The Grizzlies played a preseason exhibition against Brazilian team Flamengo last night, and… it went about the way you would expect it to. Flamengo hung in pretty well against the Grizzlies’ starters (Conley, Lee, Allen, Randolph, Gasol) only trailing 27–20 after the first quarter, but it all fell apart from there for the visitors, whose names (like “Olivinha” and “Gégé”) Rick Trotter said he had to study three days to
pronounce correctly. By halftime, the Grizzlies were up 62–41, with 36 points in the paint and Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph doing whatever they wanted to against Flamengo under both baskets.
From there, it turned into a second-unit-and-rookies showcase, with Quincy Pondexter putting up 13 points in 16 minutes on 3–5 shooting and 6–8 free throws as he continues to make his case for starting (or maybe just a case for not becoming trade bait). The rookies also got in on the act, with Jordan Adams playing 13 minutes and Jarnell Stokes playing 9.
The Grizzlies ended up winning by 40 points, which makes this game hard to talk about in any meaningful sense, but there were some (small) things that could be taken away from last night’s game.
➭ I don’t know what the odds are that Earl Clark will make the Grizzlies’ final roster—I haven’t heard anything that would indicate that the Griz are planning on keeping him—but I really like the way he plays when he’s on the floor with a lineup that gives him space. Last night, he was on the floor with Jarnell Stokes for several minutes in the fourth quarter, and he pulled open Flamengo’s interior defense enough that Stokes became an unstoppable beast, and his midrange shooting also gave the Brazilians trouble. Clark plays hard, and started games for (admittedly bad) teams recently, and I think his potential as an end of the bench big would provide a great deal of injury insurance and a buffer in case the Grizzlies make some sort of Koufos trade (which I don’t expect them to make, but…).
➭ Jordan Adams did some dumb rookie things last night—a pull up 3 early in the shot clock had coach Dave Joerger particularly unhappy—but I thought he continued to look comfortable on the floor. One hopes that against actual NBA competition playing to win in a game that matters, he’ll continue to look as composed as he has during the preseason. The mistakes are going to happen; that’s just part of it when dealing with rookies. If Joerger can look past that and be comfortable with allowing Adams to develop, I’m pretty convinced the Grizzlies have a potential long-term starter on their hands. Of course, we all said the same things about our dearly departed friend Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo.
➭ At one point last night, Tony Allen almost caused a backcourt violation by doing whatever he was doing without talking to Zach Randolph. Z-Bo was visibly unhappy, walking around cussing, clearly frustrated with Tony. I see that as a good thing: Z-Bo is not a guy known for, shall we say, expending too much energy during the preseason, so if he’s fired up and correcting guys and taking that sort of leadership role even though the Grizzlies are up 20 over a team from Brazil, that says a lot about his mindset. Z-Bo’s role as the only guy who can tell Tony what to do might be underreported, but it’s a vital one, and one imagines that carries over to the rest of the team, too, not just TA.
Tweet of the week
This didn’t happen during the game, but I had to say something about it. Somehow, I’m going to have to figure out a way to work this one in:
The Grizzlies have three more preseason games before they open the regular season at home against Minnesota on 10/29. They’re all against good teams, so it’ll be interesting to see what approach the Griz take. Rest important players as the season approaches? Try to win them all and tune up the rotations? Throw all of the guys who are likely to get cut on the floor so they can play their way into deals with other teams, the D-League, or Europe?
Monday, they’re at Dallas. Wednesday night, the Cavaliers are in town (which, if I’m not mistaken, is the only time ESPN will be at the FedExForum for a game all season long, which is a gross miscarriage of justice). Friday, the newly LeBron-less Heat are in town for the last preseason game.
All three of these games have the potential to be very interesting, but they also have the potential to be completely pointless in terms of learning about the Griz heading into the season. We’ll just have to see what the approach is—whether they’re trying to win or not—and go from there.
Just be thankful the season is about to start, so we can evaluate these games without having to wonder whether the Grizzlies are more worried about winning or working out kinks. Come the 29th, there will be no question.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the Mike Judge classic Office Space, but if you haven’t, I’m going to lose you for a second (or at least until you watch this clip). I couldn’t watch the Grizzlies’ game against the suddenly Durant-less Thunder last night because I was at a concert, but I’ve looked at the box score and I read back through my Twitter timeline, so I’m ready to share some things I/we learned about the Grizzlies last night:
…okay. Seriously, though, I didn’t even watch this game but I can tell (since a total of 13 players on both teams sat out) that it was a typical preseason “throw the bench guys out there and figure stuff out” game. Not really worth getting worked up over, certainly not to the point of having all the conversations about Rodney Hood I saw in my timeline this morning. Things are going to be fine.
If we get to the last couple of games and the starters are playing heavy minutes and the Grizzlies are still losing and/or looking bad, then we can worry about it and we can analyze the games and try to draw meaningful conclusions. Last night’s Thunder game was a scrimmage between two 2nd and 3rd units. A very “preseasony” preseason game. Here’s hoping Friday’s home game against Brazil’s Flamengo is just as uneventful, and that the starting lineups stats to get tweaked after that so that the starters are in a rhythm once the season starts.
Last night was the first home preseason game for the Grizzlies, and their third game in four nights, but it felt like a “real” game (or, well, if about 6,000 more people had been there). The Grizzlies’ starters (Conley, Pondexter, Prince, Randolph, and Gasol, presumably because Tony Allen was out to rest up and Courtney Lee was out with a “personal matter”) played a lot of minutes, and mostly looked good doing it.
In other shocking news (to me, anyway) Vince Carter played last night and played 13 minutes. I was sure that Carter was going to continue to rest and recover through the rest of the preseason and only play in the last two or three games, just enough to get in some minutes before the season. But, no, there he was, last night, doing Vince Carter things in a Grizzlies jersey. He was 2–3 from three and made three free throws to finish with 9 points. Carter looked good, if a little unsure of himself in the Grizzlies’ offensive and defensive schemes, but that will only improve as he plays more.
Here are some other takeaways from last night’s game.
Marc Gasol had himself a night last night. He finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocks, and only one foul—but the most impressive thing about that stat line, and the most unusual thing for Gasol, was that 10 of his 13 rebounds were defensive rebounds. Gasol had a large (for him) percentage of defensive rebounds in the Milwaukee game, too, and one can only hope that this is a facet of his game that he’s really set on improving this year.
As Z-Bo ages and doesn’t come up with all the 50/50 balls that he used to, a Gasol who can grab the rebounds Z-Bo might be losing is an invaluable asset to the Grizzlies. (And, really, it was good to see Gasol doing Gasol things in general: my personal favorite was a pointless behind-the-back pass to Conley at the top of the key when he could have just handed it to him.)
If last night’s painful-to-watch loss to the Houston Rockets had been a regular season game and not a preseason game, this piece would consist of a great deal more weeping and gnashing of teeth. The lineups were mostly bad, the starters didn’t look good (mostly because it was the 2nd preseason game and they knew they’d only be playing about 10 minutes each, at 75% effort), and the guys fighting to get signed by somebody somewhere—Kalin Lucas, Earl Clark, Patrick Christopher, et al—were an object lesson that playing hard is sometimes not as important as playing well.
But. It was a preseason game, and the only starter who played more than nine minutes was Courtney Lee (mostly so he could get some minutes with a couple different second unit lineups), and there were a few positive things to take away from the performances of some of the team’s younger players.
The big news before the game was that Michael Beasley’s “flu-like symptoms” that caused him to miss the team’s Green Bay/Houston road trip may have actually been something Asian in origin, as he left the Grizzlies’ camp to sign a deal with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, the team owned by former Rockets big man Yao Ming. (Insert joke about Beasley being “Shanghai’d” or whatever.) It wasn’t that surprising, honestly, because I had serious doubts that Beasley was going to make the Griz roster to begin with, and apparently he did too. The CBA seems to be acquiring quite a cast of NBA castoffs and burnouts (no pun intended in B-Easy’s case), but Griz fans should probably just wish Beasley the best and hope he can make a good living playing basketball going forward.
Herewith, some reflections on last night’s game:
The preseason rolls on, with the first Grizzlies home game Saturday night against perpetual regional preseason opponent the Atlanta Hawks. Here are some things worth watching for:
All in all, nothing last night worth getting too worked up about. The rookies look like they belong in the NBA, the starting lineup is still in flux, Quincy Pondexter is still trying a little too hard, and the second unit didn’t play very well against a much faster Houston lineup. It’s still early. At least we all got to watch this one on TV.
And poor Tarik, Houston’s barely-competent announcing crew couldn’t decide whether they wanted to call him “Tuh-RICK” or “Tyreke.” ↩
It's that time of year again: the time where I actually write stuff about basketball on a semi-regular basis and post it here.
Seriously, though, the Grizzlies' 2014 preseason schedule starts this week with games against the Bucks, Rockets, and Hawks, and we're less than four weeks away from actual, meaningful basketball being played at the FedExForum. I know, right? I can't believe it either. It's been a weird summer—one that started with a Jason Levien-sized bang and ended with a whimper (sorry Hassan Whiteside and Luke Hancock signings). But: we all survived, and we're all back here again, contemplating the important things in life: basketball.
Sample Size Theatre: Quincy Pondexter Edition
Most of you know I used to be the managing editor over at SB Nation's Grizzly Bear Blues. I still keep up with what's going on over there, of course, and I try not to link over there too much because, y'know, nepotism and favoritism and all that kind of stuff. But this piece by my friend Matt Hrdlicka got me thinking and, really, stepped all over a thing I had half-written but not posted yet about some of the same stuff he talks about.
The main topic on which we mostly agreed? Quincy Pondexter, who signed a 4-year deal with the Grizzlies before last season after playing out of his mind in the playoffs (and especially the Western Conference Finals) the season before. Since signing that contract, there's been a lot of talk about Pondexter as a potential answer to the Grizzlies' ever-looming question marks at the small forward spot, starting in the place of Tayshaun Prince and/or sliding over to the 2 spot so someone else could take the 3.
In case you were somewhere thousands of miles from sports media yesterday, the Grizzlies are officially in the preseason: Media Day was yesterday, and training camp starts today in San Diego. Usually Media Days across the league are a time when players, coaches, and executives come together and meet with the media and say... well, they don't say much of anything. In fact, here's everything you usually hear on Media Day, compressed down to a handy bingo card:
Has any team gotten Media Day Bingo yet? pic.twitter.com/u7k4ZWJ1Ns
— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) September 30, 2014
I have to say that, with a few exceptions, the Grizzlies' media day wasn't much different: making the playoffs isn't good enough anymore; everyone wants to win a championship. Everyone feels like they'll be more comfortable with head coach Dave Joerger in his second year at the helm. Guys are much healthier than they were last season—Gasol feels better, by far, and even Tayshaun Prince is healed up. The young guys (Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, both of whom appeared to have lost a lot of weight) are ready to face the challenges they know are coming. The camp guys—Hassan Whiteside, Earl Clark, Kalin Lucas, whoever else—are ready to compete for a spot and prove they can contribute, either to the Grizzlies or to whatever team they eventually land on.
There were a few storylines that will (probably) carry through the whole season that were recurrent yesterday, though. Season previews are all about storylines, right? Media days are all about starting the narratives that will continue through the rest of the year, a time for the team to set the message. These are the messages that were set yesterday, whether intentional or not.
Well, we made it, folks: today marks Grizzlies Media Day and the official start of the preseason. It's been a long, weird summer, with short bursts of activity separated by entire months of nothing to talk about, but it's ending today, and in its place the new season is almost here. What better way to commemorate the occasion than with some poetry?
Will anyone speak his name
to Robert Pera?
O Jarnell! O Zach!
O Jonny Basketball! Lo:
B-Easy's a 4?
A lonely echo,
A rememb'rance of things past,
Tayshaun contract year.
Spain was defeated
And yet, if Marc's in good shape,
We are all winners.
Who's the starting guard?
Why pick one, when the Grizzlies
I'll be at Media Day today and I'll have a full writeup tomorrow, and then it's into "Season Preview" mode. Basketball is this close to being upon us.
Last night, news broke that the Grizzlies had reached an agreement with Michael Beasley. I'd seen somebody (I think it was Chris Vernon) tweeting that Beasley was working out with the Grizzlies, but I'd already assigned Beasley to the "Spurs" bucket in my head after reading pieces like this and this when the "Beasley to the Spurs" chatter really started going. I was sure that San Antonio was where he was going to end up, and that he'd play out the rest of his long, productive career behind Kawhi Leonard, and that Pop would love him the way he loved Stephen Jackson, and that the rest of the league would look like idiots for not scooping Beasley up when he was available and willing to work hard.
I got home from work last night and went straight into Dad Mode, which meant
taking a nap on the couch with working very hard to make sure my daughter's needs were being met, and so I wasn't paying much attention to Twitter until it was time for her to go to bed. Which meant that I was late to this Woj party:
Free agent forward Michael Beasley has reached agreement on a deal with Memphis, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) September 23, 2014
My immediate reaction was mostly one of confusion. "Why Beasley?" I asked myself. "Why would they bring in another wing when they already have six or seven?" (This is where we pause to pour one out for the recently-departed Jamaal "Grindson" Franklin. We barely knew ye, Jamaal.) "Why would you bring... that... into this locker room?"
And then I read the article that followed the tweet. He's on a non-guaranteed deal, which means that he'll be joining the Grizzlies in San Diego for training camp, and not much else beyond that; if the Grizzlies like what they see and Beasley can keep it together, he'll be on the team, and if not, he gets to go find another team to sign with.
It's not the worst situation in the world. Beasley was with the Heat last season, and he played pretty well, appearing in 55 games and averaging 8 points in 15 minutes. He didn't get into trouble off the court—a rarity for Beasley—and the Heat seemed happy to have him around. He's always had the potential to be a great player. (But then, most #2 overall draft picks have potential to be good-to-great players. Sorry, Hasheem.) If Beasley can come into the Memphis locker room—one that's now famous for straightening out head cases—and mesh well with the guys, work hard, and play within himself, he can be a valuable off-the-bench wing scorer for the Grizzlies.
But. (There's always a but.) It seems unlikely to me that it's going to get that far, for a many reasons.
Chris Wallace loves him a good reclamation project. In addition to the ones that have worked (former NBA's Least Wanted Zach Randolph and Boston Celtics Edge Case Tony Allen) there have been many that didn't—that either just never really amounted to much (The Gilbert Arenas Project) or that nearly torpedoed a season right out of the gate until Lionel Hollins brought the hammer down (The Allen Iverson Project).
Given the issues the team had last year—the slow starts, the sometimes-disconnected look of key players (especially early-season Marc Gasol and mid-season Tony Allen), and the tendency to play down to the level of competition until it was too late to catch back up—I wonder if another career-turnaround project is really what this team needs right now. James Johnson was a fan favorite but was also a little bit of a headcase (lest we forget that the guy's nickname was Bloodsport), and I'm not sure that situation was a good one in the locker room, either. Wallace has hit the jackpot more than once by bringing in guys who nobody else thinks is worth what Wallace thinks they're worth, but I have a nagging feeling that now isn't the time. Sure, these guys are professionals, but it doesn't take much to make a workplace culture that was once exceptional into something weird. Beasley is a calculated risk (assuming he makes it out of training camp, which he may not, at which point the risk is zero).
Update: None of the rest of this makes much sense since Beasley specifically signed with the Grizzlies as "a backup power forward" as the Wojnarowski article points out. Were he shooting for a roster spot as a small forward, this would still be my argument, but he isn't, and I was wrong. Mea culpa.
Beyond the locker room questions, which will probably continue to follow Beasley for the rest of his career, there's the other question of "Why would you bring in another wing instead of trying to thin out that rotation?"
That's a question I can't answer. Beasley can play basketball very well when he wants to, but with Franklin's exit and the Beasley signing, there are still seven wing players on the roster—Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Vince Carter (Remember that? Vince Freaking Carter plays for the Grizzlies this year. That's still exciting to me), Tayshaun Prince, Quincy Pondexter, Jordan Adams, and now Beasley. Not all of those guys are going to play. All of those guys (again, assuming Beasley makes it on to the actual roster) are going to want to play. It's a logjam that needs some clarification, and I've been waiting since the draft for that clarification to come. Letting Franklin go was a move in the right direction (even though I still think he can be a quality NBA player). Adding dudes to the camp roster who might conceivably make the team is a move back in the other direction. We'll see. As it stands, the Grizzlies could put a Lee-Carter-Allen-Beasley-Prince on the floor and the other team would probably just forfeit out of sheer confusion. Maybe that's the strategy.
I'll open with what many of you don't want to hear: I think Tayshaun Prince will finish this season in a Grizzlies uniform. I don't think the team will be able to get trade him without having to give up too much else.
What that means is this: you're going to watch Tayshaun Prince play basketball this season whether you want to or not, so you may as well accept that fact—maybe even *embrace* it—and enjoy it anyway. That's going to be hard, though, isn't it? That was one of the hardest things about last season for me: watching how many minutes Dave Joerger gave to Prince last year, even when it was clear that Prince was injured, in a funk, tired, worn down from the serious preseason illness that wreaked havoc on his conditioning.
It was hard because it's hard to watch Tayshaun Prince enter the twilight phase of his career. One of the first NBA teams I really loved watching (with apologies to the Hubieball Grizzlies who were coming into their own around the same time) was that 2003-2005ish run of Pistons teams. Especially—and I say this while also thinking Rick Carlisle is a basketball genius—once Larry Brown and Sheed entered the picture. Tayshaun was a huge part of those teams. I loved watching him play, and I continued to love watching him play as those same Pistons teams kept making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals (or farther) every year until 2008.
There's a flip side to that extended stretch (every year from 2003 to 2008) of playing basketball into May and June, a flip side that those of us who watch the Grizzlies saw in every movement Prince made on the court last year: mileage.
Those extra minutes add up. And when a guy played that much early in his career, by the time he reaches the end (and look, even if Prince gets another nice contract after this one and plays for three more years, he's still nearing the end), you can see it on him. He carries it around with him on the court, a weariness, a fatigue, a 100-game-a-year grind that only the best players on the best teams even have to worry about, but eventually it catches all those players, all those greats. Eventually they're running on sand instead of hardwood, and every stride takes them more effort than it takes anyone else. They're running with ankle weights on, ankle weights made of melted Larry O'Brien Trophies.
Tayshaun Prince looks like a guy who has played too many basketball games. I think he still has something to contribute, but all those minutes, all those miles, all those games, all those series, all those seasons: they are tied around his shoulders, and they weigh him down.
Yesterday, along with the rest of the league, the Grizzlies announced the 2014-15 regular season schedule, and those of us who have been mostly pretending basketball doesn't exist the last couple weeks (no, of course I'm not talking about myself) were forced to admit that basketball is really right around the corner.
Last year's schedule certainly had its oddities: the Grizzlies had most of their back-to-backs after the All Star break, they had the same four-game November West Coast road trip they always have (except this time they went 4-0), and in a weird twist, they were locked in a three-way battle with the Mavericks and Suns for the last two playoff spots and had to (essentially) play a round-robin tournament against them to end the season.
This year's edition also has a few features ("features") worth noting:
• The NBA is experimenting with having a week-long All Star break this year, which I think is a great idea. As a result, the shortest break any team has in February is 8 days. The Grizzlies, however, somehow managed to have a ten-day gap between playing the Thunder on 2/11 and the Blazers on 2/22—which will undoubtedly be some much-needed rest (assuming that no Grizzlies are on the All Star team, which is usually a safe assumption regardless of whether anyone on the team deserves to be).
This afternoon, the Grizzlies announced the schedule for the 2014 preseason, and it's pretty interesting: it starts with a road back to back (which makes me tired just thinking about it, a sure sign that I'm still recovering from last season). There's a home game against the Brazilian club Flamengo. Most noteworthy are probably the last two, against the newly-LeBron'd Cavs and the newly-LeBronless Heat.
Preseason basketball is always exciting: guys who will never make the team getting solid minutes, superstars playing at 60% speed, random international squads getting seal-clubbed by NBA third-stringers... I love it. (That's not sarcasm.) Get ready, folks.
The Grizzlies have had a fairly successful (if rather uneventful) free agency period thus far. Re-signing Beno Udrih for a 2-year deal and bringing in Vince Carter for a 3 year, $12 million deal (with a partial guarantee the third year, when Carter will be 40) may not have been the flashiest thing that's happened this offseason, but in lieu of making a splash, the Grizzlies have opted to tweak the roster they've got at the moment and quietly make subtle upgrades while keeping themselves flexible for next summer, when Marc Gasol will be a free agent and the Grizzlies will only have six players under contract (or nine counting the unguaranteed years/team options of Jon Leuer and Jamaal Franklin along with then RFA Nick Calathes).
With the draft and free agency, though, there's a way in which the Grizzlies are starting to resemble the Houston Rockets from about three seasons ago (pre-Lin, pre-Harden, pre-Howard, pre-Parsons-being-a-thing): they have a lot of wings. Way too many wings for all of them to have a consistent spot in the rotation. Too many wings to not be at least considering trading some of them.
Let's run through the list and see who can contribute what and how likely they are to be a part of the team's future plans.
There was some disagreement on Twitter last week about whether Tony Allen's trade stock was at an all-time high after the Oklahoma City series or at a low after the injury-plagued (and, let's be honest, attitude-plagued) season Allen had last year. I tend to side with the latter: I'm not sure that Allen's best days as a player are still ahead of him.
Tony Allen is one of the best defenders in the league (and really, only LeBron James keeps me from calling him "the best"). What's problematic about Tony Allen is that his offense is (1) predicated on cuts to the basket when he's contributing and (2) quickly evolves into "Tony Allen shooting wide open 20-footers because he's being left alone" when he's not.
Free agency season is upon us, which means the most fun ("fun") part of the NBA offseason has begun: sitting around waiting for something to come across Twitter from one of the NBA reporting world's usual suspects—Woj, Marc Stein, Marc Spears, among others—about what the league's 30 teams are up to. Today, Jodie Meeks somehow managed to land a contract worth $20 million (I assume this was done during the US World Cup game on purpose, in hopes that no one would notice).
But there's something a little depressing about this summer's free agency period to me, especially in light of the contract extension awarded to Zach Randolph last week immediately following the draft: the Grizzlies, yet again, aren't really in the market for any free agents. Sure, there are holes to fill here and there—a cheap wing who can shoot 3's, a big for the end of the bench so there are five of them in Ed Davis' absence (Davis became an unrestricted free agent Monday), a back up point guard in case Nick Calathes somehow bails and goes back to Panathinaikos (who want to pay him millions of dollars to do so)—but the truth of the matter is that the Grizzlies don't have any cap room left, not enough to make a splash in free agency.
Which is a problem—if not this year, then for the future of this multi-year Grizzlies run.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports (and apparently confirmed by Randolph's agent Raymond Brothers), the Grizzlies and Randolph agreed to terms this morning:
After exercising his $16.5M player option for 2014-'15, Zach Randolph has agreed to 2-year, $20M extension with Memphis, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 27, 2014
Randolph's agent, Raymond Brothers, has confirmed the extension deal to Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 27, 2014
This deal is probably the best the Grizzlies could do and still keep Randolph. The $16.5 million for next year is a lot of money, but the $20 million / 2 year extension after that is exactly the number I thought they should offer him.
Hard to argue with that deal. Next year, it makes getting rid of Tayshaun Prince a little bit more important but harder to actually do, but beyond 2014-15, the Randolph contract is at a price point that allows the Griz to re-sign Marc Gasol next summer (and let's not forget Mike Conley at some point).
Now let's hope they call Marc Gasol this afternoon and start talking about making that happen.