-85 win over the Phoenix Suns despite getting only 18 minutes from starting center Andrew Bogut (who was playing his first game since breaking his ankle in January) and suffering a combined 4-30 shooting performance from incumbent top scorers Stephen Curry and David Lee.
Three quick things to look for tonight:
1. Attack Lee and Landry: With Bogut limited and rookies Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green rounding out the frontcourt rotation, forwards David Lee and Carl Landry played 62 of 96 minutes up front for the Warriors in their first game. Both are pretty bad defenders and together? Let's just say that Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and even Marreese Speights should all be able to have success when checked by either Lee or Landry. The Grizzlies post players have a chance to go large tonight.
For starters, it was the Grizzlies 12th consecutive opening-night loss, the longest current streak in any of the four major team sports, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Secondly, the game felt very much like a continuation of this spring's playoff series between the two teams: It was an intense, physical, closely fought game decided by a big disparity in bench production and fourth-quarter execution.
The Grizzlies four-man bench unit was outscored 49-17, with the Clippers getting a game-high 29 points from new addition Jamal Crawford and bruising, efficient play from Eric Bledsoe (13-4-4 in 17 minutes). Meanwhile, the Grizzlies perimeter reserves Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, and Quincy Pondexter combined to shoot 3-17. As a team, the Grizzlies shot only 2-14 from three-point range.
Bench production and team-wide three-point shooting are big questions facing the Grizzlies this season, and the team will have to get more in both areas than they got in Game 1 to have a successful season. But, those issues aside, there wasn't much here to get too worked up about yet.