Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Media Day Dispatch: Slouching toward Vanderbilt

Posted By on Tue, Oct 1, 2013 at 9:11 AM

Its that time again.
  • Basketball had better start before I run out of growl towel pictures.

The thing that struck me most about Grizzlies Media Day yesterday was the ease. On the eve of training camp at Vanderbilt in Nashville, they all seemed comfortable with where they were at, comfortable with their situation, free to talk about the roles each player will have to play for the team to be successful this year—even when that meant talking about the fact that the Grizzlies are capable of going eleven or twelve guys deep if they have to, and that that depth necessarily means that minutes are going to be hard to come by for guys who don't establish themselves in the rotation. At no point did anyone seem tense, or withdrawn, or even uncomfortable with what was going on around them.

What was going on around them was that each player sat at a little round bistro table with a black tablecloth on it, and guys like me (and, more often, guys with big honking TV cameras and lights and microphones with little cubic TV station logo boxes on them) grilled them for twenty minutes on everything from conditioning to whether they thought Lionel Hollins was a jerk to what restaurants they frequent in Memphis1.

This was actually my first Media Day, and while the crush of reporters, all talking over each other to get their questions heard and answered, was a little overwhelming at times, the whole thing had the feel of the first day of school, everyone hanging out in the hall before that first class shooting the breeze about what we all did while we were away from each other.

The takeaway is this: this Grizzlies squad has been fortunate. The core of the team has had a lot of continuity, and even though (as I talked about in my first piece for the blog) the locker room contains a lot of new faces, these are guys who are comfortable together, at ease. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it. But I wasn't expecting the whole thing to be so... mellow. So Zen.

Robert Pera was not so Zen. He had a lot to say about his vision for the franchise: that he sees continuity and player selection as the keys to winning in a small market—constant references to the Spurs way of doing things—and that he has no intention to run the Grizzlies with an eye toward profitability, instead wanting to (1) win basketball games and (2) win basketball games and (3) do good things in the community of Memphis and (4) win basketball games. Pera came across as very passionate about his mission, both with Ubiquiti Networks and with the Grizzlies. Lots of talk of "bridging inequalities with technology," mostly referring to Ubiquiti and emerging markets, but there are applications closer to home, both with Memphis and with the Grizzlies.

We've seen these Grizzlies develop from scrappy young underdogs with a couple of established pieces to a battle-tested veteran contender bolstering itself with youth around the edges. Mike Miller and Tayshaun Prince both had an understated workmanlike quality about them, calmly talking about struggling to stay healthy in the late phases of their respective careers and about knowing how to handle championship expectations. These are guys that have been there, have done that, and know what it takes, and along with Tony Allen, the guys on this team with rings seem to be the tone-setters. It'll be interesting to see how that veteran leadership steers the team this year when the going gets rough, and just how much Miller and Prince—and even Allen, who is no spring chicken anymore himself—will be able to contribute to the Griz this year.

There was a pretty clear lack of BS in the room. Nobody really said much about how much muscle they added, and I don't think anybody did any workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon. Ed Davis, put on the spot by Geoff Calkins and Ron Tillery about whether he regretted taking a shot at Lionel Hollins on Twitter when Hollins said he thought Davis should go to summer league, didn't take it back. Said he was "insulted" by being stuck on the bench in the Ovinton J'Anthony Mayo Memorial Doghouse2. When asked if all the talk about running bothered him, Zach Randolph reminded everyone he played for Mike D'Antoni.

Overall there was a sense that last year was great, but it didn't mean much because the Grizzlies didn't win a championship. One gets a sense that that's really what these guys want, and that they all—to a man—believe that this year's Grizzlies roster gives them the best chance they've ever had to do it. As they head off to Nashville to start training camp, the main focus of which appears to be "avoiding injuries" if you listen to what most everybody said in the Media Day interviews, this is a team that believes they're legitimately on the cusp of being able to do great things. Over the coming weeks as the preseason gets underway and we start the march to the regular season, we'll take a more in-depth look at whether I think they're right.

  1. Marc Gasol was the only guy who wouldn't name a restaurant, ever the diplomat. Z-Bo's favorite hot wings are D'Bo's, presumably not just because of the "Bo" connection. 
  2. One wonders which player would actually be the best to name Lionel Hollins' infamous Alcatraz-like doghouse after. Maybe it's the used-to-play-behind-Xavier-Henry Tony Allen. Maybe it's perennial benchwarmer and fan favorite Hamed Haddadi. It sure isn't Keyon Dooling, I can promise you that much. 



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