By Chris Przybyszewski
A stressful time has just passed for NBA players: the dreaded trade deadline of February 21st, which usually means players being shipped from one franchise to another like so much FedEx cargo -- without stickers marking the load as fragile.
No player is untouchable. There will always be general managers like Jerry Krause of the Bulls who will trade an All-Star like Elton Brand for two untested high school players. Even superstars like Nick Van Excel, who was just traded from Denver to Dallas, aren't immune.
That sort of uncertainty can leave players feeling unsure of their status and can even affect their play. According to Grizzlies coach Sidney Lowe, the passing of the trade deadline can lead to a more relaxed locker room. "I think for certain guys, yeah, they relax," he says. "Especially if their names have come up in trade rumors."
But don't expect Lowe to talk to players about possible moves, no matter the players' feelings on the matter. "I really don't comment on it because I don't want to even start a dialogue about it," Lowe says. That means a player -- ideally -- shouldn't know of a trade until the deal has gone down. But Lowe knows the ideal rarely exists. "If we are talking about trading someone, that shouldn't be in the paper," he says. "If it is, that's our fault. If a player gets upset, that's on him and he's got the right to [be upset]. But I don't go to a player to talk about that at all."
The situation is considerably more tense for players on temporary contracts, like Elliot Perry or Eddie Gill. Perry was just released after fulfilling a 10-day contract. Gill just signed a 10-day contract. Both were brought in to sub for injured point guards Jason Williams (ingrown toenails) and Brevin Knight (ankle).
Perry, a perennial Memphis favorite and old-school Memphis State hero, was one of those players peering across the mid-court line before the recent Memphis-Phoenix game. Perry played for the Suns last season and didn't seem to find any familiar faces looking his way. Perry did not play horrific basketball for the Grizzlies (5.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.5 turnovers per game), but he was instrumental in blowing multiple late-game fast-break opportunities for the team. Perry would come up with a Suns turnover, and -- with a Grizzlies guard or forward barreling down the lane -- Perry would pull up to miss a jumper rather than toss a soft assist for the easy basket.
Lowe noticed the breakdowns and he knew who was responsible, though he didn't name names. "We had about three or four fast-break opportunities, and we pulled up for jump shots with guys running for layups," Lowe said. "Those were missed opportunities. That was poor decision-making on our part." The Grizzlies followed that decision-making with one more: Perry wasn't signed to another 10-day contract.
Management then picked up another transient: guard Eddie Gill from the National Developmental Basketball League (NBDL). Gill is a little guy (6', 190 lbs.), and he's smart. He negotiates the floor like he has been in this Grizzlies offense all season. He runs the fast break, makes the extra pass, or fakes the shot, only to make the short jumper when wide open. And Gill is fearless, taking shots and passes that some guards would hesitate to try while on a 10-day stint. On the other hand, Gill has little to lose. Against the Clippers on Monday night, he started at point guard and played the entire game, making the most of his opportunity with 20 points and seven assists.
But despite his early success, Gill knows that his place on the team is tenuous. He also knows that the factors that will keep him in or out of a Grizzlies uniform have little to do with his own abilities. When asked what he was thinking during the game, Gill responded, "Nothing in particular. I just go out there and play the game. Hopefully everything else will take care of itself. I can't worry over something I don't have any control over."
In other words, Gill knows that the team is about business, and a business looks only to its own best interests. Gill is a toe or ankle recovery away from being sent back to the minors, and he knows it. The only thing he can do is just work his tail off and hope for the best.
In his team's 90-77 win over the Grizzlies, Clippers forward Elton Brand notched a double-double game in the first quarter, with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Brand finished the game with 27 points and 23 rebounds.
In the game against the Clippers, the Grizzlies only dressed eight players and had no back-up guards. Newly signed point guard Eddie Gill played the entire game.
"Everybody likes him. He keeps control of the ballgame. That's what a point guard is supposed to do." -- Grizzlies forward Stromile Swift on the play of guard Elliot Perry, who played out his 10-day contract and was not offered a renewal.
"I've been blessed." -- Perry on his time with the Grizzlies.