Sunday, October 22, 2017

Grizzlies 111, Warriors 101: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Sun, Oct 22, 2017 at 8:50 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Saturday night at FedExForum, the Grizzlies pulled off an improbable win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a game that was really only ever close in a few spots. After taking the lead somewhere in the middle of the first quarter, the Grizzlies put their collective foot on the gas and never looked back, leading by as many as 19 points in the third quarter.

I won't say I was shocked by last night's outcome—the Grizzlies have had the Warriors' number for a long time now, and there always seems to be at least one game per year in which the Grizzlies get in the Warriors' heads and camp out for a while. But I didn't expect the Grizzlies to look so dominant, or for the bench to outperform the starters so thoroughly. (Well, except Marc Gasol, but we'll get to him in a bit.) It was a good all-around win for a team with a lot to prove, and it came much earlier in the season than was probably fair to expect. For all of the doom-and-gloom about the Grizzlies headed into this year—and make no mistake, they're only two games in and there are still questions yet to be answered—it does seem like maybe the "rebuild in place" is happening a little faster than the national basketball commentariat predicted. Here are five other things that stood out about last night:

Marc Gasol is not from this planet. Gasol ended last night with 34 points on 16 shots, 14 rebounds, and a career-high 17 free throw attempts. Gasol was everywhere last night, shooting 50% from three, cooking in the post, defending well, pulling down rebounds at a rate we've never seen before1, and mostly making up for Mike Conley's off night in every statistical category. It was a marvelous game from him last night, one of the best I can remember in a long time.

If Gasol is going to play like this all year (barring the nights when the conditions just aren't right for him to create his basketball art) the Grizzlies are going to make the playoffs, simply by the sheer force of his will towards perfecting each individual possession.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The current second unit is unstoppable so far. Mario Chalmers, Tyreke Evans, Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons, and Brandan Wright got the Grizzlies the lead in the first half and played a big role in their keeping it. Gasol already had a double-double by halftime but the rest of the Grizzlies' starters stumbled out of the gate a bit, and it was up to the bench to salvage the situation. Chalmers only took 4 shots but got to the line for 8 FT attempts, Brooks ended with 9 points but was more impressive on the defensive end (except for the few times he got burned, because, y'know, rookies get burned), Parsons was 2 of 4 from 3 and moved the ball well, and Wright, even though the stat sheet doesn't really show it, kept things moving with his length and athleticism.

It's been quite a while since the Grizzlies had a bench that was this reliable. And they did this, last night, missing two or three rotation players (JaMychal Green, Wayne Selden, and Ben McLemore, all of whom will presumably play—though maybe not if Brooks continues to perform at this level). I wrote in my season preview that the Grizzlies' wing rotation top-to-bottom was better than it's been in a long time, and I think even then I wasn't positive enough. The bench is good. This, apparently, is a seriously deep team.

Jarell Martin probably isn't ready to be a starter yet, but held his own. Martin got the start in place of the injured Green. Before the game, head coach David Fizdale said he wanted to start Martin as a test to see where he's at, but also that Martin's versatility "fits this game." Once the game was underway, one could see what he meant: Martin seemed overwhelmed at times against the Warriors' starters, especially when the Griz defense started switching more rigorously, but he was able to make plays with his athleticism that he 100% would not have made in the previous two seasons. There is real growth happening there with Martin, even if it's still the early stages of what he can be. "Everyone's consensus pick to be cut at the end of camp" to "starting against the Warriors in Game 2" is a heck of a recovery.

James Ennis is the starting 3 the Grizzlies have needed for five years. Since Rudy Gay was traded, the Grizzlies have had issues at the small forward spot. Tayshaun Prince was a good facilitator and defender but he was on the downslope of his career and his shot had mostly started to fail him. Jeff Green was apparently on the Grizzlies for a while. Chandler Parsons was forced to start for 20 minutes to rehab his knees and clearly couldn't play. But this year, with Ennis in that spot, he's everything they've needed for years. He's athletic, he can defend, and he doesn't need to produce much offense, but when he does, it's extremely efficient. Ennis was 6 for 6 last night, finishing with 13 points, and it felt like all 6 of those made field goals were lob dunks or putbacks. He's the cleanup guy, not doing anything flashy but making sure the Grizzlies aren't leaving points on the board. Every game he has like this I get retroactively more upset that Dave Joerger once cut him to re-sign Ryan Hollins. Sure, when the Griz signed Parsons, the plan was for Ennis to be farther back in the rotation while Parsons manned the starting 3 spot. But plans change, and Ennis has changed them as much as any other circumstances have. If only this Ennis had been on the 2014 or 2015 Grizzlies.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The defense is much farther along than I expected it to be. Last year's model of Tony Allen was not the Tony Allen of old; he'd lost a step and was making up for it by gambling for steals and cheating into passing lanes, often leaving Marc Gasol home alone under the rim to deal with whatever got past Allen. But even with that being the case, I still wondered what the Griz defense would look like without him. It's been seven years since I had to think about it.

Last night was at least an early sign of what this team can be defensively. Fizdale and Gasol both stress repeatedly that the defensive end is still their focus, and last night it showed. Everyone was locked in, forcing 17 turnovers, holding the Warriors under 40% from the field, frustrating ball handlers and denying the ball to anyone not named Durant or Curry. Durant finished with 29 and Curry finished with 37. Klay Thompson had 14, but most everyone else on the roster finished with 0, 2, or 4 points (though Shaun Livingston had 8). They switched, and it worked. I repeat: They switched, and it worked. This is not the 2013 Grizzlies, who overloaded the strong side and stayed there until Tony Allen forced a turnover. This is a totally different defensive system than the one in which Marc Gasol once won a Defensive Player of the Year award, and yet it's still working for them. Maybe he can win another one.

Tweet of the Night

It's a tie. First, from noted Warriors fan Jacob Greenberg of The Diss:

Then, Marc Gasol is going to cause Klay Thompson to run up an expensive therapy bill for this one:

Up Next

The Grizzlies are in Houston Monday night to take on the Rockets, who find themselves without Chris Paul. Without Paul, the Rockets look to be... exactly like they were last year, when they were really good. Even after knocking off the Warriors, in some ways Monday's game is more important; the Griz play the Rockets four times by November 18, which is insanely early to be completely done playing a divisonal opponent. They need to win as many as they can even while it's the first month of the season, because the West playoff race will be tight and every tiebreaker they can rack up now will undoubtedly pay off later. If Paul is out that whole time, maybe that helps, but the Rockets were a very tough out for the Grizzlies last year even without him. In some ways, it's a more interesting test of where the Grizzlies are this early in the season than the Warriors game.

  1. Let's pause for a moment to ponder that Gasol, at this point in his career, has simply decided, "Now I will be good at rebounding," and is immediately a force to be reckoned with on the glass. Is there anything more "Marc Gasol"?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #84: The Dillon Brooks Era

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 9:37 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • The dawning of the Dillon Brooks era
  • Chandler Parsons' new life as the Grizzlies' backup power forward
  • The injury to JaMychal Green, and whether Jarell Martin is ready to step into his role immediately
  • The void left by Tony Allen's departure and the emotional tribute during Wednesday night's game
  • The development of Andrew Harrison
  • The Grizzlies two big upcoming games against the Warriors and Rockets

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Five Notes on Grizzlies/Pelicans

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 9:50 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies started the season with a win last night, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 103-91 and creating several new narratives in the process. You can find straight recaps of game action elsewhere—I want to talk about what I think matters from last night.

Five Things

Dillon Brooks is for real. He’s going to have bad rookie games, and maybe even more of them than good ones, but last night showed that his preseason performance wasn’t fool’s gold: he’s an NBA player, and most likely sooner rather than later. Last night Brooks got hot and stayed in the game all the way through the end, racking up 19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks in one of the most impressive rookie debuts by a Grizzly in a long time.

There will be growing pains, of course, and no rookie starts off good and only gets better without some bumps along the way. But Brooks has a confidence about him and a smoothness and ease to his game that make me very hopeful for his future in Beale Street Blue. Last night was a coming-out party for a young guy who is certainly worth watching.

This is Mike Conley’s team, still. The playoffs proved it, but last night was another point of evidence. Conley was masterful, with no sign that it was the first real game of the season—he picked up right where he left off in the San Antonio series. The result was one of the quietest 27 points on 15 shots I’ve seen. Conley was dominating the game without looking like it, while the crowd’s attention was focused on other things. One hopes he can maintain this form all year.

Conley’s night was also a stark contrast to Marc Gasol’s. Gasol’s first quarter was bad, he got things going a little in the second half, and then he fouled out. Obviously, the Pelicans’ big man tandem of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis had something to do with that, especially with Gasol’s new focus on rebounding. But that wasn’t the whole story; Gasol just looked off, as he is wont to do when conditions aren’t perfect. Whether this is a single off night or a bad start to the year remains to be seen, but given the shape Marc is in and that he’s been playing all summer because of Eurobasket, he shouldn’t have those kinds of cobwebs.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Chandler Parsons finally looked like a basketball player, if only for a little spell. He came in struggling, missed some free throws, got some boos (which Grizzlies fans seem to love doing early in the year to guys who already have shaky confidence, because Memphis remains inexplicable) but—for the first time since signing a 90-whatever-million-dollar contract last summer—he had a stretch where he played well! (Yes! That merits exclamation points!) After the rough start, over a span of a few minutes, Parsons hit a couple of shots, facilitated some nifty plays with drives and kicks, and even played excellent defense on Anthony Davis, which I’m still not sure I believe even though I was present when it happened.

That’s not to say all is well with Parsons, who pretty clearly will never be a third-piece-of-a-big-Three small forward again because he’s just not fast enough anymore. But last night showed promise: even in a diminished role, the Grizzlies would just be happy for him to be productive somewhere in the rotation making things happen, and ultimately he’s probably more reliable than some of the younger guys would be in the same role. Even that seemed like it would never happen again, and last night it did for a little while. Shelve those career obituaries for a little bit longer.

The JaMychal Green injury could make things interesting. Green left the game early last night after rolling an ankle pretty badly (which, after the Hayward injury in Boston, made everybody’s stomach a little uneasy until he eventually made it back to his feet and they were still pointing the right direction). If he misses any significant time, it might be Jarell Martin who fills that spot in the rotation, and last night he wasn’t ready for that workload yet.

Granted, I’m going to wait until he’s not dealing with Boogie and AD to make a more solid judgement. New Orleans has issues, but the quality of their starting big men isn’t one of them. But Martin, who played his way back from the brink of being cut by demolishing everything in his path during camp, will have to perform against those kinds of players if he has a future as a starting power forward. We’ll find out, and maybe faster than we would have liked.

I remember why I was excited about Brandan Wright. After he struggled with injuries for two straight years, it was easy to forget why the Grizzlies signed Wright in the first place and wish they’d traded his very reasonable contract. But last night, he showed what they signed him for, defending well, making athletic plays at the rim, setting Conley up for pick and roll baskets that no other big on the roster would have facilitated, and more. I hope he can keep it up, because this Brandan Wright makes the Grizzlies better, much faster and more athletic, and more fun to watch.

Tweet of the Night

Up Next

The Warriors, Saturday night. But we can talk about that more tomorrow; for now, let’s bask in the glory of a promising start to the year. My season preview went out in this week's Flyer, and is now online. I have a lot to say about what I think this year's Grizzlies team is going to be, and I said most of it there.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Grizzlies to waive or trade Baldwin, Zagorac today

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 12:45 PM

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Wade Baldwin IV

The Grizzlies have until the close of business today to get down to the official 15-man opening night roster, and it's been a matter of some speculation who would be the final players waived.

As first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and confirmed by the Flyer, the two guys on the outside are Wade Baldwin, IV and Rade Zagorac.

The decision to cut bait with Baldwin is no doubt the more frustrating of the two. Taken in last year's first round, Baldwin failed to develop in a way that the Grizzlies found promising, and you only have to do a couple of Twitter searches to find evidence that he lacks a level of self-awareness and maturity to indicate that growth would be happening any time soon.

As for Zagorac, it seems like the Grizzlies signed him to a guaranteed deal simply to keep him from signing a multi-year deal with Mega Leks or some other European team, essentially paying him a million bucks to try out for the team. So while it's not ideal that the pick didn't pan out, the stakes are also somewhat lower given that the only reason Zagorac is being cut and not Jarell Martin is that Martin came into training camp and preseason playing at a level he's never shown before.

You win some, you lose some. There are other guys they could've taken with both picks who would've panned out better, for sure, and especially with Baldwin, who frankly should've been able to play better than Andrew Harrison and Kobi Simmons if he wanted to keep his spot. It's frustrating to see a team so historically starved for development letting go of two young players who have shown promise, but also admirable to see them admit the mistake, cut the sunk costs, and move on. It also speaks to how unlikely it was for Mario Chalmers to make a nearly-full recovery into a solid backup point guard.

At any rate, now we know who the 2017-18 Grizzlies will be, barring any unforeseen transactions. Let's hope the players who won the battles for roster spots continue to show why they were the ones to keep.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Five Things About Grizzlies/Rockets

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 7:51 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Wade Baldwin

Last night the Grizzlies lost another preseason game, this one a 101-89 home showdown against the newly Chris-Pauled Houston Rockets. With Wayne Selden out (and Ben McLemore still nursing that broken foot back to health) Andrew Harrison got the start at shooting guard, and things got more interesting from there. Here are five of those interesting things from last night.

Preseason games with an 8:40PM tip should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. This might be a little Inside Baseball, but a late tip makes for an even later night for the people covering the game, and that’s hard enough to deal with when the games actually count. Last night’s didn’t.

Chandler Parsons: not great. It’s becoming clear that the “he’s a backup power forward” phone call was coming from inside the house, so to speak. Parsons is moving OK, but so far he’s been a total non-entity on the court. Last night Rade Zagorac had more impact on the game, and Parsons hasn’t had any performances that were much better. The catch is that I don’t think the Grizzlies are willing to sacrifice those 20 minutes a night to his rehab process this year; given the changes on the team and the strengthened West, they can’t afford to. Until he proves otherwise, I think expectations for what the Grizzlies can actually get from Parsons this season should rightfully continue to trend downwards, and (to state the obvious) that’s ultimately a bad indicator for what the ceiling of this year’s team will be.

Dillon Brooks is an NBA player. Brooks went in the second round last year, but watching him so far, I think he probably should have been a late first-round guy. He already looks better than last year’s first round pick (sorry Wade) and he looks to have a natural feel for his position. I’ve only heard good things from people around the team. Brooks seems like he could be a piece of the rotation for years to come, and getting that from a second round guy is the exception, not the rule.

Wade Baldwin still needs to learn how to play, and I’m not sure he will. My problem with Baldwin after his first season was that he tried to force every play to happen with his athleticism rather than using his head and making the right play. (I realize this is a very “Gasol” thing to say, but there are worse things about which to be fanatical than “make the right play.”) His errors almost always happen because he’s trying to force a play that just isn’t available to him. In year two, that doesn’t seem to have changed much. He’s a little more contained, but only a little, and the comments about how he “dominates” in practice and thinks he’s the best guy on the floor don’t lend themselves to many charitable interpretations. Couple that with scuttlebutt about his attitude, and you’ve got a recipe for a guy who might not be worth the effort required. They won’t cut him, probably, but if the Grizzlies could get a protected future second rounder for him—the old “Tony Wroten Special”—my suspicion is that he’d already be gone. Baldwin is a(nother) player whose time so far is a sunk cost.

Tyreke Evans is still Tyreke Evans. Some of my excitement about the Evans signing was, in hindsight, optimistically colored by my non-remembrance of his ball-stopper side. I still think he can be a very valuable member of this team, and his presence means good things for a Grizzlies wing rotation that might be deeper than it's been in the Conley/Gasol era even without Tony Allen around. But.

This is going to be a tweet that happens on a regular basis over the course of the season. It just is. Embrace it, rather than fighting it, and it won't be so bad. But know that it will happen.

What's Next

The Grizzlies play the Pelicans Friday night, in Tony Allen's first (albeit "not real") return to FedExForum in a New Orleans jersey. I expect that to be weird. The main thing looming over the Grizzlies is the roster situation, which will have to be resolved by Monday no matter what. I'm not sure which course of action I endorse at the moment, but most of the young guys have played well enough that I'm glad it's not my decision to make. The regular season is now less than a week away. Time to start loading in your antacid stash.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ten Things About Grizzlies/Hawks

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 7:32 AM

The Grizzlies lost a preseason game to the Atlanta Hawks last night, 100-88. I don’t put much stock (or any, really) in preseason wins and losses, but that doesn’t mean preseason games are totally meaningless. Here are ten things we can take away from last night’s game.

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Chandler Parsons as a small lineup power forward is a thing. As Peter Edmiston pointed out on Twitter, that’s actually the only spot he’s seen any minutes this preseason. And while it’s not really ideal for your $94M playmaker to be a backup 4, that spot is actually an OK fit for his size and speed at the moment. Zach Lowe has said it, others have said it, and it’s happened in the games.
  • Starting Andrew Harrison next to Conley is not great. That’s what happened last night, presumably because Harrison is in the running to get cut before the season starts and Fizdale wanted to give him heavy minutes. Harrison is better than Wade Baldwin but not better than Wayne Selden. He’s not bad, but might not ever be much better than he is now. Cutting him would not be because he can’t be an NBA player—there’s no shame in being a decent end of the rotation guy. But somebody’s got to go. He plays well next to Conley, but I don’t think Harrison showed anything he hasn’t already. I’m glad that’s not my decision to make.
  • Marc Gasol is still the best. Marc Gasol cares about preseason games about as much as I care about renewing my driver’s license, but he still had a couple trademark Cheeky Marc passes last night. Those are fun and I missed them.
  • Tyreke Evans is a unique addition to this team. Evans is a unique player in general, but the Grizzlies have never had this kind of “super 6th man” on the wing (it was supposed to be Vince Carter, and maybe it was for parts of last year, but not like this). I’m really interested in seeing him develop chemistry with Conley, Gasol, Chalmers, et al.
  • Deyonta Davis doesn’t look great. I thought it would be obvious that he’s made progress. It isn’t.
  • Brandan Wright is still an odd fit with this roster. Year Three of the Wright experiment and it still seems hard for the Grizzlies to figure out who to play him with. He’s a good player, and very skilled, but he’s so different from the rest of the Grizzlies’ bigs that it’s always going to be a little weird. That said, if he can stay healthy this season (I say that phrase a lot these days) he brings a versatility that would be hard to replicate with any other center.
  • James Ennis is pretty good. He struggled to find a spot in the rotation last year, and the year before Dave Joerger cut him for one of Ryan Hollins’ many stints with the team, but with Tony Allen gone there should be a place for his two-way play.
  • Rade Zagorac is a long way off. He still needs a lot of time to adjust to the NBA game, and to get his conditioning right. He’s never going to be a speed demon, but he’s just not there yet. I still believe in his potential, but at this point it’s still very much potential.
  • Wade Baldwin isn’t as bad as he was last year. I don’t have anything else to say about that.
  • If a lot of the games the Grizzlies play are like the one last night, it’s going to be a long year. The offense just wasn’t happening, the defense struggled a little (but, as ever, not as much as the offense) and everything was disjointed and ugly. Granted, this is a description of the last seven seasons of playoff appearances, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun to watch. Preseason is preseason, so I’m hesitant to make any judgement about anything beyond that fact, but last night’s game was the bad kind of “in the mud,” the “mud is coming out of my faucets” kind. One hopes for the team to play with more pace and fluidity as the season rounds into form. We’ll see.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #83: THE RETURN

Posted By on Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 9:21 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • Everything is different with the Grizzlies this year. Are they going to be good or not?
  • The amazing recovery of Mario Chalmers and the wish for Chandler Parsons to do the same.
  • The Grizzlies’ surprisingly deep wing rotation
  • How much faster will they play this year?
  • Hey, remember the draft? And how does Rade Zagorac look?
  • Another reason the Grizzlies should be in the East
  • Why do we sing the national anthem before NBA games anyway?
  • The Rockets experiment—will it work? What about the Pelicans?
  • Is NBA Twitter fun anymore? (The answer is easy to guess.)

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Media Day Roundup 2017: Knees, Self-Reflection, and Protest Ignorance

Posted By on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 at 8:10 AM

"If my guys take a knee, I'm taking a knee," said David Fizdale. - KEVIN LIPE
  • Kevin Lipe
  • "If my guys take a knee, I'm taking a knee," said David Fizdale.

A Period of Transition is an underrated Van Morrison record, but the 2017–18 Grizzlies are about to test whether it also works as a framework for a basketball season. At yesterday’s Media Day, there was no greater theme (outside of the unavoidable intersection of politics and pro sports) than the Grizzlies’ new faces and new challenges. At best, the upcoming season will be a brilliant struggle to carve a new identity out of a formless young roster. At worst, that struggle could drag the whole enterprise down to the basement of the stacked Western Conference. Here are some of my observations from Media Day:

Chandler Parsons’ Health

The conversation around the health of Chandler Parsons was very different in tone than last season, which was a hopeful sign that he might actually be able to contribute something meaningful to these Grizzlies. From GM Chris Wallace to coach David Fizdale to Mike Conley to Parsons himself, to a man, they all expressed their confidence in his rehab and the expectation that he’ll be playing and contributing from the first night of the season.

It’s a pretty stark contrast to last year, when the main talking point was that the Grizzlies had signed him “for the full length of his contract, not just the first year.” There always seemed to be a question hanging over the team last year of whether Parsons would ever play again at all, not just whether he’d be a meaningful part of the 2016–17 rotation, so it’s encouraging to see that the expectations and progress are totally different coming into this camp. That said, outside of 5-on–5 pickup games, the guy still hasn’t played a minute on the court in a game.

A great deal of this season’s fate rests on Parsons’ health. They’re deep at the wing spots but thin at the forward spots, and if they have the ability to play small with Parsons at the 4, things start to line up and make more sense roster-wise. If this is all talk and Parsons is looking at another limited season (or even a month or two of missed time), it doesn’t bode well for the Grizzlies’ ability to make the playoffs this year, which was very explicitly stated as an expectation by front office, coach, and players alike. It all comes down to The Hundred Million Dollar Knees.

Fizdale’s Summer of Reflection

David Fizdale—when he wasn’t taking a stand against Memphis’ Confederate monuments (he specifically referenced #takeemdown901 yesterday) or traveling to Romania to watch Marc Gasol play in EuroBasket—spent all summer talking to other coaches about how he can do better. The main thing Fizdale said he learned was not to force things. In a particularly candid moment, Fiz said he tried to force leadership and force a sense of family on the team last year, rather than creating the conditions for those things to develop organically, and that he can’t do that again if he wants to be successful.

It certainly lines up with what we saw last year. Fizdale came into training camp telling everyone who would listen that he wanted Marc Gasol to step up and be The Leader on last year’s team, and by the end of the year (after another one of his months-long stretches of clear mental disarray) Mike Conley was the guy who rose up and claimed the team as his own. Perhaps if Fizdale had eased up on forcing Gasol into a role in which he was clearly uncomfortable, some of that strife could have been avoided.

I think it says a lot about Fizdale that he spends his summer talking to other veteran coaches about how to do his job better. It explains why he was hanging out with Larry Brown at Summer League. One hopes that self-actualization will translate into an even more solid year on the court.

The (JaMychal) Green Elephant in the Room

As of this writing, JaMychal Green still has not signed with the Grizzlies. That reality hung over yesterday’s proceedings, with execs unable to talk about it and players only able to say that they like playing with him and think he’s important to the team. And to be real, I really don’t understand what the holdup is.

Without Green in place, the Grizzlies’ roster makes even less sense. He’s not a great player, but he’s certainly a good one, and one gets the sense that he expected a Tim Hardaway Jr. type of offer sheet rather than the money that was out there in the market. But whatever the case may be, one hopes to see Green in camp with the Grizzlies when they start today. It makes sense for both sides for Green to sign some sort of reasonable three-year deal, maybe in the $8–9 million range per year. More than that and the Grizzlies are probably overpaying, but less than that and Green probably isn’t getting paid what he’s worth. I’m not sure a two-year deal is in the best interests of either party, and taking the qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent next year places Green potentially twisting in the wind next summer with even less money to go around league-wide.

I’ve written all of these things ten times over the summer. You already know this. But until Green signs (and he can’t do much else unless the Grizzlies withdraw his QO for some reason, which they won’t do), we have to keep thinking about it.

Marc Gasol Trade Talk

This was certainly the first year that Chris Wallace and Marc Gasol both had to answer questions about whether, when the time came, the Grizzlies would be willing to trade Marc Gasol. Wallace basically said “nobody is untradeable but it’s not something we’re actively looking to do,” while Gasol, after being asked about the similarity between his situation and the one in which his older brother Pau found himself were the same, said he doesn’t think like that.

For the most part, I believe him. While they both bring the same artistic temperament to basketball, where they approach it as a craft to be carried out under a specific set of circumstances and conditions, a commitment to playing with a certain level of fluidity and creativity, Marc has always been a very different animal than his older opera-loving brother. Marc seems (almost maniacally) obsessed with the process of playing basketball at the ground level, Playing The Right Way turned into some kind of cultic religion. Pau seems more worried with being in the right kind of situation, where Marc seems to take the situation as something he’s duty-bound to improve.

I’m not saying he’d never demand a trade–quite the opposite, actually. I think if Gasol determined there was no way for him to Play The Right Way in a Grizzlies uniform, he’d be demanding a trade tomorrow. But the younger Grizzly Gasol’s checklist of things that would have to happen to bring that about seems much longer than Pau’s.

At any rate, it was interesting that this finally became an active topic of conversation instead of a back-channel “what if.” I still don’t think it’s likely, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Anthem Protest Sound-Bite Hunting

I want to keep this short because I find it exhausting to have to consider the entire political health of our union (TL;DR: it ain’t great) every time I try to write about basketball. But the question everyone was trying to get catchy sound bites about yesterday was obviously whether the Grizzlies would take a knee or make some other gesture of protest during the national anthem at games this year.

When asked about it, several players and David Fizdale (almost) all spoke very eloquently about why they saw the need to make a political statement and use their platform to advance the conversation about oppression of and police brutality against people of color. But those answers, as clear and considered as they were, weren’t ever good enough. The TV-guy comeback was always “yeah, but are you gonna kneel.” Because that’s how this whole news cycle thing works, right? It doesn’t matter why any of this is happening, we just need to know whether people need to be Mad about the Grizzlies before they’ve even done anything, so the controversy can continue. Forget actually listening to these men about what they believe and what they think. “Yeah, but what are you going to do?” is a great way to short circuit the conversation in the name of clips for the 10 ’o clock news. I didn’t expect better, but it was still frustrating.

I will be surprised if the team doesn’t make some sort of gesture. But if we’re not talking about why they’d be doing it, I don’t think we deserve to be sportswriters. To be unwilling to explain to our readers (or audiences) why they’re doing what they’re doing is to play into the narratives of the dullards yelling about “MSESPN” or whatever the #MAGA set is fuming into their steak and ketchup about this week. When these men talk about what matters to them, we’re not doing our jobs if we don’t pay attention.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Grizzlies trade Troy Daniels to Phoenix

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 6:58 PM

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Troy Daniels

According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, the Grizzlies have traded Troy Daniels to the Phoenix Suns for a future second-round pick. Included in the package headed to Phoenix was the middle of the 2018 second round picks of the Grizzlies, Hornets, and Heat, which means the Grizzlies essentially paid the Suns a second-rounder to get off of Daniels' salary for this season rather than cutting him outright.

Daniels signed with the Grizzlies last summer for three years. His shooting won games, there's no question about that, but his defense never really improved, and in the playoffs that rendered him mostly unusable. Brought in to be a shooting threat, he was streaky, but when he was on, it was electric to watch him.

At any rate, this move brings the Grizzlies closer to what the final roster will probably look like, even with JaMychal Green still unsigned. The willingness to let Daniels go also seems to signal some measure of confidence that Mario Chalmers will return to the court as a real, functioning NBA player. (Though I have had similar expectations of players who then went on to play 34 games.) It also cleans up the wing rotation a bit, since Daniels would likely have struggled to find minutes anyway given his defensive limitations.

With Green still outstanding, there are more moves yet to be made. One wonders who will be the sacrificial lamb when he actually signs, assuming that happens at all. Maybe he's been abducted by aliens and his agent just isn't sure how to break the news.

It is worth noting that Daniels is now on the Suns with Devin Booker, because this happened last season:

Maybe they'll play nice once they're wearing the same color shirts.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deflections: The Roster, TV Angst, and The Buy/Sell Clause

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 4:08 PM

Grizzlies fans are talking about Robert Pera more than they're talking about the Grizzlies.
  • Grizzlies fans are talking about Robert Pera more than they're talking about the Grizzlies.

The season technically starts next week, kiddos, but we've got a lot to talk about already, and most of it only contributes to Grizzlies fans' long-running overuse of antacids. Let's dive in to what's been happening this week.

Ivan Rabb and the Roster Strategy

No, it's not an indie band, it's the current state of the Grizzlies' roster, with less than a week to go before Media Day and training camp. After weeks of radio silence, the Grizzlies signed second-round pick Ivan Rabb to a three-year contract. Rabb was present in Summer League but didn't play due to an injury, and then... vanished into the mist for a while, while the Grizzlies went on to sign several other guys to full and two-way deals. According to the Commercial Appeal only the first two years of Rabb's contract are fully guaranteed.

That means that, as of right now, this is the Grizzlies' roster:

  • Mike Conley
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Marc Gasol
  • Brandan Wright
  • Ben McLemore
  • Troy Daniels
  • Tyreke Evans
  • James Ennis III
  • Wade Baldwin IV
  • Mario Chalmers
  • Jarell Martin
  • Deyonta Davis
  • Andrew Harrison
  • Wayne Selden
  • Rade Zagorac
  • Dillon Brooks
  • Ivan Rabb
  • Kobi Simmons
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • JaMychal Green

Not listed on that list, of course, are the dearly departed Tony Allen an Zach Randolph, but the most conspicuous absence is big man JaMychal Green, who has now been "about to sign" or "making progress" since a couple days after the start of free agency.

At this point, whether the Grizzlies are trying to put the screws to Green or whether he drastically misjudged this summer's market is immaterial: he's got to sign some sort of deal even if it's just the qualifying offer and the Grizzlies need him to be in camp. But that it's dragged on as long as it has is not a good indicator for what that relationship will be like once he does, and it also looks bad for Griz management and for Green's representation.

This is the strangest Grizzlies roster a week before the season that I can remember seeing since I started covering the team. (Which, granted, was after the start of the now-deceased Grit & Grind era, so take that for what it's worth.) But the fact remains: there's got to be a trade coming somewhere, right? Add Green to this roster and it still has some deficiencies, especially in the frontcourt. We will see. There is depth on the roster, but once you start whittling the number back down to 15 players, either the depth or the youth has to be sacrificed.

The Grizzlies, who have been in the playoffs for seven straight seasons, are on national television three times in the 2017-18 season. They've never had the number of games it seems like they deserve, and it feels like the league's policy of promoting their popular teams over their good ones is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which it doesn't matter how good you are because the Lakers are always going to be promoted more. Part of this is market size, but not all of it.

This year it makes a little more sense to me, even though I still think it's ultimately a shortsighted and bad strategy. Without Randolph and Allen, the Grizzlies are still very much an unknown quantity this season. They might be fine, they might not be, and if people already don't want to watch the Grizzlies, watch how quickly that national interest dries up once they're actually bad.

I was going to do a big, detailed breakdown of all the various giveaways this season, but at this point, it's already been content-farmed to death and outside of two exceptions there's not really anything extreme or notable going on:

  1. The headband giveaway on the night of Zach Randolph's return to Memphis as a Sacramento King is a good idea
  2. The "Grit Grind Forever" towel giveaway is OK by me since it's Tony Allen's first game back in Memphis as a New Orleans Pelican, but if Allen weren't on the Pelicans and it was already planned, that strikes me as a team a little too eager to cash in on nostalgia for a core that's only really been broken up for a couple weeks now.

Those are my small, broad thoughts on the topic.

The Pera/Kaplan Buy/Sell agreement

Most of the outright panic in Grizzlies fan circles right now centers around the buy/sell clause set up between controlling owner Robert Pera and minority owners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus. From the original ESPN report on the agreement:

At that time, Kaplan and fellow minority owner Daniel Straus, an East Coast health care magnate and the team's vice chairman, have an option to make a bid for controlling interest in the team at a price of their choice, sources said. At that point, Pera would have two options: buy out Kaplan and Straus at that named price, or sell his shares to them based on the same valuation. Control of the decision ultimately would rest with Pera.

Now, no one involved in this will actually talk to me about it so far due to the confidentiality requirements involved, but it seems useless to fret over whether this clause will be triggered. Why wouldn't it? Especially given the contentious history between the two parties (cf. Levien, Jason), it seems obvious to me that it's a win-win for Kaplan to trigger the clause, because no matter what happens after that point, either Pera has to buy him out for hundreds of millions of dollars (more now after the Rockets' sale, though the Grizzlies' valuation can't be anywhere close to $2 billion) or Kaplan and Straus become the controlling owners of the franchise.

Given an opportunity to choose to force someone else, with whom you already don't have a good history, to either pay you that much money or sell you a controlling share in an NBA team, why wouldn't you take the opportunity?

The more interesting situations play out after the clause is triggered. What valuation would Kaplan/Straus place on the franchise? If they go too high, Pera can force them to pay him a lot of money for his share. If they go too low, they get bought out without hesitation because their valuation was lower than Pera's. If Pera's stock-based wealth is in a down ebb because of all those weird fraud allegations bouncing around last week, does he sell anyway? Given how often he talks about being "obsessed" with product development and how little time he actually spends around his team on and off the court, does he decide he doesn't actually have the time and energy to be an owner after all?

The hypotheticals are all fascinating. It's hard to imagine what would happen after a Kaplan/Straus takeover. The panic du jour seems to be that they'd immediately move the team. The Grizzlies' lease runs through 2029 and can't be broken until 2021, with all sorts of stipulations and penalties baked in. While Memphis is a tough market for them to operate in, with any luck the league's revenue sharing model will get more socialist, which I like NFL-like and help small market teams more (since there's no way they can create the local broadcast revenue of teams like the Lakers and Knicks) before the lease runs out, mitigating some of those difficulties. At the same time, it's impossible to predict what Pera will do or say, mostly because he stays hidden on purpose. We don't have enough of a record of him as a public figure to know what to anticipate at this level of decision-making.

At any rate, I think the most reasonable thing to do is expect the clause to be triggered, wait for the usual suspects to start talking about it (the ESPN guys seem well-sourced on this topic for whatever reason), read between the lines to the extent possible, and brace for the unexpected.

Correction: The Grizzlies' lease runs through 2029, not 2021 as originally stated. 2021 is the date before which the lease cannot be broken.

Friday, September 8, 2017

2017-18: Into the Unknown

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 9:43 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Bruce Springsteen, "Atlantic City"

It's time to start talking about the 2017-18 Memphis Grizzlies.

If 2017 has taught us anything, it's that empires don't last forever, not even the ones in which we've lived our whole lives. It shouldn't have been a surprise, but eventually the only way to carry the cognitive load of what feels like a total collapse is to tell yourself it'll all end well, that there's no new calamity bearing down on the old order of things. When you've talked yourself into it, you can be surprised by anything. "I had no idea racism was still a problem in America." "I had no idea so much of our infrastructure was so vulnerable to a major hurricane." "I had no idea our entire system of government actually relied on norms that don't have to be upheld." The list goes on.

At times it felt like the old order of things would last forever, to the point that it was impossible to imagine a new state of affairs. And yet, here we are, days after Labor Day, and Zach Randolph and Tony Allen aren't on the roster. The Core Four vanished in about a week (though technically Allen is still a free agent, but his return is extremely unlikely), taking six years of marketing campaigns with it. Vince Carter left for higher-paying pastures, too. The Grizzlies have made the playoffs the last seven years, and it seemed like they'd keep going another seven with the same players playing the same way, with the same strengths and flaws, the same marketing pitch about how hard they play, the same relationship with a certain image of the city of Memphis, the same promotional giveaways and in-game entertainment, the same scoreboard, the same everything.

And yet. What do we know about the 2017-18 Grizzlies right now?

We know about Mike Conley; the Grizzlies are his team now. We know about Marc Gasol, because for all of his uneven output on the court and his underreported difficulty from a coaching perspective, he'll be the same he's always been: flashes of brilliance, flashes of petulance, playing basketball with the temperament of an artist, which demands that the conditions be just so before he can execute to the best of his fearsome abilities. Also he'll probably shoot even more threes.

We know a little bit more about David Fizdale, too. This summer he's been outspoken about the fight to remove Memphis' Confederate monuments, which is only a public-facing glimpse of his outspoken nature in general (as if "Take That For Data" weren't evidence enough). But as a first year coach last year, maybe Fizdale was a bit too blunt, telling Zach Randolph "you're not a starter in this league anymore," or insisting (on Media Day) that Marc Gasol needed to step up and become the leader of the team. Randolph was a professional and went to the bench, but he wasn't happy about it. Gasol chafed against the "alpha" tag and by the end of the year Mike Conley had taken it with gusto. With the young guys, Fizdale will have to prove his reputation as a "player development" coach is deserved, and still finesse Conley, Gasol, and Chandler Parsons (assuming his legs still function, because I'm not ready to go down that dark alley yet) into functioning as a high-level offensive unit at the same time, rebuilding in place while managing three egos who have yet to play together in any meaningful sense. It won't be an easy task, but Fizdale seems up to the challenge, even if he's maybe a little too willing to rub his players the wrong way in pursuit of excellence.

That's it for the knowns. Will Chandler Parsons really be healthy on opening night? Will he ever be healthy again? We don't know. If not, it surely lowers the ceiling of what this group (such as it is) can accomplish. Will the free agents signed this summer be able to contribute enough to fill the gaps left by some of the departed? We don't know. Ben McLemore won't for months, if ever. Evans might if he stays on the court—something he hasn't been able to do in a while. Will the rookies and young guys step up? We don't know. Maybe they will. Wayne Selden looks up to the task, but the rest of them are question marks at best, and not the Mysterian kind. Deyonta Davis didn't look as good as he should have over the summer, and Wade Baldwin and Jarell Martin still look totally out of place on an NBA court—even a Summer League one. At least Tayshaun's back. The Grizzlies could make the playoffs for the eighth straight year, or they could finish well outside of them, and while they have depth, none of it is proven (the roster isn't even close to set, though, which is either fine or not fine, depending on your estimation of the deal-making ability of this front office), and it seems to me that 39 wins is more likely than 49.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Everything dies. We knew the Grit & Grind era would end, of course. Every passing playoff series gave us a million eulogies, fillers in the content void, a race to have the last say on something bygone that I'm not sure we really yet know how to miss. You can only run it back so many times before it stops working, whether through age, the evolution of the game out from under the "GNG" teams' very firmly planted pivot feet, free agency attrition, or all of the above. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back, right? Will the Grizzlies make the playoffs this year, and keep the streak alive? They might, but right now (assuming JaMychal Green is returning, as the reports would seem to indicate), it's far from a sure thing. And what happens if they don't? What happens if they're 10 games under .500 in January and the Trade Rumor Mill starts up fast and furious? What happens if the buy-sell clause gets triggered and we get another round of the "Robert Pera's a crazy person" news cycles from 2014, while the team is bad—or worse?

The catastrophe is not coming, it is here—or at least it might be. If it is, it would fit the trend. 2017 is shaping up to be a year of storms and fires, both literal and not. It's hard to see how the Grizzlies escape the same fate as the rest of us in 2017, watching things we didn't think would happen to us manifest. But, at the same time, in the NBA the storm comes every year; it's just a matter of magnitude. They've over-performed against bad odds before, but what if they end up closer to their floor than their ceiling? Are they doomed to aim for the playoffs and land in the lottery (in which case, at least they'd have their pick) or are they going to defy their projections again?

No matter what happens between now and the start of the season, we know that the Grit & Grind Era is over, and that now we're on our own out here, and things don't look good or bad—right now, they're mostly illegible. Maybe everything that dies someday comes back. We'll find out together.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Grizzlies Announce 2017 Preseason Schedule

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 2:43 PM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies have announced their preseason schedule for 2017:

  • Monday 10/2 vs. Orlando
  • Wednesday 10/4 at Philadelphia
  • Monday 10/9 at Atlanta
  • Wednesday 10/11 vs. Houston
  • Friday 10/13 vs. New Orleans

It will be interesting to see whether Orlando resembles a professional basketball team (I have a guess) but the marquee matchups here are obviously against the Rockets, now featuring Chris Paul, and the Pelicans, who are still trying to assemble some sort of wing rotation to surround their fearsome Anthony Davis/Demarcus Cousins frontcourt.

I'm a little disappointed we won't get a chance to see preseason stalwarts like Flamengo or Maccabi Haifa, but it's hard to argue with the lightened preseason load.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Grizzlies sign Tyreke Evans to 1 year deal

Posted By on Fri, Jul 7, 2017 at 1:37 PM

The best photo I could find of Tyreke in a Memphis jersey. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI/MEMPHIS FLYER
  • Larry Kuzniewski/Memphis Flyer
  • The best photo I could find of Tyreke in a Memphis jersey.

According to reports, the Grizzlies have signed Kings/Pelicans/Kings guard Tyreke Evans to a 1-year, $3.3M contract. Evans' Memphis homecoming was first reported, as far as I can tell, by Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal before ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported it as well.

Evans at $3.3M is a "gamble on a guy with talent" deal I can get behind. Evans brings bench scoring, some ball handling, and size to the roster, and he can play with Conley as a guard or maybe also as a small forward in small lineups (though I don't think that's his strength). Plus, in Hoop City USA, there's no real consolation for the end of the "Grit and Grind" era, but bringing back a Memphis Tiger from the most recent set of glory days can't hurt.

The Grizzlies' free agency period is not over yet. Decisions still need to be made about JaMychal Green, which are largely dependent on what other offers he's able to get from other teams. Tony Allen is unlikely to return, but after a brief round of Clippers sign & trade rumors nothing has happened since. With Evans on the roster, it appears there are some further moves that will have to be made to get down to 15. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Grizzlies Retire Zach Randolph's #50

Posted By on Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 1:31 PM

The Grizzlies moved quickly to retire Randolph's number. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • The Grizzlies moved quickly to retire Randolph's number.

Now that the NBA's free agency moratorium has lifted and they're able to address the departure of Zach Randolph, the team posted an Open Letter to Z-Bo and Grizz Nation penned by GM Chris Wallace and President of Business Operations Jason Wexler.

The letter is a heartfelt expression of thanks from a team that very much knows that Zach Randolph is in no small part responsible for putting them on the NBA map:

The eight years Zach spent in the mud, in Memphis, are special. They are filled with franchise-defining basketball success, but they are so clearly about more than that. Every Memphian felt it and all of us believe it.

Zach helped establish what it means to play for the Grizzlies on the court and in the community, and in doing so helped forge an identity for our City.

Grizzlies owner Robert Pera also announced that Randolph's #50 will be retired:

The immediate retirement seems like the only thing to do in this situation. Given Randolph's relationship with the city of Memphis, and things he's meant to the Grizzlies franchise both on and off the court, this is the only right course of action.

With Randolph gone and Tony Allen's future still an open question (though it seems exceedingly likely that he will not be retained) it's clear that an era of Memphis Grizzlies history has come to an end, and a new one is beginning. There was never any question of whether the Grizzlies would retire Randolph's jersey; it was only a question of whether he'd play out the rest of his career in Memphis. Since he isn't, the time to start commemorating the "Grit & Grind" era is now.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Woj: Zach Randolph signs two-year deal with Kings

Posted By on Tue, Jul 4, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Zach Randolph is no longer a Memphis Grizzly. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph is no longer a Memphis Grizzly.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that free agent power forward and Memphis Mt. Rushmore candidate Zach Randolph has signed a two-year, $24M contract with the Sacramento Kings.

In terms of this summer, this deal makes it more likely than ever that the Grizzlies will also not be returning Tony Allen, and it also makes it much more likely that they match whatever offers JaMychal Green is able to drum up.

In terms of the upcoming season, this much seems certain: nothing will be the same. Even if somehow Allen returns, the Grizzlies will be a totally different group of basketball players without Zach Randolph in that locker room. And it just makes all the more evident the Grizzlies' shift towards youth and player development since David Fizdale was hired as head coach.

Off the court, I can't even begin to have a reaction to this yet. My brain understands that it's a done deal, but the relationship this athlete had with this town operates in a different place, and I'm going to have to reflect on it a little. I will say I'm going to miss getting to write about games like this one.

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