Anagrams are fun. You rearrange the letters in somebody’s name to spell words with them. KEVIN LIPE, for example, can become EVE LINK PI or PIKE LIVEN. I decided to see what the letters in the names of Grizzlies players spell, and to my surprise, they all reveal various hidden secrets about how those players are going to do this year. I’m not claiming to be clairvoyant; I am, however, claiming that discovering the predictive qualities of anagrams makes me a genius, and more deserving of a Nobel Prize than Bob Dylan, whoever that is.
Journey with me now, as I reveal to you the 2016-17 Grizzlies season, as told by the players’ names.
Mike Conley, Jr.: JOCK MINE RELY, ONCE JERKY MIL
Conley is a professional athlete so that covers JOCK. The Grizzlies will RELY on him in the 2016-17 season, just like always. As for ONCE JERKY MIL, people used to be jerks to Conley when he was a young player and wasn’t very good, but he’s signed a deal for more than a hundred million dollars.
Marc Gasol: CARGO SLAM, ARCS AM LOG
Gasol’s on-the-mend right foot is precious CARGO, and he will deliver a record number of SLAM dunks this season. Also, he will LOG lots of shots from beyond the ARCS, and anagrams aren’t great at conjugating “to be.”
Tony Allen: ANNOY TELL, LA NET ONLY
Tony Allen will ANNOY players he’s defending by TELLing them (reminding them, really) that he’s “First Team All-Defense”, and whenever he takes a shot, it will (pardon my French) ONLY find LA NET.
Zach Randolph: RANCH ZAP HOLD
This was the only anagram I could find for “Zach Randolph” and I didn’t feel like expanding it to “Zachary” was fair. I have no idea what this means. If this were a Magic 8 Ball, this would be “Reply Hazy Try Again” except on every side of the little floating icosahedron.
Chandler Parsons: CARNAL NERD SHOPS, PASCAL REND HORNS, RANCHER SPAN OLDS
Lot to work with here. Parsons is notoriously popular with the ladies so I don’t think I should expand on CARNAL NERD SHOPS in a family publication. PASCAL is famous for his wager about the existence of God, so maybe philosophical disagreements will REND the Grizzlies’ ability to properly run HORNS sets. Parsons last played for two teams in Texas (hence RANCHER) and he will SPAN the gap in talent now that the Grizzlies’ OLDS are taking a smaller role. All of this assumes he recovers from injury in time. The anagrams were unclear about that.
Wade Baldwin IV: A DAWN VIBE WILD, WAIVED AWL BIND
It’s the DAWN of Baldwin’s career, and while we’ve gotten good VIBEs he’s still a little WILD. WAIVED AWL BIND is an ominous portent, but maybe hints that he’ll tie up the backup PG spot with his sharp play and will force some other guards to the D-League. Could also mean he’s going to get cut from the team and take up leather-related arts and crafts.
Andrew Harrison: ARENA DONS WHIRR, RWANDA SHINER OR
Harrison’s play has ARENA DONS WHIRRing about whether he’ll make the Grizzlies’ final 15-man roster or not, because he’ll probably land on some other NBA team if he doesn’t. As for RWANDA SHINER OR, I have no idea. What is this, a Ouija board?
JaMychal Green: CHANGE JAM RELY
JaMychal Green’s insertion into the starting lineup is a CHANGE that will inspire some righteous JAMS on which the Grizzlies can RELY if he can stay out of foul trouble.
Jarell Martin: ARM RAN JET ILL
Martin’s second season should be an important time for his development. He’s got loads of raw talent that hasn’t quite congealed into something usable on a night-in, night-out basis yet. But if he can get it together his ILL hoops skills will JET him into the rotation where he can… I don’t know, RAN some ARMs. This is harder than I thought it would be.
Vince Carter: ACCENT RIVER
Memphis sits on the Mississippi RIVER and Vince Carter is a nice ACCENT piece to have in the wing rotation. Hopefully the Grizzlies’ situation is such that he only has to be an accent piece and not a major player, because at this point in his career he’s not a guy you want to play 35 minutes a night.
Brandan Wright: BRANDING WRATH, BARN DRAW NIGHT, NAB DRAWN GIRTH
The Grizzlies’ change of their BRANDING to Grind City has drawn the WRATH of some who were perfectly fine with Bluff City thank you very much, and that has nothing to do with Brandan Wright at all, but maybe on game NIGHTs they’re hoping it will DRAW people to their BARN to watch basketball. Meanwhile, Wright’s NABbed a position in the backup frontcourt with Zach Randolph which will allow him to DRAWN (sic) the defensive assignment with the most GIRTH so that Randolph doesn’t have to defend the primary big. Playing those two as a unit makes a lot of sense. I could digress into a million GIRTH jokes but I don’t have time for that today.
James Ennis: NINJA SEEMS, JAMS SEEN IN
Ennis had some JAMS that were SEEN IN Miami last year before he was traded to the Grizzlies and Dave Joerger didn’t let him play, but now that Fizdale is in charge Ennis SEEMS to have snuck into the starting lineup like a NINJA and, to be honest, looks like he’s definitely talented enough to be a rotation-quality NBA player, and a worthwhile pickup for the Grizzlies. Who knows where is ceiling is. He’s certainly got a pretty well-rounded skill set.
Troy Daniels: DENIAL STORY, A TRENDY SILO, STALED IRONY
Fizdale said he hasn’t played Troy Daniels much in preseason because he already knows what kind of player he is, but it’s yet to be determined whether that’s a DENIAL STORY or the truth. If he plays to his peak, Daniels could be A TRENDY SILO of 3-point shooting. If he plays as well in real life as he does in the preseason, he could be another installment of the STALED IRONY of the Grizzlies’ search for outside shooting help.
Troy Williams: MILITARY OWLS, WARMLY I TOILS, MAYO ILL WRIST
First things first: if the letters in my name spelled MILITARY OWLS that’s what I would change my name to, no questions asked. Williams is a hard-working guy (WARMLY he TOILS) and has gotten the attention of a lot of Grizzlies observers, and is definitely in the discussion for “camp guy who might actually make the team this year.” Also OJ MAYO had an ILL WRIST which was why he could score so much as a rookie. Miss U, 2008 OJ.
DJ Stephens: (no anagrams found)
DJ Stephens might actually be from The Upside Down. Explains a lot when you think about it.
Vince Hunter: CHIN VENTURE
The Grizzlies took one on the CHIN with injuries during camp so they VENTUREd to sign Hunter to soak up some minutes. He’s raw, and very undeveloped, but he’s got some real skill. He’ll stick somewhere, eventually.
Wayne Selden: LAWN SEND EYE
They have lots of LAWNs in Des Moines where the Grizzlies will probably try to SEND Selden so they can keep an EYE on his development.
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Zach Randolph for three
Four of six times, ring it up!
No long-range bluffing.
Not really a whole lot to say about this one. The Sixers aren’t the basketball equivalent of radioactive waste anymore, not really. They’re just not quite ready for normal habitation by actual NBA basketball yet. But they’ve got some pieces, enough pieces (mainly Joel Embiid, who looked really good in spurts against the Grizzlies Tuesday night) that they’re a real team now, become real boys like Pinocchio before that weird detour into the amusement park and the belly of a blue whale and wait why did my parents let me watch Pinocchio? Did they know what it would do to my malleable young brain?
Anyway speaking of malleable young brains Embiid struggled against Marc Gasol and did pretty well against Zach Randolph because Gasol’s malleable young brain hasn’t yet learned Randolph’s trick of not really playing defense during preseason. Beyond that, the Sixers didn’t have much of a threat that the Grizzlies couldn’t handle, beyond their own poor defense and reliance on outside shooting, which bit them in the second quarter.
Because of those lapses, the game was tied 53-53 at halftime, but the Grizzlies came out in the third quarter and absolutely hammered the Sixers, with the claw end of the hammer. A 37-13 quarter isn’t something that happens without a little bit of malice involved, and I was happy to see the Grizzlies find that edge even when they all knew the game didn’t matter. Bodes well (as well as preseason can, anyway) for those Tuesday nights in February in Detroit when they need to get a win against a .500 team and still find themselves trailing. Maybe they’ll keep it together during those rough patches, which (under the old regime, obvs.) were as predictable as Daylight Savings Time and Beno Udrih getting slightly out of shape over the All-Star Break.
I don’t have a lot else to say about this game in itself. The rest I’ll save for its own special section because it’s a harbinger of the season to come.
Read ‘em and weep. The Grizzlies bully-ball power forward of the last seven seasons has transformed before our eyes and emerged from his cocoon as a beautiful butterfly. His jumpers from 20-ish feet have always been money, so it’s not really that surprising that in a different offense that’s actually designed to give him good long-range looks Zach Randolph can consistently hit 3-pointers.
I mean, it’s not like this is what was happening:
No, this Randolph is a credible shooting threat, and demands that defenses treat him as such. And at the same time, he’s not even really playing power forward anymore. Most of the time against Philadelphia, Randolph was subbed directly for Marc Gasol, and the two of them hardly played together. Sure, Brandan Wright had the game off to rest up, so there wasn’t really a credible backup center to be found other than Randolph (not with Jarell Martin still out, anyway, which just makes me too anxious to even talk about, and he’s even less of a center than Randolph is, really). But it seems like Randolph is going to be the 5 in smaller bench unit lineups this season and that’s going to be his role. Rebounding when he can, posting up when he can, but also running actual real plays to get him open for threes from the wings so he can rattle them in. What a world.
It’s a change for Randolph, to be sure. From 4 to 5. From starter to bench. From inside to outside. But the tools have always been there with Randolph; it’s just a matter of getting him to harness it differently in a way that (1) helps this new Grizzlies team play the way they want/need to play and (2) extends his career by showing he can adapt to the evolution of the NBA, which is a very different place than it was when he first took the court in 2001. That he seems to be on board to it so far is a testament to David Fizdale’s ability to clearly communicate his expectations for Randolph, and to Randolph’s adaptability
"I'm like an iguana I adapt." - ZBo on shooting more 3-pointers this season.— Phillip Dean (@PhillipDean1) October 12, 2016
Yeah, Zach. Just like an iguana. Just like an iguana.
Back when I was in Boy Scouts (I’m an Eagle Scout) we invented a verb for this: “to cantaloupe.” (We were extremely stupid, but we had fun.) To “cantaloupe” is to give the appearance of working on something while actually standing around talking about cars or girls or, let’s be more honest, arguing about who was better at building campfires. (Answer: me.) Zach Randolph's defense of Embiid in Tuesday night's game? Textbook cantalouping. ↩︎
★ The Grizzlies waived Tony Wroten and signed Vince Hunter, because Brandan Wright had to play 23 minutes against the Hawks.
★ Is Wade Baldwin IV going to be the answer at backup point guard? What about Fizdale's two-PG lineups?
★ Where does Brandan Wright fit into the second unit? Kevin wrote about it after Thursday night's game.
★ How much will Marc Gasol's three-pointers open up the paint for the Grizzlies? Does he have to be Ray Allen to make a difference?
★ How many minutes is Zach Randolph going to end up playing coming off the bench? Probably more than it seems like.
★ Phil was not happy about the Grizzlies' 17th place spot on Zach Lowe's League Pass Power Rankings. Is he right?
★ Is anybody in the West actually going to beat the Warriors this year?
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The first half was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. The second half, well… you know… sometimes the preseason happens when you least expect it. The Grizzlies played the Hawks last night, but since it wasn’t broadcast anywhere, it might be better if we just all agree not to talk about it anymore, especially since they lost 104-83. Problem with that is this: I have to talk about it. It’s my job. So, here are three things we can discuss this morning.
Last night, the Grizzlies were without Mike Conley and Jarell Martin in addition to the guys who haven’t yet made an appearance this preseason (Tony Allen, Deyonta Davis, Chandler Parsons, and, yes, Jordan Adams). Nothing was wrong with Conley, but Jarell Martin was spotted in a walking boot on his right foot—which, if there’s good news there, isn’t the one he had so many issues with last year. Because of that, Wade Baldwin got the start and had a hard time conducting the offense with any sort of a rhythm.
Baldwin was matched up against Dennis Schröder, which is probably the caliber of player he’ll have to be ready to face off against if/when he’s the Grizzlies’ “real” backup PG, and it didn’t go well for him. He kept his turnovers down, but was 1-6 from the floor. Good things: 4 assists and 1 turnover, taking 8 free throws in 23 minutes. Bad things: getting flummoxed by Schröder. Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.
David Fizdale put it best in his postgame presser: in the first half, the Grizzlies played cohesive basketball, made plays and got stops, and while they certainly weren’t in a rhythm, they at least hung together and looked like they knew what they were doing. In the second half, once Fizdale decided to play the “training camp roster” guys to let them get some reps, that all fell apart, and everybody was trying to make their own highlight reel. Understandable, given that these sorts of training camp deals are really an audition for all 30 teams, not just the one to which the players are signed, but… at the end of the day, it made for an entire half of basketball that was incoherent, and the Hawks were there to take advantage of it.
The second half was just short of a travesty, a callback to the end-of-the-season games last year when the Grizzlies were mostly playing D-League guys. Sometimes shambolic basketball can be fun, like a Velvet Underground song, just barely hanging together in all the noise. Other times, it can be Metal Machine Music, and you just want to turn it off because it sounds like the bleats of dying appliances. That was last night. There weren’t many great lessons to be learned. On to the next one.
The big story from Wednesday’s Grizzlies practice is that Zach Randolph is officially coming off the bench this season. He’d been practicing with the second unit all training camp, and apparently no one had made that connection yet, but when he didn’t start Monday’s game against Orlando it got people talking. This, more than anything, is a signpost of a passing era: a combination of Randolph’s slow but inexorable decline due to age, and the evolution of the NBA offense teams mercilessly attack his inability to cover all the way out to the three point line. It seemed inevitable last year, but Grizzlies fans love Zach Randolph more than they love most of their own family, so nobody (including me) wanted to cross that bridge yet.
Fizdale crossed it for us. Instead of waiting for the team to struggle and then benching Randolph for He Who Shall Not Be Named (rhymes with “Shmeff Mreen”) in what might have been one of the least popular coaching moves in Grizzlies history, he tackled it head on, telling Zach what he wanted to do before training camp even started, getting Randolph on board—to the extent that Randolph is ever going to be on board with coming off the bench, which is probably minimal—and moving ahead with the plan.
It makes a lot of sense. The apparent second-unit frontcourt pairing of Randolph and Brandan Wright leaves each able to play his own game to an extent (more on that later), provides a real scoring threat to the second unit—can you imagine what Randolph is going to do to some of the scrubbier backup 4’s and 5’s of the league?—and lets him play the “center with the bench unit” role he’s been playing very effectively in spots over the last two years. It saves him from having to defend starting stretch 4’s and getting ripped apart in pick and roll defense by uptempo spread teams.
There was no way Randolph was going to be able to start NBA games until he’s 40. He was going to have to start coming off the bench at some point. Right now, during this transition to Fizdale’s overall offensive and defensive system, makes a lot of sense.
I hope it works. Check back later.
Randolph’s fellow second unit big man Brandan Wright missed so much of last season that he’s basically an additional free agent signing that was already under contract. (And yes, he’s aware of what team Ronnie Price is on now, and will be watching out for Price’s kneecaps this time.) The question of where he fits in the overall scheme of what the Grizzlies are trying to do was echoing around Grizzlies Twitter the last couple of days; without a clear picture of where Wright would land in the rotation, it seemed counterintuitive that he’d be a big role player, and maybe his extremely valuable contract meant he should be traded for wing help.
I think last night’s game cleared that up a little, with Wright taking the floor mostly with Randolph in the first half, taking the toughest defensive assignment (aka the 9-foot-tall Atlanta center Walter “Edy” Tavares) and building up some rhythm with his around-the-basket touches. I asked Fizdale in the postgame presser where he sees Wright fitting into the Grizzlies’ scheme and he gushed about Wright’s speed, his ability to guard all the way out to the perimeter, and his scoring. I picked Wright’s brain about it in the locker room and got a similar answer–that on defense, Wright is out there to keep Randolph from being the offense’s point of attack, and I expect to see the Randolph/Wright tandem deployed a lot this season.
It’s maybe the only good injury news yet this season, that Wright is back. There were times last year when it seemed like he was bound to disappear into the Jordan Adams Memorial Memory Hole and never be heard from again, and when Adams, Parsons, and now Deyonta Davis are all hanging out there with no projected return time, seeing Wright back and ready to go inspires hope that maybe guys will get healthy again. He played 23 minutes last night—according to him, probably the most he’s ever had to play in a preseason game—because there weren’t enough active bigs to put a young guy in during the free jazz (in a bad way) second half, and also because he wanted the reps.
If the Grizzlies can really figure out how to use Wright, and really take advantage of the things they signed him for (and maybe, since Fizdale claims to be borrowing so many principles from Rick Carlisle, unlock that seldom-seen Wright/Vince Carter two man game), they’re going to be in much better shape with their second unit this year, and with Randolph and Wright steadying that frontcourt, some of the worst fears about depth are at least partially alleviated.
The people have spoken, and now I have to do one of these for every game.
The Space Needle, a redwood:
All too tall to guard.
I’m excited that NBA basketball is back. So excited that I took a lot of notes at last night’s preseason game in which the Grizzlies beat the Orlando Magic, 102-97. And, you know, the Grizzlies aren’t the only ones who are throwing out a bunch of weird stuff to see if any of it works in the preseason; it’s my chance to do that to. So, this is an experiment in conveying my observations from the game without having to form each of them into a totally fleshed-out thought, lest I write 4,000 words about a game that didn’t count. A “Game Notebook” in the tradition of weird nonfiction and a bunch of stuff I read for philosophy classes in college: no particular point, just thoughts.
The first starting lineup (albeit in a preseason game without Tony Allen and Chandler Parsons) of the David Fizdale era: Mike Conley, Troy Daniels, James Ennis, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol. How’s that for different? The rotation in the first half was a ten man unit, with Wade Baldwin, Andrew Harrison, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and Brandan Wright as the “backups”. There were all kinds of interesting lineups happening in there: two-PG looks with Conley and Baldwin, Baldwin at the point with Harrison off the ball, Wright and Gasol together, etc. There was not a five-man unit that played together in the first half that wasn’t at least interesting.
More than “interesting” was rookie Wade Baldwin IV. Coach David Fizdale warned in the postgame presser that there would still be games where he looked like a rookie, but last night wasn’t one of them. Baldwin looked comfortable on the court, and confident in himself, and for the most part played very well. He turned the ball over too much, and wasn’t always in the right place at the right time, but he seemed to do well both alongside Conley and running backup point.
Andrew Harrison had a rougher night, but he also spent most of the time in the first half off the ball, and had to try to guard Evan Fournier (whom I wish the Grizzlies had signed). Fizdale said after the game that he was intentionally putting Harrison in uncomfortable situations against Orlando to see how he would do, but just the same, Harrison’s discomfort was apparent at times. The Grizzlies Rookie Backup Point Guard Wars continue.
Another “new” guy who was on the team last year even though you wouldn’t know it because the previous coach never played him under any circumstances: James Ennis. Ennis started last night, and showed some flashes. Fizdale coached Ennis at Miami, so there’s a familiarity there, and from what I saw last night Ennis seems like a legit rotation player, anyway. Of course, he seemed that way to me last year before he got waived so Ryan Hollins could come back, but what do I know?
The second half gave way to preseason silliness. DJ Stephens proved he could dunk harder than anyone else, including this bit of ridiculousness:
OMG DJ STEPHENS https://t.co/fdfV8I7bLO— Alexis Morgan (@alexiskmorgan) October 4, 2016
And, honestly, he played just well enough to look like he belonged on the court. I think the odds he makes the final roster are still vanishingly small, but at least he’s already proven he wasn’t just a token signing. The crowd at FedExForum (such as it was–announced attendance was around 12,500) loved every minute of his game last night.
Perhaps most importantly, two guys seemed comfortable, and calmly determined: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Gasol moved well and fired away from beyond the arc (he took two 3’s, and Fizdale later said he wanted Gasol to take four), and seemed to be telling the truth when he said he felt better than he has in a long time. Conley was ever the floor general, and Fizdale even turned over the reins and let him coach for a stretch in the third. It may have seemed like a joke, but Fizdale insisted it wasn’t: he wanted Conley to become comfortable as a vocal leader of the team. This kind of coaching, this relaxed emphasis on communication and on growth, feels qualitatively different from the Hollins/Joerger coaching tree, and it’s going to be fascinating to see this team gel over the course of the next five preseason games.
Clearing the pipes and debating whether to do one of these for every single game this year:
Things that bring all joy:
Jeff Green is on the Magic
Not on the Grizzlies
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I’ve been extremely reticent to give any sort of prediction about how many games the Grizzlies are going to win this year, and usually by training camp I’ve at least got a pretty clear range in my head. Several people have asked me this question in the last week, and I’ve mostly blown it off, but I think a better approach might be to give a few answers and explanations. I’m going to give three scenarios (best-case, decent, and This Is Bad) and a range of wins for each scenario.
In this scenario, Chandler Parsons misses the regular season opener but he’s ready to go by the end of November. In the meantime, the team is totally bought in to Fizdale’s principles and trust that the new way of playing is actually an improvement over the old way (rather than, say, insisting that he reinstall plays from the Lionel Hollins era when things get tough). The defense struggles a bit (outside of Allen/Gasol/Conley, defense is probably going to be the struggle this year in this scenario, because offensively this could be the most versatile Griz squad we’ve seen), but not so much that they get killed by spread pick-and-roll teams like they did early last year. Meanwhile the Spurs and Mavs struggle out of the gate, the Pelicans do whatever it is the Pelicans do, and the Rockets, now led by Mike D’Antoni and James Harden, Point Guard, score 130 points a night.
In this scenario, which is the best case for the first year of a new coach and adjusting to playing with a mostly-new roster in a mostly-new way, I’d put the Grizzlies at 50 wins. They’re going to have some growing pains even if things are going well—that’s just part of the evolutionary process. Depth is a factor at the guard positions, and defense is a question in the frontcourt (other than Marc Gasol, obviously). If everyone’s healthy and getting comfortable with Fizdale’s principles, I think that’s about where they’ll end up.
There’s a middle-path scenario here that takes into account the inevitable stumbling blocks facing a team undergoing this much of a change in direction. This is a group that, in two out of Dave Joerger’s three seasons, failed to actually implement the changes put in place in training camp, and two weeks into the season after a rough start reverted to the Lionel Hollins-era playbook. What happens when they hit a rough patch? Will they be able to stick with The Fizdale Doctrine, or will they seek a return to what’s comfortable?
I’m not even sure that’s what it would take for them to slightly underperform–I think it’ll just take a two-week injury to Mike Conley, maybe a lower minute limit than expected for Marc Gasol, and/or a Chandler Parsons outage that lingers too long into November. They’ve got a lot of work to do in figuring out who does what, and all three of those guys are coming off of injuries–career-threatening ones in the case of Gasol, and Parsons’ sounds like maybe a more major rehab process than anyone expected back in June or July.
This is a win total for a team that’s good but not quite reaching its potential; a winning season while figuring out all of this change and integrating all of these new pieces should still be considered a success, but I’m not sure the average Grizzlies fan agrees, and I know the guys on the team probably don’t see it that way.
In years past this would have been the “Can we put a headset on the coach?” scenario. Maybe Fizdale struggles out of the gate to get the team on board with what he’s trying to get them to do. Maybe Chandler Parsons doesn’t come back until Christmas. Maybe Chandler Parsons doesn’t come back until Christmas and Marc Gasol misses three weeks in December and Zach Randolph takes his annual “sit for two weeks to rest because I tweaked my knee” break earlier than expected. Maybe the rookie backup point guards are a disaster, Conley has to play 38 minutes a night, and he starts accumulating weird injuries in February again. Maybe the defense is terrible because the young guys haven’t figured it out yet and some of the guys (Parsons, mostly) aren’t that great at defense anyway.
Point is, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, and if they start going wrong, it’s not tough to envision the wheels coming off of the Grizzlies’ season if they catch as many bad breaks as they did last year. But, here’s the other point: it’s possible for things to go this way and for it to still be a successful season. The Fizdale hire was definitely not just about this year. Signing Parsons, Conley, and Gasol to long-term deals wasn’t either. Everything that’s been talked about so far this year–instilling a new culture in the team, overhauling the principles of the offense and of the defense–is not realistically going to happen in one training camp or preseason. The Grizzlies will probably be a work in progress most of this year, and if things are tougher than expected, it’s still a success if by the end of it they’ve made progress towards becoming the team they want to be.
This is a tough year to talk about so far because there are so many unknowns, but those unknowns affect the team just as much as they do those who cover it. Is it likely that the Grizzlies won’t make it to 40 wins? I don’t think so. Is it likely that they make it to 50? More so, to be sure.
If injuries weren’t a concern and the Grizzlies were rolling into camp with Parsons and Gasol in peak form without any health concerns (and, to be clear, Gasol seems to have made a remarkable recovery), I’d feel more comfortable calling this team probably 4th or 5th in the West. But I’m just not sure that’s realistic. I think there will be bumps along the road because so much is new. I see them in the playoffs, but that’s about all I’ll commit to at this point.
That being said, if you’re only watching this team to see whether they win or lose on any given night, you’re going to miss out on what’s really interesting. How quickly can a group that’s been together a long time change their culture? How do they integrate a versatile talent the likes of which they’ve never played with? Does Fizdale–one of the most highly-touted assistants to become a head coach lately–have what it takes to be a head coach? Every season is about wins and losses, but this one also isn’t, and that’s what I’m excited to explore over the next however many months.
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, today was the Grizzlies’ Media Day, in preparation for training camp and the preseason. I went, took in the sights, and noticed a few themes coming up repeatedly that seemed worth exploring in a bit of detail here.
I’ve been to a lot of media days at this point. Enough of them that I know not to get my hopes up. Guys know what they’re saying, they’ve had excellent media training, and they know exactly what notes to ring as they rehash whatever it is they’re supposed to be saying about the upcoming season. Media Day is not when you’re going to get earth-shattering news out of a team (unless you’re covering the Heat and the Chris Bosh health situation, I guess) and it’s also not a day for personality, so much. It’s a day when everybody gets on camera and generally answers the same questions.
A lot of these questions end up leading to the same answers.
As far removed as we are from last year, and as many new faces as are on this roster, the story is still health and will continue to be all season long. It sounded like Chandler Parsons and Marc Gasol both expect to be placed on some kind of minutes limitation. Mike Conley’s going to take it one game at a time. Zach Randolph also expects to rest more this year, citing the rest strategies of the Spurs and Heat as a model the Grizzlies would like to emulate. Exactly a month out from the Grizzlies’ regular season opener, Parsons isn’t even cleared for full-contact 5-on-5 yet. It’s going to be a story this year—the story, and probably even bigger than I let on in my “Ground Rules” piece. Health is going to be the difference in “second round of the playoffs” and “giving a late lottery pick to the Nuggets” for the Grizzlies this year.
This is why they’re so hard to reason about. There are still too many variables, even with only a month left. Are they going to win 50 games? Or 40? Or, heaven forbid, 30? All of those things are on the table, because beyond the Core Four, Parsons, Vince Carter and Brandan Wright–I just realized all three of those names are former Dallas Mavericks who have struggled with long, protracted injuries of some sort, and my heart sank–there’s no real depth here, just a bunch of young guys who have yet to prove they belong or that they deserve a heavier load than what they currently have.
Fizdale mentioned Heat defensive ideas and Carlisle, Stotts, and Spoelstra as coaches he's been influenced by with his ideas for this season— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) September 26, 2016
The vibe is definitely different this year. Guys are relaxed. The veteran players (along with everyone else, but obviously the vets led the charge) showed up to Memphis early (or, in the case of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, they never left in the first place–there was a great quote from Z-Bo about “taking the kids to they sporting events” when he wasn’t working out) and they seem to have been communicating with incoming rookie head coach Fizdale and with each other early and often.
There seems to be a level of comfort and chemistry already forming even before camp begins tomorrow, and that’s a contrast to the last couple of years. Last year, things were tense, and Gasol (and probably others) were out of shape. Now, everyone’s lean, everyone seems relaxed and focused, and it’s hard not to think that the culture of the franchise has changed since parting with Dave Joerger and bringing in Fizdale as part of a newly reinforced Chris Wallace-centric front office hierarchy. The mood is serious, but not anxious. When questioned about the injury recoveries hanging over the roster, everybody responds with the same “I don’t know.”
Dave Joerger was the head coach of the Grizzlies for three seasons, and two of the three years, the team stumbled out of the gate after (1) a training camp somewhere other than Memphis in which (2) a new evolution of the traditional post-focused offense was introduced. The only year they got off to a good start, they had Contract Year Marc Gasol pummeling other teams into submission and they hadn’t yet traded for Jeff Green. For whatever reason, Joerger was never really able to get a Grizzlies team to buy in to the changes he was installing, and when it went south, it went really south, with players telling reporters “we need to get back to the way we play.”
The proof is obviously in the way they play together, and we won’t really know much until they start playing preseason games, but today, the players seemed to unanimously (other than Tony Allen, who said the team should return to the way they played in the 2013 Conference Finals season) agree that it was time for a change in mindset, and that it’s time to evolve the way they play together. That seemed like a promising note.
One thing I don’t think I realized until I saw all of the players on the roster with my own eyes: this is not a deep team, not by any stretch of the imagination. Who’s going to play backup point guard? (One assumes Tony Wroten won’t make it out of training camp, but he might be the most “veteran” backup PG available at the moment, which should tell you something.) What’s the frontcourt rotation going to look like, assuming Chandler Parsons isn’t ready to go for the season opener (which, look, Jordan Adams was supposed to be ready for the season opener last year, so let’s just not assume he’s back until he’s back)? Can JaMychal Green really defend without fouling?
This is really just a different angle on the health issue, in one sense. But at the same time: if an all-healthy Grizzlies starting five is Conley/Allen/Parsons/Randolph/Gasol, how do you mix-and-match those starters with these bench players and come up with a team that can play cohesive basketball? Vince Carter and Jarell Martin and Brandan Wright and JaMychal Green and Wade Baldwin and Troy Daniels… it’s going to be interesting. Fizdale has his hands full trying to figure out a philosophy to employ that works for the whole team.
And that’s without anybody getting hurt. Lawd.
It’s too early to draw any, honestly. Nobody knows how this stuff will resolve. Training camp, which starts tomorrow, will start to show the way, but it’s going to be a long time before anyone knows exactly what the Grizzlies are working with this year. Transition/rebuilding year while the big names heal up and the young guys get reps? Maybe. Yet another run to the second round of the West playoffs? Sure, barring major injury setbacks. Anywhere in between is still on the table. We’ll find out.
Last year was ugly. Everyone was injured, everyone turned on everyone (and then turned to Sacramento), the players were dissatisfied, and the whole thing collapsed in on itself like a burned-out house left too long with a hole in the roof. Things were bad before the injury plague. But after? After Mario Chalmers went down, after the losses kept piling up, the games got uglier, the list of players grew to 28, and the sweet release of the summer was postponed by one of the most pointless series in playoff history?
Last season the Memphis Grizzlies were not too far from being Basketball Job. Or, if you're more into Lamentations, maybe Jeremiah was watching the Grizzlies back in April:
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
Anyways, the point is: it was bad.
And yet, hope springs eternal: coming into 2016-17, a season with so many new things, so many new faces, so many clean slates, I put together some thoughts, an outline of the newborn season and a frame for the many months of basketball ahead.
Back in July when Chandler Parsons was first signed, people were talking about "Glam and Grind" or something that. No.
Speaking of "___ and Grind," Hrdlicka wrote a great essay about the end of Grit and Grind that I'm going to assume you've already read. if not, read it, and know that this is the territory in which we're now operating.
It's not so much that it's dead so much as it's that it's done. That's a subtle distinction.
Dead means you mourn it. Done means you move on to the next task. And the Grizzlies have a lot of "next tasks" this season.
Health is everything this year, but it also isn't. Health is going to be the story if someone gets hurt (or more than one someone, since there are now three "on the mend" guys and two other older guys making up the 5 best players on the team) (And even if you think Tony Allen isn't one of the team's 5 best players anymore, you're probably wrong, and it feels like all the young guys got hurt last year too). But even if health doesn't become the story:
Can these guys really play any other way? Was the system constrained by the personnel, were the personnel being deployed in a system that was too rooted in past successes to move forward, was the coach just not willing to take risks, were the players just not willing to take risks, or is the whole thing still forever tied to the skills of circa-2011 Zach Randolph? Put another way: these guys never bought into any of Dave Joerger's changes. Are they going to buy into David Fizdale's? They should, but will they? Why or why not?
I can't remember the last Grizzlies season that started out as this much of an unknown. 2009-10, when we weren't sure Zach Randolph was still worth having on a roster?
Twitter is mostly a vile echo chamber where racists and web servers bark at each other in coded hate-language, but it seems like basketball Twitter has found itself a safe haven, like those bacteria that thrive at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean without light or oxygen. And yet: most of the conversation around sports on the internet is still pretty dumb. Last year, I let that get to me. This year, I'll probably still let it get to me, but hopefully less so.
What does that have to do with the passage of Grit and Grind on into the outer darkness, or about whether the team is ready to be coached in a different way? Lots, in a way. Our entire culture is wracked with changes and reactions to it right now. Certain segments of the population feel things slipping away from them, and they're lashing out in any and every direction they can. There's going to come a time when Zach Randolph and Tony Allen and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley aren't going to be on this team anymore, and as this team evolves—a team loaded with young talent, and starved for depth at some positions—things are going to change. Will Grizzlies fans panic about it? Can they "keep a cool booty," in the words of Our Beloved Grind Prophet?
I've got to have more fun this year. Last year was a grind. Jeff Green was frustrating enough on his own, and the lack of cohesion on the team trying to play around him. Can we talk about that yet? Can we admit that the Jeff Green trade was an abject disaster and that it was apparent that he caused a lot of problems on the court? Anyway, we who watch this team were liberated of that millstone only to be dragged down by a phalanx of failing human bodies, shredded joints and splintered bone. And then stomped out of our collective misery by a Spurs team that didn't even look like they were playing that well—because they weren't. No matter what happens this year, even if it's that, I want to have more fun. You probably should, too.
I don't know. We're going to find out a lot of things together this year. It's a voyage of exploration.
Seriously though, I'm probably going to block people who say "Glam and Grind." Let's be better.
Friday morning, the Grizzlies announced the launch of Grind City Media, their new branded content/media operation starting up for the 2016–17 season. They made some impressive hires, bringing in Michael Wallace (formerly of ESPN) as Senior Editor, Contributor, and analyst, Alexis Morgan of SLAM magazine as Digital Content Reporter, and (in presumably the final twist of the #FreeVerno saga) Chris Vernon—who will continue to host The Chris Vernon Show under the Grind City banner.
In doing this, the Grizzlies are getting ahead of a trend that’s been happening in NBA media over the last couple of seasons. Teams have slowly but surely been hiring their own “content producers” (aka “people formerly called writers”) to write for their own sites. Sports franchises (and the NBA seems to be leading the charge among US leagues) are removing the media middlemen between fans and sports content, and in this move, the Grizzlies are making a bold step into running their own branded content arm.
Really, it started earlier this summer, when Dave Joerger was fired and the news broke on Grizzlies.com with a complete Q&A with General Manager Chris Wallace instead of a press conference. That’s the way “journalism” in general is headed: just write the stuff yourself. I have no doubt Grind City Media will be able to do really interesting work just by virtue of the access they’ll be able to have to the organization and to the players. We’ll see what happens when/if some bad news breaks; one would presume that will still come from the “usual suspects” crew of national writers who have been breaking those stories for the Pera Era so far. At any rate, the Grizzlies are continuing to prove their willingness to invest in areas of running a basketball team that aren’t bound by a salary cap. Grind City Media is another one of those areas, and an extremely forward-thinking marketing move from a team that has been doing very smart things in that area for a while now.
It seems that Memphis' midday sports radio drama has finally been resolved. After a contract dispute led to Chris Vernon's departure from 92.9 ESPN, the beloved radio host spent a couple of weeks in limbo before Bill Simmons announced earlier this week that his new web venture The Ringer had hired Vernon to host NBA and college football podcasts.
That solved the Vernon part of the equation, but it seems that this morning the other shoe has finally dropped. The Commercial Appeal is reporting that the CA's Tiger beat writer Jason Smith is leaving the paper to join 92.9 ESPN in the 11-2 timeslot previously held by The Chris Vernon Show.
Smith will host the show with 92.9's John Martin. His departure from the CA means they're now in the market for a new Tiger basketball beat writer with the season rapidly approaching, so one can assume the #FreeVerno conflagration will continue to affect the Memphis sports media landscape.
It appears that longtime local sports radio personality Chris Vernon is no longer employed by 92.9 ESPN. His show was removed from the schedule on the station’s website Friday morning, and Vernon later confirmed the story on Twitter:
The Commercial Appeal reported that Vernon and the station were engaged in a contract dispute. Vernon’s show has been popular for years, and he played a role in the growing legend of the Grit & Grind Grizzlies by selling the original Tony Allen “All Heart Grit Grind” T-shirts back in 2011. More recently, Vernon has also appeared on Fox Sports’ television coverage of Grizzlies games.
The Grizzlies have announced their 2016 preseason schedule, and it's not that much different from years past, except it's a six game schedule now:
From what I understand, the Grizzlies are bound by their FedExForum lease to play more than 41 home games a year, so that limits the number of preseason games they're able to play at places that aren't the Forum. If they want to play a preseason game somewhere else, they've pretty much got to find another team willing to be the home team and host the game.
Hard to believe we've already got preseason schedules, but it'll probably also be the last real Grizzlies news for a while now that free agency is all over but the shouting (except for Lance Stephenson, I guess).