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.
Last night's draft for the Grizzlies was both more interesting and less interesting than expected. No blockbuster last-minute deals were made to move up or down from the 22nd pick, but the players selected could potentially tell a story about how the Grizzlies are going to spend the rest of the summer tweaking their roster.
For the Grizzlies, everything seemed to hinge on whether Tyler Ennis was available to the Toronto Raptors at 20.
If he were, the Raptors wanted to pull off the trade that circulated yesterday—John Salmons and the 37th pick for Tayshaun Prince and the 22nd—in order to have the 22nd pick and select Clint Capela. When Ennis was selected 18th by the Phoenix Suns, that likely torpedoed the Grizzlies' best chance for trading out of the 22nd spot.
Once they figured out they were going to pick a player instead of trading, the Griz selected Jordan Adams, a 6'5" shooting guard from UCLA. Adams is athletic, he can score, and his advanced metrics are pretty stellar (all of which leads one to believe that John Hollinger had a pretty heavy influence on Adams' selection). It brings up the question of "why another shooting guard?", but I'll address that later.
The one caveat I have about the Adams pick: the Griz passed over Rodney Hood to get him. Hood managed to drop to the Utah Jazz at the 23rd spot (immediately after Hood) and while I wasn't crazy about his game, I still would've been satisfied had the Grizzlies picked him. If Adams turns out to be mediocre and Hood develops into the very good player he's capable of growing into, that's going to come back and haunt the Griz for a while.
All in all, though, scoring at the wings is what the Grizzlies need, and that's why they drafted Jordan Adams. I didn't have Adams on my radar—although apparently I should have—but given some time to research it, I'm fine with this pick. I think Adams has potential to be a great fit on this team, especially if they continue forward with a style of play that leads to a lot of kick-out opportunities for shooters.
As I write this, the air conditioner has gone out in my house, and my wife and infant daughter have left for cooler undisclosed locations, leaving me here in a stuffy living room with two large greyhounds sleeping in front of a box fan and large quantities of George Dickel #12 on hand—all of which is actually secondary to my real point here:
I'm just not much of a "draft guy." I probably shouldn't admit as much in a column on my basketball-related blog here, but I believe in being upfront with folks, and so there you have it. Evaluating incoming college basketball players is not something I feel I'm particularly great at. I don't really watch college basketball; it's just not really my thing. The game is played so differently—the 35-second shot clocks, the zone-heavy defenses, the pared down offenses—that it doesn't really hold my attention the way the NBA game does (and I don't intend any value judgment with that, so please don't write letters to the Flyer about how much of an idiot I am for that. We get plenty such letters already).
This may be the heat and/or it may be the Dickel, but I just don't care that much about trying to read the tea leaves and figure out who the Grizzlies are going to draft before they do it. As a wise International Man of Mystery once said in a certain Swedish situation, "it's not my bag, baby."
That said, I'm not about to let that stop me from making all sorts of wild prognostications based on hours of YouTube footage, reading scouting reports, and talking to people who know more than I do. These are the four names I've heard the most about heading into tomorrow night's draft:
I've been putting off this piece for a while, but now that the season is over, it's time to start talking about what the Grizzlies can do to be better next year. No matter who is going to end up calling the shots for the Grizzlies this offseason, pretty much every decision the team needs to make will be influenced by the outcome of a decision in the hands of someone else: the $16.5 million player option of Zach Randolph.
Said player option was put in place by Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace when Randolph's contract was extended after the 2011 playoffs. At the time, it seemed like it was a million years away—who knew what would happen in the meantime, and it'd be a long time before anyone had to deal with it.
That time has come, and it finds the Grizzlies in the middle of a really weird offseason, one that's seen unprecedented (and also as yet unresolved until a long-term GM is hired) upheaval already and not the roster upheaval some predicted but instead a changing of the decision-making guard.
There are only two possible outcomes to this scenario: Zach Randolph is a member of the Memphis Grizzlies next season, or he isn't. Both possible outcomes have their upsides and downsides.
The bottom line is this: Zach Randolph is coming off a good season, but probably not a great one. He averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds a game, and a PER of 18.3, continued to play at a high level all around, appeared to have improved his interior passing, and (along with Mike Conley) carried the team through a tough stretch without Marc Gasol.
1. Why were Jason Levien and Stu Lash fired?
If you know the real answer to this, you should probably get in touch with me. A week later, we still don't really know anything about what specifically Levien was fired for. After all, Pera was perfectly happy to have Levien and Lash attend the draft combine in Chicago, and (because he apparently desires to be an NBA owner without ever having to address the media) Pera hasn't specifically addressed any of it.
That's really my biggest complaint about the whole thing: it's entirely possible that the firing of Levien was completely justified. (Lash appears to have been collateral damage, fired purely for being known as Levien's right-hand man.)
The panic—and the damage to the Grizzlies' reputation as a well-run organization—has all come about because Pera hasn't said one word about why any of this happened. What direction was the team heading in that so dissatisfied Pera? What do these personnel changes enable Pera to do that he couldn't do before? It's 100% possible to answer these questions without gossiping about former employees. A change at the top of the basketball operation means, by definition, some sort of change in the on-court product, whether big or small. That's what needs to be addressed here. So... we don't know. Apparently we might never find out.
2. Isn't Jason Levien a liar and a scoundrel, though?
The truth, as ever, is probably somewhere in the middle—although I must point out that Jason Levien's being a shady dealer and the possibility that Pera is out of his depth and a little crazy are not mutually exclusive. It's clear in the aftermath of Levien's dismissal that he was probably either (1) trying to do too much or (2) not paying the attention to Pera that Pera felt he deserved or (3) both, especially after reading Chris Herrington's excellent TrueHoop piece from yesterday.
Crazy times in the Grizzlies organization continue. According to multiple sources, but first reported by Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, head coach Dave Joerger has been granted permission to interview for the Minnesota Timberwolves' head coach opening.
Joerger is from Minnesota, and has ties to Flip Saunders, so it's not a surprise at all that the Timberwolves came calling. What's surprising—or it would've been surprising before the Grizzlies' Red Wedding reenactment on Monday—is that Joerger was granted permission to interview for the job.
It's been widely reported that Griz owner Robert Pera wanted to fire Joerger early in the season. The reported number was 30 or so games into the season. I've heard from more than one source that Pera may have wanted Joerger fired as early as four or five games into the season. Which, of course, is stupid. But The guys who hired Joerger to replace Lionel Hollins are gone, and now Joerger appears to be free to go if he chooses to, so...
...we'll see. We'll see what the Griz front office looks like after Pera reconstructs it in the way he sees fit, and who fills the coaching opening. There are good coaches available (George Karl) and crappy coaches available (Mark Jackson). Somebody's going to be the coach, anyways.
With any luck, the Grizzlies will get their act together before long. How much luck do the Grizzlies have?
Well, yesterday was interesting. It started with this:
Hearing major shakeup forthcoming in Memphis: Team CEO Jason Levien is poised to resign from club after assistant GM Stu Lash was dismissed
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 19, 2014
Which was met with this:
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) May 19, 2014
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 19, 2014
— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) May 19, 2014
...and then everyone and anyone who covers the Grizzlies scrambling to Twitter, text messages, and phone calls to try to get any semblance of an idea of what was going on.
Whatever the details, the message sent yesterday was clear: Robert Pera is asserting his will here. After two seasons of ownership—really only one full season with all of his management team in place, Pera decided he didn't like what he saw, and decided Levien (and Lash, apparently simply by virtue of being Levien's right hand man) had to go.
I spoke to several minority owners yesterday, and none of them had any clue this was about to happen. "Shocked" was the word that kept coming up. The sense I got from conversations yesterday—and what was reported by others (like Chris Herrington, Geoff Calkins, and Chris Vernon) yesterday—was that the minority owners liked Levien, and had no reason to think he wouldn't be continuing in his role. After all, Levien was the guy who put together the ownership group in the first place. Levien was the glue that made the sale of the franchise hang together. It's not clear to me exactly what the confrontation between Pera and Levien was, other than some sort of power struggle. Robert Pera apparently had different ideas.
The press release issued by team owner Robert Pera was terse and light on details:
The Memphis Grizzlies announced today that following discussions with management, the decision was made for Jason Levien and Stu Lash to depart the organization.
"Our franchise has made tremendous strides over the last few seasons and we thank Jason for his hard work and dedication and wish him nothing but success in his future endeavors," said Grizzlies Controlling Owner Robert Pera. "Rest assured that we remain as committed as ever to bringing a championship to this great city and we are confident that when the new season begins our fans will be excited about both our roster and the direction of our organization."
Going forward, existing Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace will assume interim responsibility for the franchise's basketball operations and Chief Operating Officer Jason Wexler will remain responsible for the franchise's business operations.
The Flyer's Kevin Lipe will have more on the situation as it develops.
Note: this is the second installation of an ongoing series examining the question marks on the Grizzlies' roster as the team enters the offseason. The first installment is here.
This edition of Roster Rundown will be brief(ish) because there's only one: Ed Davis. (What's a restricted free agent, you ask? Wikipedia has a good explanation.)
The Grizzlies' young forward, acquired from Toronto in the three-team deal that sent Rudy Gay northward, Davis was regarded then as a valuable part of the trade, a young asset who had the potential to be the Grizzlies' Power Forward Of The Future™. Lionel Hollins hated his guts, clearly, or at the very least, didn't think he could play, and so he didn't. Part of the "word on the street" was that that lack of playing time—and an inflexibility about rotation decisions—was part of the big cauldron of tension stew that the front office took under consideration when they decided not to bring Hollins back on a contract extension.
Fast forward to this season, and Davis played in 63 out of 82 regular season games, averaging 15 minutes a game. Most of those came in the middle of the season with Marc Gasol out, but still—not exactly the consistent play you'd like to see from a guy who was starting in Toronto when he was traded. Davis so far appears to be unable to earn time in a crowded frontcourt rotation, and at times, it seemed like Jon Leuer was the clear candidate for fourth big in the rotation.
Now that the season's over and we've all had a little bit of time to cool off, let's take a look at the Grizzlies' roster from the 2013-14 season with an eye toward who's going to be here next season. There are all kinds of question marks surrounding the players on the team—from player options to restricted free agents to unguaranteed final years—and those questions will be answered sooner rather than later as the Griz front office makes the changes they feel they need to make.
We'll start with the unrestricted free agents (and see Larry Coon's world-famous NBA CBA FAQ page if you really want to understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of NBA free agency). These are the guys who don't have a contract for next year, and can sign with any team they want to: Mike Miller, Beno Udrih, and James Johnson.
Ah, Mike Miller, ah, humanity!
Seriously, though, Miller gave the Grizzlies some much-needed outside shooting, even if ultimately it wasn't enough. Earlier in the season, when Courtney Lee was shooting 5 percentage points above his career average, Lee and Miller made the Grizzlies one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league (when was the last time you heard that?) spreading the floor out so the big men could go to work, while serving as reliable escape valves for when the low-post action broke down.
Miller played for the Grizzlies for the veteran's minimum, since Miami (who amnestied Miller last summer) is still on the hook for his whole salary for 2013-14 and 2014-15—any deal that brings him back to the Griz will have to be for the same minimum next year because of the way the amnesty clause works.
Miller, obviously, had his most reliable season in years, appearing in every single game of the regular season and playoffs (89 total) and if that reliability keeps up—the reliability of his health, of course, being his biggest downside over the past few seasons—he's going to be worth a three-year deal. He's said he wants to come back to the Grizzlies "as long as he's treated fairly," which, to my mind, means "as long as I get offered a three-year deal."
Now that the season is really over—the players have given their final media interviews and met with the coaching staff and front office for exit interviews—we can start to get some distance from and perspective on what the Grizzlies were this year.
They were a mess, but they were a really entertaining, hard-working mess.
Coming into the first season under rookie coach Dave Joerger, there was a lot of talk about picking up the pace, about installing some new motion-oriented stuff into the Griz playbook. About not relying so much on isolation scoring, especially in the post. For whatever reason, when they actually tried to run it in the regular season, it didn't work—whether the players revolted, or they were just over-thinking it because they were worried about who to pass to, or whether they just weren't the right group of guys to run the stuff, it didn't happen. By the time the Grizzlies got to the middle/end of November, heading out on a 4-game road trip to California, they were in a hole, the stars (other than Mike Conley) looked like they'd checked out, and everything was coming to pieces.
And then they went on the road, got back to playing inside-out basketball—I think it was Tony Allen who said they "started running plays from last year"—and won all four games, games against the Warriors, Kings, Lakers, and Clippers, the dreaded Early Season California Trip that has damaged the records of so many past Griz teams. Coming back from the road trip, everything seemed to be back on track...
...until Marc Gasol went down with a grade 2 sprain of his MCL.
The moment that happened, those of us sitting behind our laptops at the scorers' table exchanged some "We're screwed" glances, and started writing articles about how the Grizzlies could probably get a good lottery pick if they packed it in for the season—but that if somehow they could hang around .500 until Gasol returned, they might have a chance of still making the playoffs.
Which is exactly what they did. The injuries continued to pile up, though. Tony Allen went down with a wrist/hand injury that would cause him to miss more games than Gasol. Zach Randolph missed games with a bad ingrown toenail. Tayshaun Prince had too many injuries to name because he was playing without any conditioning whatsoever thanks to a severe illness during the preseason. Quincy Pondexter was lost for the year in December with a stress fracture in his foot. Shockingly, the only Grizzly to play in all 82 games was Mike Miller, whose health has been something of an issues since the last time he wore a Grizzlies uniform.
Things were happening besides injuries, though: the roster started to evolve. Jerryd Bayless was traded for Courtney Lee. James Johnson was added from the D-League after good seasons with Chicago and Toronto but a bad one with Sacramento. Nick Calathes was installed as the backup point guard and allowed to rack up minutes. Because of the injuries, Kosta Koufos started and Jon Leuer and Ed Davis backed him up. Everyone got to play and everyone contributed. There were nights when it didn't work, of course—one particularly rough blowout at FedExForum by the Thunder comes to mind—but somehow, it mostly did. The Griz had a top-10 offense for a while, after Ed Davis spent a week beating up on inferior teams.
Once Gasol got back, the race was on—and the Grizzlies were ridiculous, winning something like 70% of the games in which Mike Conley and Marc Gasol both played (a higher percentage than last season when those two played together, and last year's team won 56 games). There were still times, though, when it seemed like it wasn't going to be enough. Dallas never got worse. Phoenix never got worse. It seemed like the Grizzlies were going to pull off an improbably feat and win 50 games and still not be good enough to make the playoffs.
We all know how that went. The Griz closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak, including wins over the Heat, Suns, and Mavericks, and ended up the seventh seed, where they played the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third time in four postseasons. These two teams have played nineteen playoff games against each other since April of 2011, and almost all of them have been instant classics, with seven overtimes and one unforgettable 3OT. This year was no different, the first series in NBA history with four straight overtime games. By Game 7, though, the deck was stacked against them, missing too many guys and facing a team with the best player in the NBA (this regular season, anyway) and his top-20 player, wildcard sidekick. Once Durant and Westbrook started regressing to the mean—which, in this series, meant shooting the lights out no matter how well the shot was contested—it wasn't meant to be.
But at the same time, if they hadn't gotten off to a slow start, maybe they'd have ended up with the sixth seed. If they'd taken care of business on the road the last week of the season and beaten Portland and Golden State, the 5 seed was within reach. This year had more "what if"s than any Griz season of the recent era—so many things could have gone slightly differently and changed the complexion of the whole year.
It was a year that proved this team really is "All Heart, Grit, Grind" while at the same time making us wonder if maybe it wouldn't be more fun to watch a team that played with a little more fluidity. A year that proved Zach Randolph can still be a go-to 20-10 guy when he's healthy but made us wonder how much longer that would be the case. A year that proved Mike Conley can be an All Star, 30-point-scoring menace to opposing defenses, but made us wonder whether someone would have to be removed from the roster to give him the space necessary to do that consistently.
Lots of questions, lots of forks in the road, and in the end, a tough group of players who take so much pride in what they do—and in the city they do it for—that they refused to stop fighting until the last buzzer sounded. We're going to be talking about this season for a while, whether it was the last run for this core of four or not. There were too many things wrong with it; too many victories won by sheer effort and assertion of physical will; too many Neck Tattoo Giveaway Nights while the heel Clippers were in town; too many wins and too many overtimes for it to be forgotten.
Follow Kevin Lipe at Beyond the Arc, the Flyer's Grizzlies blog, and at