Saturday, October 20, 2018

Grizzlies Maul Hawks 131 - 117

Posted By on Sat, Oct 20, 2018 at 7:02 PM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Everybody poops. Just ask my 8-month-old daughter. Or the Grizzlies when they shat the bed in a 111-83 loss at the Pacers to start the season. It's a part of life. Poop is smelly and gross, but it can also be funny and heartwarming. Need proof?

As far as Grizzlies gamebreak entertainment goes, this one is immediately in my top ten. The premise is perfect for Conley and Gasol, both fathers with young children. The video says so much about them, even though the two men barely utter a word. You see them as humans and fathers. You see their personalities. You see how they're able to have a conversation without words.

Conley and Gasol scored 11 and 13 points, respectively, with heavy minutes in the season-opening blowout loss against the Indianapolis Pacers. The Grizzlies' overall team offense looked flat and dysfunctional. Nobody could break down the Pacers' defense. Grizzlies fans were quick to hit the panic button on Twitter, with some calling Gasol washed up.

That foul mood changed Friday night, when Conley and Gasol revived their high-level two-man play, proving they can still be the engine of a successful team. Conley sped all over the court, breaking down defenders off the dribble, swishing two threes, and setting up his teammates with 11 assists. Gasol didn't appear to be limited by the back spasms he experienced earlier that morning, running the floor normally and whipping crisp passes to his teammates to the tune of 5 assists.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Although they didn't lead the way in scoring, Conley and Gasol's two-man game set the table for the rest of the team. The Grizzlies would hope to see this pattern repeated throughout the regular season, as Conley and Gasol are aging veterans with lots of mileage, and they should conserve their energy and health as much as they're able before the Grizzlies are (hopefully) wrestling for playoff seeding.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

In his first regular season game with the Grizzlies at FedExForum, Garrett Temple quickly caught fire, and that blaze raged for the rest of the night.
He lit up the Grindhouse with 30 points on 10-11 shooting, and was nearly flawless from deep, hitting 5-6. He also defended and handled the ball well.

Was he 100 percent happy with his performance? In the locker room after the game, Temple said "I was actually real upset at myself for giving up that three to Taurean Prince — the first three he got." When asked about Temple in his postgame presser, Coach J.B. Bickerstaff was quick to laud his defense, saying that there will be some nights where Temple won't hit as many shots, but he'll lock down the opponent's best player.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

How did the Grizzlies' top draft pick do in his first home game of his first NBA season?
Let's just say he's doing a pretty good job at endearing himself to the fanbase.

Triple-J poured in 24 points off the bench, shooting 8-12 and going 2-4 from deep. His length and quickness transformed the defense. His shooting and defensive impact come as no surprise. What does surprise me, however, is how good he looks in the post and attacking the paint. Consistently, he was able to use his size, strength, and athleticism to work his way into the paint and finished over defenders like 7'1" Alex Len. His touch around the rim has been impressive.
Chandler Parsons got the start over Kyle Anderson, but played fewer minutes than Anderson. Parsons shot 3-6 from deep and contributed 11 points in the game. One sequence stood out to me in particular: Conley beep-beeped through the defense and jumped beneath the rim, and slung a pass to Gasol at the top of the arc. Gasol immediately swung the ball to a wide-open Parsons for a made triple. It was a rare glimpse at the power of what the three highest-paid Grizzlies can do to a defense when they're healthy and in sync.

I wrote about this in-depth for the Flyer's cover story this week, but the Grizzlies basically haven't seen and don't know the capabilities of a healthy version of this team. I'm betting that those unknowns play out as unexpected positives. Did you know that the Grizzlies set a franchise record last night by scoring 77 points in the first half?

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The one down note from the home-opening win was JaMychal Green's injury. He broke his jaw colliding with a player's elbow while contesting a fast break dunk attempt. He hit the ground, pounded the court with his hand, hopped up, and ran straight to the locker room. He underwent a "surgical stabilization procedure" this morning.

J.B. Bickerstaff said the injury shows how selfless Green is — that he was the only one contesting a difficult play. And how tough do you have to be to leap up off the floor and jog to the locker room with a broken jaw?

Dillon Brooks saw limited minutes, logging just two in the first half, but got more run in the second. Even though he was (conspicuously, for Grizzlies fans) on the bench for most of the first half, Brooks was highly engaged, celebrating when Shelvin Mack hit a buzzer-beating floater, and jumping up and cheering harder than anyone else when Jackson slammed home a lob.

Andrew Harrison didn't play at all in the home opener. And unlike Brooks, he seems disengaged, seclusive, and dissatisfied sitting on the bench. I don't know how much to read into that, though, since their personalities are so different and perhaps that's just how Harrison is in general. In any case, people forget how good Andrew Harrison was at the end of last season, and he's by far the best defender among Grizzlies point guards. I hope Memphis manages to work him into the rotation again, because he brings a lot to the table when he's playing well.

The Grizzlies de-escalated an anxious fanbase on Friday. They'll look to build some momentum when they take on one of the West's scariest teams, the Utah Jazz, on Monday on the road.

Burn of the night:

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Watanabe, Conley, Gasol, Jackson Speak Out at Grizzlies Media Day

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 4:13 PM

Memphis inched closer to the return of Grizzlies basketball with media day on Monday. There were a couple of themes that ran throughout, including youth meshing with veteran leadership in the locker room, and the international media's infatuation with Japanese basketball star and two-way signee Yuta Watanabe. Here are some major takeaways (both basketball-related and not) from some key players.

Dillon Brooks seemed relaxed and focused. He cracked a couple good jokes while saying everything you'd want to hear from a dynamic young guard looking to take the next step as a player.
Asked about Marc and Mike getting older, Dillon Brooks said the Grizzlies have a lot of youth. "It's like when grandma and grandpa get a new grandbaby: it gives them new life." Despite literally calling them grandparents, Brooks expressed gratitude for Conley and Gasol. From Gasol getting drafted by the Lakers and traded to Memphis, and how he's changed his bod, to Mike Conley getting drafted 4th overall and experiencing a slow start to his career (where often he'd only play in home games), Dillon said they've been like mentors, sharing the wisdom they've gained from their adversities.

Jaren Jackson Jr. opened his inaugural media day appearance by saying he's excited for the new Young Thug album, and that casual ebullience characterized much of his interview and presence. When asked about his first post-contract luxury purchase, Jaren answered without hesitation: "Scorpion," by Drake. He followed that up by saying he's actually going to take it easy on luxury purchases.
MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston
One thing that frequently bothers me in the NBA world is the lack of representation for Memphis in the league's TV promos, League Pass commercials, etc. I know Memphis is a small market, but the Grizzlies just drafted a theoretical unicorn with the fourth pick, and he had an amazing Summer League outing. So why is Jaren Jackson conspicuously absent from promos that tease the incoming rookie class? When I asked Jaren about this, he was at a loss for words, and said he doesn't pay much attention to sports on TV, lauding Netflix instead.
I asked Jackson what he's currently into on Netflix, and that kick started a lengthy aside about Ozark, and trying to remember a particular episode with another reporter. In some small way, I feel partly responsible for 40 percent of JJJ's appearance being Ozark-related, but it was a fun glimpse into Jackson's easygoing and easy-to-talk-to personality. But don't let Jackson's amiable spirit mislead you.

Leading up to training camp, Jackson says he's focused on conditioning, improving his shot, and being aggressive and explosive. While he amicably interrupted a couple other player interviews to bust chops or crack a joke, you get the sense that he's an open, positive, and constructive communicator, and the Grizzlies hope to see that translate into being a vocal leader and defender on the court. For what it's worth, Conley said Jackson's already a pretty good leader in his appearance. Speaking of...

MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston
Conley appeared to be in good spirits, and there's plenty of positive buzz about his health. Responding to questions about the Grizzlies' dismal year last season, Conley said "last year was an anomaly," remarking on the all the consecutive playoff appearances in years prior. Conley also talked about helping younger players in the locker room, giving them advice on staying out of trouble, and the importance of nutrition and adequate sleep

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Gasol spent a decent amount of his time fielding questions about saving lives and helping refugees stranded in the Mediterranean Sea. He said his love for his young daughter motivated him to get involved with helping refugee children in the off-season, and truly seems to have experienced something that was bigger than basketball and bigger than himself. Gasol said he wants to sit down with someone in the media and have a longer conversation about the issue.
MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston
Gasol also mentioned he's heard the criticism that he's too harsh on his teammates when they make mistakes, and plans to adjust his leadership to be more supportive in that regard. Just don't ask him to be even slightly okay with lapses on defense.

MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston
Kyle Anderson said he's ready to take on more pressure and responsibility in Memphis, and showed the old grit-n-grind Grizzlies a lot of love and respect (having played against Memphis as a San Antonio Spur). He believes that playing with Pau taught him how to move off the ball, and prepared him to play with Marc. Maybe they'll have quick chemistry?

MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston
On an unsurprising note, Garrett Temple confirmed that he found out about his move to Memphis from NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski, with his agent calling to confirm minutes afterward. Temple said he's excited to join a team that wants to win now, and expects the Grizzlies to make the playoffs. Temple came across every bit the well-composed veteran, which is interesting, because his locker borders Jackson's. "Most of the time he's smiling and laughing and telling us about rappers he likes," Temple said of Jackson.

MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston
Monday was JB Bickerstaff's first Grizzlies media day as head coach, and he was dialed-in heading into his first training camp. He pushed back harder than anyone at notions of Gasol and Conley beginning their decline. It'll be interesting to see how this team looks out of the gate and into the mid-season, especially if the Grizzlies manage to avoid the Injury Vortex.

And finally, the one, the only, Yuta Watanabe. His presence was felt long before he even entered the room. It felt like half the media present at media day were reporters from Japan, solely there because of the 6'9" international sensation. His name bled into almost every player interview, as the international reporters asked everyone on the team about their thoughts on Watanabe.
Watanabe went out of his way to thank his family and friends for their support. One of his favorite players to watch growing up was Shaq, he said, and while he hasn't had any BBQ in Memphis, he has been to Sekisui.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Grizzlies trade Deyonta Davis and Ben McLemore for Garrett Temple

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 3:03 PM

Deyonta Davis and Ben McLemore are Grizzlies no longer. Both arrived in Memphis as physically and athletically-gifted prospects with loads of unreckoned potential at a low cost. Deyonta Davis had been a projected lottery pick, and tantalized with the makings of a modern rim-protector that could roll to the rim on the pick-and-roll. Ben McLemore was the 7th pick in his draft, and shot nearly 40 percent from deep in the season before joining the Grizzlies.

Why did Deyonta fall so far in the draft? Tom Izzo blamed his shyness. Why didn’t McLemore live up to expectations in Sacramento? He languished under four head coaches in the turbulent Boogie era. Both were good buy-low bets on tremendous potential. Neither worked out, and it was time to move on.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Deyonta Davis had ample opportunity to show progress as the only real backup center once Wright left. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to use his size, strength, and bounce to his advantage, with defenders routinely pushing him out of position for rebounds, or Davis never making a strong enough effort to get into good positioning. He may have fared better had he played more games with the Grizzlies' developmental league affiliate, but roster constraints in Memphis didn’t afford him that opportunity.

If he’d been here during the Zach Randolph years, perhaps ZBO would've imbued Davis with his fiery drive to rassle for position and clean the glass. Those guys should really link up! But it was time to pull the plug on DD’s time in Memphis, especially with Triple-J on the horizon. At least we have the memory of Vince Carter building Deyonta a room in his house (that Davis never visited).

Ben McLemore’s time with the Grizzlies feels like the distant memory of a hazy dream. He broke his foot in a pickup game before the season began, and by the time he returned from injury and joined the team, Conley was injured and the season was a wash. BMac does leave Memphis with one lasting impression, maybe the most memorable play of the last few seasons.

The Grizzlies have turned the page on longshots for high potential this offseason. For now, it appears they’re done with rolling the dice on unproven players that theoretically could widly outperform their contracts. Instead, they’re turning to players seen as “sure things” that are safer bets. We saw this when the Grizzlies signed Kyle Anderson. We’re seeing it again with Memphis shipping off DD and BMac for Garrett Temple. They want players who understand what they can do, and who can operate at a high level within a team context. They want guys who are reliable and have a high basketball IQ.

Adding Garrett Temple while shaving down the roster size and shipping off two players that won’t work in this Grizzlies era is a win, even if they had to pay Sacramento to do it. He’s a good 3-point shooter, and has proven his efficacy with good teams before joining the Kings. He’s a much better bet to improve after leaving Sacramento than McLemore ever was. I think the Grizzlies are on the right track picking solid players that should improve the stability of their rotations.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Grit and Grind is Dead and Alive; or, Weird Things In The Night

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 9:15 AM

Author's Note: This is my last week at the Flyer, and this is my last piece.

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The basic idea was: it was a capital-M Moment, and I thought Herrington was the only one doing it any justice. There were Grizzlies blogs, and I read them, but none of them shared my view, or talked about it the way I wanted to talk about it, and none of them seemed to know how to explore what was happening: in 2011, Memphis burned with the blue flames of the Spurs and Thunder series. It felt like the whole city was boiling over with pride, or with a new energy we hadn't felt since the 2008 Final Four that apparently never happened.

So I messaged Matt Moore, then only of Hardwood Paroxysm but of a lot of other things in the intervening years, and he pointed me to a little blog called Straight Outta Vancouver, and I sent Tom Lorenzo a sample essay, and, well, if you're looking for someone to blame for all of... this... there you go.

Why am I talking about this? Easy: like the Grizzlies, I'm in a different spot along my trajectory now. I'm at (or approaching, really) the beginning of a new chapter, and this weird, scrappy basketball team I've been covering for a majority of my adult life is in the same place: ready to do something else, unsure how to honor the past and still step into the future, making moves for the next phase.

I. Grit and Grind is Dead

Future Memphis Mayor For Life Zach Randolph - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Future Memphis Mayor For Life Zach Randolph

Where the Grizzlies have been is not where they're going.

There's never going to be another Zach Randolph, in the same way that there's never going to be another Tyrannosaurus Rex: the conditions that allowed for the past's fearsome predator to operate no longer exist. And, really, there is no way to have a "Grit and Grind" team without Zach Randolph on it. Tony Allen named it, functioned as its Chaotic Neutral, embodied its space-cadet vibe to the fullest, but without Randolph on the interior infusing the proceedings with an appropriate level of contained violence, none of it happens.

And while "tenacious defense and a refusal to back down" is an easy way to gloss over what the "GNG" years meant, in a very real sense, there was always a level of danger baked into the proceedings. When Z-Bo got tossed for telling Kendrick Perkins "I'll beat your ass," he meant it, and was one of maybe five NBA players about whom that was true. Allen never threw hands on the court, but ask OJ Mayo whether TA was willing to get into it.

It seems unlikely that any future incarnation of the team will ever recapture the vibe of the 2010-2015 Grizzlies, in which a collection of the league's written-offs and misfits came together in the only NBA town that didn't much care whether they were rough around the edges, because, well, have you seen our edges?

Mike Conley, shown here beating the Warriors with a broken face - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley, shown here beating the Warriors with a broken face

So, then, it's important for the Grizzlies, for the people talking about them (especially nationally, where it seems like 75% of the people paid to talk about basketball can't remember whether they're still in Vancouver or not), and for the people watching them to remember that the previous era is over. Gone. The truth is, that era ended in the 2015 Warriors series, when they pushed the eventual champs to six games, a blaze of glory, a raging against the dying of the light, etc. That series felt so monumental at the time—that whole playoffs, really—that I thought it would be a good idea to try to write about it like Faulkner. That's what the first GNG period was.

We also have to come to terms with the fact that the last three years have been a wandering in the wilderness. From 2016's 28-man rotation, to the first Fizdale year, that flowering of false hope in a different Miami-infused future, to last year's, let's face it, outright tank job. (Take that for data.) There's a clear period of demarcation here, and just because they managed to make the playoffs in two of those three years doesn't mean there's continuity. Fleetwood Mac may have kept playing "The Green Manalishi" into the Buckingham/Nicks years, but do you think anybody bought that, either?

No, the door closed on that era in 2015. We know that now. Wherever they go next, no matter how much they keep saying the words "Grit and Grind," cannot be the same. Experience slips away, just like Geddy said.

Tyreke Evans and Tony Allen, in a photo that will never stop looking weird to me - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tyreke Evans and Tony Allen, in a photo that will never stop looking weird to me

II. Grit and Grind is Permanent

Something changed within the Grizzlies organization between the end of the 2017-18 season and the draft—something bigger than just announcing the hiring "for real" of JB Bickerstaff, last year's interim coach. What happened was this: The Grizzlies know what a Grizzlies player is now.

For years, we've seen this franchise take flyer after flyer on underperforming guys with high upside, guys who were McDonald's All-Americans in high school and played for Kansas (or some other college program that usually makes the Elite Eight) and hasn't put it together yet in the NBA. Guys who had bounced around and would be locks for massive contracts if they could only "figure it out." (Remember those training camps with Hassan Whiteside and Michael Beasley?) That strategy worked when the Grizzlies traded for Zach Randolph, and it worked when they signed Tony Allen for more money than the Celtics wanted to pay him, and it never worked again, not really.

There was another parallel but different strategy at work in the GNG years: adding veterans who could shore up the Grizzlies' "one piece away" rotation and who wouldn't make dumb mistakes, guys who played hard on minimum deals and could pull you through a bad Thursday night in Milwaukee if the team needed them to. Sometimes, of course, they got to Milwaukee, got ejected, and then chased John Henson into the tunnel, but that seems beside the point.

What there wasn't, in all of these years, was a concept, or a Platonic form, of a Grizzlies player. The MO of the front office seemed to be to repeat the process that led to the construction of the Zach/Tony/Mike/Marc/(Rudy and then Tayshaun) core, when that process was never a repeatable or reliable one to begin with. Garbage in, garbage out, and eventually that methodology nets the second-worst record in the entire danged Association.

Once Bickerstaff had the reins, one started to hear an alarming number of references to "bringing back Grit and Grind," references which raised the hackles of this Griz-Watcher more than once. What do they mean by that? Are they going to sell a pick to the Mavericks and sign Jeremy Pargo again? But now, of course, with the passing of the last few weeks, we know what they meant.

Dillon Brooks - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dillon Brooks

They Grizzlies have identified The Form Of A Grizzlies Player: excellent defender, high basketball IQ, big for his position (something that has always factored into their player evaluation—lookin' at you, Andrew Harrison), not a star but generally acknowledged to be good. Jaren Jackson, Jr. fits this bill. Kyle Anderson fits this bill (except maybe the size thing, but he's not undersized). Omri Casspi fits this bill, even—he's 20th among small forwards in Defensive RPM.

I'm sure there are other attributes they consider, but a prototype is emerging, and it's important, because: that's what it really means to have an organizational culture. Grit and Grind, whatever it was back in the dead past, was a culture, sure, but it was a player culture. It came from the guys on the team, and how the gelled, and what they were like. It probably also came from having a hardboiled, grizzled Lionel Hollins calling the plays. That's great, and it certainly lead the Grizzlies to their greatest successes as an NBA franchise, but the problem with a player culture is exactly what we've seen in the Griz since 2016: when those players are declining and/or gone, the culture isn't sustainable.

Grit and Grind is permanent because in its new organizational form—which is necessarily different from its previous player-based form—it's a sustainable model for player evaluation and basketball system decisions.

III. Grit and Grind Exists Outside of Time

OK, so what does that mean for next year? When are the Grizzlies going to be good again?

The bad news for Grizzlies fans is that a "new Grit and Grind" doesn't answer either one of those questions, and can't, and here's why: the moves the Grizzlies are making, and the philosophy they're putting in place, is intended to give them a path forward from the Conley/Gasol era, but they're still in the Conley/Gasol era.

Gasol has two years left on his max deal (one if he decides to opt out after this season). Chandler Parsons has two years left on his max deal. Mike Conley has three years left on his max deal. The plan, at the time of the Parsons signing, was to build the Grizzlies' next four years around that trio, and thus shift philosophies while maintaining their streak of success for the length of Gasol and Conley's contracts.

Chandler "Knees" Parsons - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Chandler "Knees" Parsons

We've seen—not least of all in Parsons' nearly continuous knee injuries—how well that plan has gone. Because of the myriad ways in which the Grizzlies' Summer 2016 plan for The Next Core has gone pear-shaped, they're now in a position where their only option (given the two first round picks traded back when the first plan was coming together: the 2017 first traded to dump Marreese Speights' salary and the 2019 protected first traded to bring in Jeff Green, the latter of which still makes me want to vomit) is to work with what they've got.

What might "working with what they've got" look like in 2018-19 and beyond? If Mike Conley returns from injury looking anything like he did in the single full season under David Fizdale, and if Chandler Parsons can contribute more than he did last year and play in more games, and if Marc Gasol's foot holds together another couple seasons and the drop-off in his play last season was because of the bad team and the poor motivation and not because he's 33 this summer and starting to decline because he's played pro basketball since leaving high school...

...they might make the playoffs. They've certainly shored up the rotation. But given that Conley has missed large portions of two of the last three seasons, and that Parsons has done the same and moves like a 29-year-old trapped in a 37-year-old's body, and that there's no way to know what Gasol might look like until we get into the season and see, that's a bet I'm not sure I'd take.

If they were healthy all season last year, the Grizzlies probably would've made the 7 or 8 seed. That much seems clear. But no team in the NBA is healthy all season, not even the Warriors, and a team that can't survive a single injury to any of its best players is not a team that can be counted on to do much of anything.

And here's what I think: it actually doesn't matter much whether the Grizzlies make the playoffs next year; what's much more important is that they win enough games to escape the protections on the pick owed to Boston. If the Grizzlies finish outside of the top 8 of the 2019 draft, their first round pick goes to Boston. If they're bad enough to be in the top 8, they keep the pick and then their 2020 pick goes to Boston if it's outside the top 6. If, for some reason, the Grizzlies are so bad in 2018-19 and 2019-20 that their pick doesn't convey to Boston, their 2021 first round pick goes to the Celtics completely unprotected.

Jeff Green, in happier times - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeff Green, in happier times

This is why you (1) never trade a first round pick five years in the future, because you don't know what your team will look like then, and (2) especially never trade any pick that could potentially become an unprotected first for Jeff Green. You shouldn't trade a Tops cheeseburger for Jeff Green. You shouldn't trade a nice, well-used Snapper lawnmower for Jeff Green. I hated trading that pick at the time and I continue to hate it, and I hope the summer of 2019 is the last time I have to get worked up about it.

But what does that mean? It means the Grizzlies really need to win enough games to finish, by my reckoning, 9th or so in the Western Conference, so they can give a back-end lottery pick to Boston and move on with their future. If they can't make it to 40 wins, or 38, or whatever that means, they're going to need to try to move Conley, Gasol, or Parsons (LOL) and press an even bigger reset button. They have good young talent around, and if they're going to be bad anyway, they might as well try to recoup that missing draft pick somewhere along the way.

And while they're doing whatever they're doing, there's old Grit and Grind. The next two years could be great—it's plausible if not likely that they could, say, be the 8 seed one of the next two seasons. But they could also be a storm to be weathered, with the "tear down the old core" portion of the rebuild happening after the "bring in young talent" portion has already happened. That's a good thing, really: in Jackson, Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and maybe Andrew Harrison, they've got some very good young pieces around which they can build already on the roster. That's not how rebuilds usually go.

But Grit and Grind, in its new top-down form, suffusing the whole organization with its endless determination Not To Bluff and to be Vs. Errbody and whatever else, will still be there, still be evaluating players, still be creating a system and a style of play from the ashes of long ago playoff successes (and failures, because let us not forget that what made the Grizzlies vulnerable was ultimately their inability to cope with the new "Pace & Space" NBA that sprouted some time around 2012-13).

It'll still try, in its new and grasping way, to be a basketball culture that reflects something of the identity of its host city: an underdog mentality bordering on a complex; a flat refusal to go along with what's happening in the more glamorous places, whether that's Nashville and Austin or Golden State and Houston; a collective of weird people doing weird things in the night, whether that's Lawler and Kaufman at the Coliseum, or whatever studio allowed Mystic Stylez to be recorded on its equipment, or FedExForum when Zach Randolph gets ejected from a playoff game.

Grit and Grind is gone, and it will never go away.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Beyond the Arc Podcast #96: The Draft, Free Agency, and the Return of GNG

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 9:18 AM

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

  • The Grizzlies' decision to make JB Bickerstaff the head coach, like, for real
  • What will the Grizzlies be next year? Do they know?
  • The Grizzlies drafted well
  • The future potential of Jaren Jackson, Jr. and what that might look like in his rookie season
  • What motivated the Jevon Carter pick?
  • Should the Grizzlies trade Gasol and Conley?
  • What were the Hawks thinking on draft night?
  • How will David Fizdale do with the Knicks and will LeBron go play for him?
  • Who can the Grizzlies sign this summer? Can they fire Ben McLemore's contract into the Sun?

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, June 21, 2018

Grizzlies Draft Jevon Carter in Second Round

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 10:04 PM

The Grizzlies have selected West Virginia guard Jevon Carter with the 32nd pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Carter was on many people's draft boards as a very "Grit and Grind" selection for the Griz; he was an excellent defender in college and a relentless, high-motor player.

Seems like most of NBA Twitter agrees:

And here's one calling him "the best on-ball defender in the draft":

Seems like a fine choice for a second-rounder. It remains to be seen whether the Grizzlies will have room for Carter on the 2018-19 roster, but hey, that's what the Hustle are for—though I would expect Carter to challenge hard for a roster spot in training camp.

Grizzlies Draft Jaren Jackson, Jr. in First Round

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 7:26 PM

Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

The Grizzlies got their man, it seems. After Dallas and Atlanta pulled off a pick swap that sent Luka Doncic to the Mavericks at the #3 spot, the Grizzlies selected Michigan State freshman Jaren Jackson, Jr.

Jackson is a long-term play, for sure, but given that the Grizzlies have a new coaching staff focused around player development, and that Jackson figures to get real rotation minutes in the upcoming season even as the Grizzlies try to make the playoffs, I can't say I'm disappointed in the outcome.

Of course, two things make drafting Jackson sting: firstly, if the Grizzlies had lost a couple more games, they'd have had a better chance to get the #1 overall pick and better odds at picking higher than fourth rather than falling two spots in the lottery. Second, if they hadn't traded a first round pick to Boston in the Jeff Green trade all those years ago, they'd have had a future first to trade to Atlanta for the 3rd pick instead of watching the Dallas Mavericks leap frog them to get their man.

Once it was clear Doncic would be off the board, Jackson was a logical pick. If there were other guys they preferred—guys like Kevin Knox and Wendell Carter—those guys were available farther down in the top 10, and they should have traded down. Drafting Jackson shows they think they can develop him, and that they had a plan going into the draft (even though apparently JB Bickerstaff had to sell him on the organization so he'd release his medical info to the team, according to one report). I'm fine with it. It's not the most exciting outcome, but Doncic wasn't likely to be around at 4 anyway.

The 2018 NBA Draft and Creeping Dread

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 10:09 AM

jc-gellidon-361849-unsplash.jpg

The Grizzlies have their best draft pick in a decade in a draft that’s loaded with talent. So why am I not excited about it?

Why can’t I allow myself to consider what bright, young talent they might acquire on Thursday night that could make the team better for years to come? What’s with the foreboding, the awful sense that if I allow myself even the slightest bit of hope about the Grizzlies’ future I’m subjecting myself to some sort of weird, emotional sadomasochism because I should know better?

We’ve been here before, as Grizzly-watchers. In 2008, when they traded Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo on draft night and after a season it looked like a massive miscalculation. In 2009, when the Grizzlies made what might be, very literally, the worst #2 pick in the history of the draft given what the rest of the 2009 class looked like. In 2010, 2011, 2012, when guys like Sam Young, and DeMarre Carroll, and Josh Selby rolled in without any idea how to play professional basketball and left in the same shape. (Maybe that’s a little unfair to Sam Young, but “most surprisingly decent bad first round Grizzlies pick” is not a category to which I’d want to belong, except for all that guaranteed salary.) There’s such a long and disastrous run of first-round picks back there, behind all those locked doors and “but the playoffs” arguments, that it’s hard to look at the current situation without the trepidation that Oh no, I have seen this situation unfold before, and I need to prepare for the worst.

Remember Jamaal Franklin? - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Remember Jamaal Franklin?

The basic problem can be stated pretty succinctly: there are three players that seem like sure things in this draft, but the Grizzlies have the fourth pick. If any one of Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, or Marvin Bagley, Jr. fall to the Grizzlies, which seems possible but not likely, they can just pick whichever one makes it to fourth and no matter what happens, it’ll be very hard to call their draft a failure. (I have some pretty serious reservations about Bagley on the defensive end, to the point that I’d rather they not take him even if he falls to them at 4th, but I can’t deny that if they do take him there, it’s still a successful draft.)

That means that the Grizzlies, more than likely, will have to make a decision about a player to draft fourth, and making decisions about players is not something I trust them to do with a fourth-round pick. It hasn’t been long enough since their last stretch of bad picks, and Chris Wallace’s name is still attached to the franchise’s basketball operations.

You can write this off by saying “Chris Makris is a rising star in the front office and has a ton of influence.” You can write this off by saying “Hollinger runs the drafting process.” You can write this off by saying “they’ve made great moves on the fringes the last couple of years.”

These are all things that have been said on the internet in the last two weeks (and seriously, how is it you people have something to say about this every day for two weeks? I got tired just trying to read it all). But they all reinforce something that keeps coming up in the Robert-Pera-era of the Grizzlies: their internal decision-making structure remains opaque to the outside observer, no matter how much they insist that their chains of command are cut-and-dried. If Chris Wallace’s name is still next to “General Manager, Basketball Operations” in the staff directory—and it is, I just looked—I will not be able to put 2009 out of my mind.

Things are different, sure. The Griz have young players of various levels of promise, though none as good as what could be coming their way in this draft. But the warning signs are there: an owner and a GM and a coach who have all said they would have been good last year if not for injuries (debatable) and that they expect to make the playoffs this upcoming season (a risky public proclamation). Rumors swirling that they’d like to move their No. 4 pick and Chandler Parsons’ massive, concrete-shoes contract for the right pick that still keeps them in the lottery but lets them compete immediately. Two max-contract, oft-injured major players over 30 who don’t have time to waste on bad teams and have publicly expressed disinterest in doing so. If the Grizzlies want to keep doing what they’ve been doing since the earliest days of the Grit and Grind Era, when they shipped off a first round pick to dump Thabeet and rent Shane Battier for the playoffs, there’s nothing to stop them from doing it again, with the only high-lottery pick they’ve had since then, taking out a third mortgage on a house with a cracked foundation and a leak in the roof.

I used to buy and sell a bunch of guitars. I was a guitar guy. And part of doing that is paying $600 for a new guitar and finding it’s only worth $350 when you go to trade it in, but the guitar you want is $500, so you chip in $150 cash with the $600 guitar you’ve only played at a couple of gigs and suddenly you’re $250 upside down on a guitar before you go trade it in for something else. Eventually you end up with about $1500 of real money in an early-70’s Japanese bolt-on SG copy so weird and unplayable that it’ll sit in your attic for a year before you even remember it’s up there.

Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

The Grizzlies are here. They’ve traded in their trade-ins so many times that there’s no real accounting for how far behind they are, and yet now that they’ve got a real asset, a No. 4 pick in a loaded draft, they’re only looking at the Gretsch Double Anniversary—not even a Country Gentleman, mind you—on the wall and thinking maybe if I trade in a couple more things…

I’ve been there. I know the pull. It’s the reason gambling hotlines exist, the reason people persist in bad habits long after they’ve decided not to, it’s the reason people keep sinking money into cars that are worth less than a nice bookshelf from IKEA. Maybe if we trade in a couple things we could upgrade.

It’s obvious that they shouldn’t. It’s obvious that with Conley and Gasol (and Parsons, who at 29 is now limited to playing like the imagined 35-year-old, non-injured version of himself) under contract for two more years, they can either try to be good the next two years and plan for a quick reload when those contracts are over, or they can tear the thing down to the studs, so to speak, and call in an architect.

And so, try as I might, I am not optimistic about Thursday night. Call me constitutionally misaligned with draft-night optimism. I haven’t even talked about Michael Porter, Jr. and the fact that they might draft a guy with an even more alarming injury than Chandler Parsons’ with the best pick they’ve had in years, and that given their injury history since 2014-15, there’s no way they should even be allowed to speak his name at any point during the 24-hour period surrounding the first pick Thursday night. I haven’t talked about the constant chatter about trading down from 4. I haven’t talked about the fact that Mo Bamba explicitly informed the Grizzlies he wasn’t interested in playing here. Those are all just secondary factors compounding my unease headed into Thursday night.

The simple fact of the matter is that I have no reason to trust that the Grizzlies will do the right thing, and several reasons to believe that they’ll either mortgage their future for a stab at making the 7th seed in 2018-19 or, worse, blow the draft entirely and pick someone who’ll be out of the league once his rookie deal is up. They have to prove to me that something is different before I’ll change how I feel about it. They have to show me that, regardless of how transparent or not the process is, they have a process and it works. They have to show me that I shouldn’t expect the worst, because until that point, that’s the only sane response.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ed Stefanski Leaving Grizzlies to Join Detroit Pistons

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2018 at 10:40 AM

Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this morning that Grizzlies Executive Vice President Ed Stefanski will be leaving for Detroit, where he's expected to "overhaul" the Pistons' basketball ops in the wake of Stan Van Gundy's departure:

Stefanski will be tasked with hiring a GM and a coach in Detroit. After a stint in Philadelphia as general manager and a brief tenure with the Toronto Raptors, Stefanski joined the Grizzlies in 2014.

As is the case with all things related to the Grizzlies' front office, it's not exactly clear what Stefanski's role has been over the last four seasons, but from the things I've heard about the decisions he supported, I think he was a positive force in the Grizzlies' decision-making. It will be interesting to see what the Grizzlies decide to do with the new vacancy in his absence.

You can read Wojnarowski's full report here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Grizzlies To Pick Fourth in 2018 NBA Draft

Posted By on Tue, May 15, 2018 at 7:46 PM

Hey, the last guy the Grizzlies drafted (Dillon Brooks) was good! - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Hey, the last guy the Grizzlies drafted (Dillon Brooks) was good!

The ping pong balls were not the Grizzlies' friends on Tuesday night, as they secured the 4th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft in the lottery on Tuesday night. The Grizzlies finished the 2017-18 season with the 2nd worst overall record in the league, which gave them the second-best odds at picking #1 overall, but that's not how it worked out. The top 5 picks in the draft will be:

  1. Phoenix Suns
  2. Sacramento Kings
  3. Atlanta Hawks
  4. Memphis Grizzlies
  5. Dallas Mavericks

Given how bad the Grizzlies' season was, it's a little hard not to be disappointed with a pick that's worse than the Grizzlies' record—especially given the fact that they won some close games down the stretch to climb out of the worst spot, surrendering it to Phoenix late.

But. The top four of this draft is solid. Between Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, and Jaren Jackson Jr., as long as the Grizzlies don't press their luck and reach for a guy like Michael Porter (who missed most of his year at Missouri due to injuries, which probably makes the Grizzlies want to offer him a four year max) or Mohamed Bamba (a project shot-blocking big with a very limited offensive game), they should be fine. Should be. But picking outside of the top 3 after the dismal season the Grizzlies just had makes this writer a little uncomfortable given the Grizzlies' poor drafting in the Chris Wallace era.

Fourth is better than fifth, but the Grizzlies had better get this one right.

On the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery

Posted By on Tue, May 15, 2018 at 9:48 AM

Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

To say that tonight's draft lottery is important to the Grizzlies is, of course, obvious. But to call it the most important moment in the history of the franchise, or to say that where the Grizzlies pick in this summer's draft will be the determining factor in how long the Grizzlies stay in Memphis, or to say—as I saw somewhere—that Memphis is still "haunted" by the 2003 lottery that saw LeBron go to Cleveland and Memphis' pick turn into Detroit's Darko years... there's important and there's epochal; the 2018 Draft has the potential to be the latter but is only guaranteed to be the former.

Heading into tonight's lottery, the worst they can do is fifth, and while that would certainly be a disappointment given their second-worst overall record, it's still a good pick. Given the tank they pulled (though they certainly could've lost another few games here and there), finishing outside of the top 3 in the lottery will feel like a failure. The odds would seem to be in the Grizzlies' favor on that front.

The players available are all interesting prospects, and each choice offers the Grizzlies a new multitude of further choices to make: If they draft Luka Doncic, what does that do to the wing rotation, and can he finally be the perimeter playmaker they've needed since Shane Battier won them a playoff game against the Spurs? If Doncic is gone and they take Deandre Ayton, does that spell the end of Memphis' Marc Gasol era? Now or later? Can Marvin Bagley develop into the new star of the Grizzlies' frontcourt?

And what about the rest of the seemingly deep draft class—who among them will make it, and whom among them would be a Thabeet-level flub?

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Ah, yes, there's that name again. If anything haunts this lottery, it's that the Grizzlies made what was maybe, given that literally every other player taken in the first round became a better NBA player with the possible exceptions of Christian Eyenga and Victor Claver, the worst pick in NBA Draft history. But Griz-watchers are fortunate here: It seems unlikely that any of the potential top 5 in this draft class are that bad. They all seem to actually enjoy playing basketball, for instance.

I find it hard to get that worked up about tonight's lottery. There's just not much you can analyze until it happens. Which players will likely be available where the Grizzlies are picking? What should their draft board look like? (Andrew Ford already took a crack at that one in these pages.) I just find it hard to say much other than "I guess we'll see."

Probability is a funny thing. There's no real way to write about the lottery itself beforehand in a predictive way; no one knows how things will shake out (unless you believe the conspiracy theories that the lottery is rigged, which, well, I can't say I haven't thought about it). All we know is that right now, the Grizzlies might pick first, or they might pick fifth, or they might pick anywhere in between.

Do you feel lucky?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Report: Grizzlies Working to Make Bickerstaff Head Coach

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2018 at 10:25 AM

J.B. Bickerstaff at Grizzlies exit interviews - SAMUEL X. CICCI
  • Samuel X. Cicci
  • J.B. Bickerstaff at Grizzlies exit interviews

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports reports that the Grizzlies are working to remove the "interim" title from head coach J.B. Bickerstaff:

This isn't surprising, given the news that Robert Pera would retain ownership of the Grizzlies. It seems that hopes for a regime change in the Grizzlies front office — which would mean a coaching search led by whatever new hires were made — were just that: hopes.

Bickerstaff seems to be well-liked by the players and is a well-respected coaching prospect. It's undeniable that some of the Grizzlies' young players developed under his leadership, but some of the same players also made strides under Bickerstaff's predecessor David Fizdale.

I have no real sense whether Bickerstaff is a good coach for the long-term. The team was abysmal last year, no matter who was coaching it, but he seems to have a solid rapport with his players (especially Gasol, who was the center — no pun intended — of the controversy around Fizdale's firing) and he was undoubtedly a good soldier during a dismal tanking effort. I'm sure he's fine. Every Grizzlies coach since Marc Iavaroni has been a first-time NBA head coach (not counting previous interim stints). Chris Wallace has made all of those hires. As long as Chris Wallace remains the head of the basketball side of the Grizzlies, these are the kinds of hires they'll make.

I'm a little disappointed that there's no sign of fresh thinking and new ideas from the basketball side of the Grizzlies, but hope springs eternal.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Grizzlies Look Forward at End-of-Season Presser

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2018 at 2:22 PM

Mike Conley - SAMUEL X. CICCI
  • Samuel X. Cicci
  • Mike Conley

Ed. Note: Since I'm out on paternity leave, Beyond the Arc sent intrepid Hustle correspondent Sam Cicci to the Grizzlies' final media availability of the season. Here are his notes on who said what while the microphones were on Thursday afternoon. — KL

Following the Grizzlies this season essentially turned into a screening of Titanic. A voyage that started out with so much promise after an opening six wins against tough opposition slowly turned into dread as the ship headed toward its impending doom. The wooden door-turned-life raft wasn’t big enough for both Fizdale and Gasol, but enough about ships. Hope springs eternal, as they say, and the future looks just a little brighter for Memphis after this season.

Instead of an iceberg, the Grizzlies have a guaranteed top-five pick in a talented draft class. Majority owner Robert Pera stated he wouldn’t sell the franchise and was committed to keeping the team in Memphis. And, the players are fully behind interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, if the organization should decide to keep him on. Overall, encouraging signs came out of the season's final media availability.

Marc Gasol

The season was a tough spot for Gasol, who obviously doesn’t want to spend his prime years playing for an under-performing team. He couldn’t be drawn out on how the front office handled matters, but did reveal that he would soon be meeting with Robert Pera to talk about where the organization is headed. “It’s not just about the results,” said Gasol, “but whether the organization is doing everything in its power to achieve that. It’s easy to say Memphis wants to win a championship, but a lot of things have to go right to make that happen. The day-to-day stuff is huge, and I want to know what he has to say. I’m happy because I know he wants to keep the team in Memphis.”

On Bickerstaff: “He’s done a tremendous job with the tools he was given and what he was allowed to do. He’s held the guys accountable as much as he could, he’s been positive, he’s made the best of a bad situation, and he’s done a great job.”

A running theme throughout the afternoon, and one kick-started by Gasol, is that the players are ready to put in the hard work to get the Grizzlies back to where they were. Rather than just looking at the draft, he acknowledged the hard work that would be required for the team to rebuild its confidence. It’s crucial for a senior player to be setting that example, but it’s no surprise Gasol is looking to give his all.

Mike Conley

As if the season weren’t hard enough, things got worse when Conley became mired in injury limbo, and fans were frantic when the organization went silent on his status for long stretches of time. With a bleak prognosis for the season, GM Chris Wallace finally confirmed in January that Conley would miss the rest of the season due to a small bone protrusion in his left heel. With health as his personal priority over the off-season, Conley turned attention to some of the newcomers who had standout performances. “I was really excited about the improvements you saw from Dillon, and then Kobi down the stretch. Ivan Rabb got a lot of minutes, Deyonta Davis improved a lot. There were so many different moments, and then MarShon coming on late, and having somebody who can score the ball like he can was a really cool thing.”

Team health also emerged with Conley, who believes that the team will certainly make the playoffs if everyone is healthy. With a top draft pick as well, that goal should be even more achievable. Conley, like most of the other players, wouldn’t be drawn out on who he’d like to see drafted.

On Tyreke, “I haven’t spoken to him, really. A little earlier this season, I told him he better come back! But I know he’ll do what’s best for him and his family.”

On Dillon, “He was very very good. He did a lot of things very well, but he improved in a lot of areas throughout the season that we wanted him to improve in. He really cares about the preparation, and watching film, and things like that. He didn’t approach it like a rookie, so that was really cool to see, so hopefully he’ll keep building on that. I’m excited to play with him next season.” Conley wouldn’t confirm a return date from injury, but hoped to be in shape for the start of next season.

Bickerstaff’s Role

JB Bickerstaff - SAMUEL X. CICCI
  • Samuel X. Cicci
  • JB Bickerstaff

Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff was bullish about next season. “Injuries were a huge part of what happened to the team this year, and throughout the season, other veteran guys missed chunks of time.” With everyone back healthy, and a top five draft pick, Bickerstaff doesn’t believe Memphis will be out of the playoffs for long.

On his chances of landing the head role on a permanent basis, “I’m confident the staff executed the plan that we discussed with the front office. When the shift happened and injuries started piling up, we went into player-development mode, giving young guys experience and making them better basketball players. There’s not one of those guys that I look at who I don’t think is a better basketball player now than when we put our hands on him.” And those weren’t just empty words. As a collective, the players were enthused about Bickerstaff’s contribution.

“He made the best opportunity he could out of a situation he had no control over,” said JaMychal Green. “We could have gave up a long time ago, but he kept us going, never gave up on us, and kept pushing us at practice, and we fought hard. J.B. has that mentality, like coach Fiz, about playing hard and playing for each other. That’s a coach that you want to play for, a coach that will go down an alley with you and fight with you. I do definitely think he deserves it.”

Health

Chandler Parsons - SAMUEL X. CICCI
  • Samuel X. Cicci
  • Chandler Parsons

While there’s no question that injuries to key players crippled the Grizz this season, that in turn allowed for many of the younger players to get important minutes. Dillon Brooks was the only rookie to play 82 games in the NBA this season, but it wasn’t easy to tell it was his first season in the league with some standout performances. Some Hustle players, like Kobi Simmons (who dropped a career-high 20 points against the Pistons last Sunday) and Ivan Rabb, were able to join the senior players and continue to build playing time and experience. Dillon set a career high with 36 points in the final game, to personally end the season on a high note.

Chandler Parsons was happy that injury misfortunes at least allowed young guys to get minutes. “Guys like Dillon really benefited carrying a load for an NBA team. Ivan, Deyonta, Andrew, Kobi all gained valuable minutes which I think will improve their reps and help their future.” 

On a personal note, Parsons was confident about next season. “When I’m healthy, I can play at a high level and I can help this team win. There were some moments when I felt myself and did well, and other times when I had to shut it down. One positive is that this is the first time in three summers that I don’t need a surgery going into the summer. There’s no rehab, I’m already doing workouts, training for next season. I have a full five-six months to training camp, and the goal is to get as strong as I’ve ever been and not have to come in with a minutes restriction.”

On a potential improvement for next year, “it reminds me of the Spurs back in the day, when they had a bunch of injuries and then drafted Tim Duncan and won the championship the next year. It would be amazing if we can do that.”

The Main Rook

Dillon Brooks - SAMUEL X. CICCI
  • Samuel X. Cicci
  • Dillon Brooks

“I did kind of surprise myself, but it’s always been in there,” says Dillon Brooks. “There were so many opportunities that I had placed in my corner, with Mike going out and lots of players out with injuries. I never let it run away from me. In the NBA you only get a couple opportunities, and it’s always first impressions. You can’t let it go to waste.” 

Brooks credited Fizdale with initially believing in his ability, and said that extended to Bickerstaff as well, which helped him perform well during the season. “It was hard, since Fiz was the first guy I talked to when I was getting drafted, but J.B. continued it from there. He’s done well with the cards he was dealt, working with young guys. He’s a players' coach, and he knows how it goes for us. We all love him, and with everyone back and whoever we pick up, we’re gonna be fine.

On his position, “I can play a two, three, or four. You see Draymond Green, I’ve got the same type of heart, grit, and everything. And it’s a mismatch problem. You got a four man like Paul Millsap or one of those guys, it’s a mismatch. Just another way another coach has to figure out how to stop us.”

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Grim prospects for Gasol’s daughter in the dating field. The center came to media day sporting a D.A.D.D. (Dads Against Daughters Dating) T-shirt. Best of luck, Julia.
  • Gasol didn’t 100 percent confirm he would stay. However, he did reiterate his love for Memphis and that it was his home, so no need to press the panic button.
  • Chris Wallace wants the luckiest guy to represent the Grizz at the draft. Who might that be?
  • Chandler Parsons’ reaction when asked if he should represent Memphis at the draft, “Last two years, I think I’m the last person Memphis would want to send. I don’t think I’ll be representing the Grizzlies on the draft show! Maybe I’d pick Dillon, he’s healthy, played 82 games, good looking guy? Yeah, I won’t be there.”
  • Jamychal on who should attend the draft, “You probably need to take Jarell. He’s been doing real good on the spades table on the plane!”
  • Not much insight into Tyreke Evans’ situation, who was not at the event.


Tags:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thunder 137, Grizzlies 123: Dillon Brooks and the Way Forward

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 10:48 AM

Dillon Brooks - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dillon Brooks

Editor's Note: I'm out on paternity leave, so I was more worried about getting a newborn to sleep than watching the end of the Grizzlies' 2017-18 season. Fortunately, Andrew Ford was watching so I didn't have to. —KL

The last game of the season proved a fitting end to a regular season during which the Grizzlies were mostly an afterthought to the league.

Russell Westbrook solidifying his position in history as the first player to ever post a triple-double average over a two season period overshadowed what was arguably Dillon Brooks’ best game - certainly his most gunpowder-filled - of his promising rookie campaign.

The Grizzlies did just enough to play their part by providing a little bit of resistance in the second half to add a bit of suspense, but ultimately everyone who has watched this iteration of the Grizzlies knew how this one was going down.

Brooks was the lone bright spot amongst a sea of should-be, summer-league players doing their best to try to impress enough to get a camp invite from some team — any team — this summer. Ending the season with so many guys who won’t make it on an NBA court even during warm-ups next season is daunting but also a breath of fresh air.

Like a cocoon finally opening up and allowing a butterfly to soar, the Grizzlies are finally free from this season’s shackles. They can start over and become something new. Well, they can at least make significant progress in their tinkering to create an all new identity.

That new identity doesn’t start with veteran, team stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, or high-paid players like Chandler Parsons. It's the guy who entered the season as the runt of the litter who just wants to play every damn game — Brooks.

For bad teams, feel-good stories are always nice. Brooks is more than that, though. He’s a bonafide NBA player who has come a long way from game 1 to game 82.

He’s gone from being a really bad defender to more than passable now that he’s adjusted to modern gap schemes as well as the speed of the game. Offensively, he makes moves that almost always work out in his favor even when they shouldn’t. The kid is smooth, and he’s gritty, and he’s exactly the type of young player the city has been looking for.

Want someone to fight for the city long term? Gasol and Conley’s letters of recommendation might expire when their playing days do, which hopefully isn’t soon, but you never know once players hit the point at which both seem to be approaching given age. Don’t look desperately to a presumably, newly committed Robert Pera, or J.B. Bickerstaff, or anyone else for the support the Bluff City deserves. Rather, look to its youngest, talented chosen son who also happens to be the hardest working.

Brooks in one of his first games, against Golden State - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Brooks in one of his first games, against Golden State

Brooks likely won’t serve as the franchise’s savior, but he can be an advocate for the Grizzlies both on and off the court. He represents the best of what the franchise has offered to the city year after year since moving to Memphis from Vancouver in 2001.

That promise hasn’t always delivered winning, but the promise contains traits the city values such as hard work, dedication, reliability, scrappiness, nastiness, and a knack for making something of itself no matter what anyone else thinks.

Calling Brooks the beginning of a more modern version of grit and grind is fitting. He fits within the scope of today’s NBA physically and schematically while maintaining an old-school mentality.

As we are constantly looking back to catch a glimpse of better times that have passed us by, Brooks can serve as the comfort food allowing us to hold onto grit and grind whilst also possibly establishing a new future with a higher ceiling than the first iteration of grit and grind.

Possible is good enough in Memphis right now, as possibility is all fans have to hold onto after a long season.

No matter who the Grizzlies draft this summer, the guy is going to need to be surrounded by leaders or, at the very least, guys who can help light the way forward. Brooks will be the first one holding the torch when the new crew reports for duty.

Elegant but old-fashioned. Crafty but tough. Humble but never willing to accept a beating. Brooks is everything the franchise could want, and he’s a foundational piece of what it needs moving forward.

Last night, Brooks bobbed and weaved under the arena’s bright lights, overachieving for the last time this season. Here’s to the belief - and the promise - that this season’s overachievements will soon turn back into the expected. With Brooks helping lead the charge, I’d bet on it.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

What Robert Pera Should Do Next

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 11:27 AM

Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera
  • Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera

The days of worrying about the Grizzlies' buy/sell clause are apparently behind us, as last night Robert Pera announced his intention to retain controlling interest in the franchise via an email to Grizzlies MVP season ticket holders. ESPN's Zach Lowe reports this morning that the highest bid came from Daniel Straus, though Straus and Steve Kaplan both triggered the clause, and that the valuation from the Straus group was between $1.3 and $1.4 billion.

Regardless of the valuation—which, if that number is correct, is much higher than what I expected, and higher than the $1 billion valuation reported previously by the Sports Business Journal—Pera's announcement settles months of speculation in Memphis and parts elsewhere about who would own the team heading into its most important NBA Draft in a decade.

Now. The question of "who will own the team?" appears to be settled. The questions that have been left hanging over the last 12 months now need to be addressed, some more urgently than others. What are they? What should Robert Pera do now that he's signaled that he'll be the owner going forward?

Set a Vision.

Michael Heisley had his Three Year Plan (which, somehow, actually worked). From there, the Grizzlies had years of "Grit and Grind" where they had an identity, a culture, a common set of goals, and success on the court and off. (Seems worth pointing out here that much of this culture was established under Lionel Hollins, who hasn't coached the team since they left the floor at the end of the 2013 Western Conference Finals.) Much of that identity came from the players on the team, rather than from the front office, from Chris Wallace to his exile under Jason Levien and back. No matter what created that culture, it all cohered... until it didn't.

Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace

The Grizzlies haven't drafted well in the first round since they picked Mike Conley. Coming into this summer, they're now guaranteed a pick no worse than 5th (though if it's outside the top 3, this year's combination of "tanking" and "terrible" will no doubt feel like a bit of a failure). Is Chris Wallace, who has been here forever, who has never once articulated that kind of a vision, that kind of "this is what we're trying to do" philosophy that can guide a front office through what promises to be an arduous rebuilding process, really the guy to do that?

Even if the Grizzlies bounce back next year—which, as always, is possible "if healthy"—will Pera put in place basketball leadership who see that as immaterial to the process that needs to be built, or will they continue with the Wallace-era reliance on bringing in just enough talent to keep things going? That pretty clearly failed this season.

There are also things for which Wallace, if he's really the sole decision maker like the Grizzlies will swear up and down he is, needs to be held accountable:

(left to right) J.B. Bickerstaff, Dave Fizdale, Keith Smart - JOE MURPHY (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES)
  • Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty Images)
  • (left to right) J.B. Bickerstaff, Dave Fizdale, Keith Smart
  • The Chandler Parsons signing is still (somewhat) defensible, but there's no possible way to argue that it's been a success, or that his contract isn't one of the worst in the league for what he can actually produce on the court.
  • The lauded hiring of David Fizdale and then the decision to fire him less than 18 months after said hire, when he couldn't get along with the franchise's best player (or second best, if we're taking Conley's 2016-17 as an indicator of his level and not as his peak). If he's the one who made the hire, he's the one who needs to say "it wasn't working," and do it in a way that doesn't make Marc Gasol have to spend months explaining why the coach got fired.
  • The decision to throw a 2-year, $10M deal at Ben McLemore on the second day of 2017's free agency period, as though he were a hot commodity ready to be snapped up, rather than a long-term project at best. He fits Wallace's well known "great high school player who went to Kansas" profile, but so did Josh Selby. McLemore was clearly the worst player on a team that will be lucky if it wins 22 games, and the Grizzlies are paying him $5 million next year.

These are only the biggest decisions Wallace has been responsible for in the last two seasons. Despite the Grizzlies' long run of consecutive postseason appearances, one could argue that they peaked in the 2013 Western Conference Finals and have been steadily declining ever since, and that Wallace has been the one at the helm for a large portion of that gradual coast into the ravine that is this season.

The Grizzlies need someone running the basketball side of things with a clearly articulated vision for what kind of basketball the team will play, what kind of players they like and what kind of players they don't, what kinds of gambles they're willing to take, and what kind of coach they want on the sidelines. They need someone with whom the buck stops, and I remain unconvinced that it should be Chris Wallace. Pera's the owner of the team; he's the only one who can address this issue. Whether he maintains the jumbled status quo of the current front office, or moves to build a more coherent and considered management culture, will say a lot about what he thinks of the last three seasons of Grizzlies basketball.

Double Down on Memphis.

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It's hard to argue that Memphis makes sense long-term as an NBA market when Seattle sits out there ready to snatch up someone else's small market team and immediately turn a team that takes a cut of revenue sharing into a team that pays into revenue sharing. When a franchise costs more than a billion dollars, even if they're just mostly toys for rich people, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to lose millions of dollars on one.

So.

Seattle will always be out there until the owner of the Grizzlies takes them off the table for relocation. Pera's email to season ticket holders said that

It is with intent that I referred to the "Memphis Grizzlies" ... because I am committed to Memphis as an NBA market and as the home of the Grizziles.

Which is great to hear. The biggest fear rippling through the Grizzlies' fanbase about the buy/sell agreement in general was that Kaplan (who was always on the radar as the bigger threat for some reason, despite the fact that Straus apparently made the larger bid) would be eager to move the team to Seattle where it could make money immediately playing in their new $600 million facility. But Pera saying he's committed isn't the same thing as Pera showing he's committed.

Making an appearance in town every now and then would probably go a long way, but as Peter Edmiston pointed out this morning when I spoke to him on the radio, there's a lease out there that ends in 2027, now less than ten years out, and the provisions that allow the lease to be broken start sooner than that.

I'm not quite sure what I'm asking Pera to do here. Extending the lease is the most obvious thing, but probably doesn't make business sense at this time. At the same time, the Grizzlies have been rolling with the same look and feel, and essentially the same jerseys, since 2005. I think they're overdue for a bit of modernization, for a new color scheme (the black and gold thing, whether it was real or not way back when the internet went crazy over it, seems to be coming back in subtle ways, and I've always thought the white/black/teal color combo was more distinctive). A new court. Things that say "we are investing in this thing" but aren't really related to on-court product.

Pera's spent money on the basketball facilities and the staff, but who knows whether that's been out-of-pocket or through additional debt. Maybe, if he's not going to flat-out extend the lease keeping the team here, sprucing things up a bit would be a good start? The bottom line, though, is that if he means it, he'll extend the lease at some point (or negotiate a new one that still keeps the team here).

Communicate.

It's not so much that Pera doesn't speak to the press or the public. Lots of owners of pro teams don't really do that. But the ones who aren't immediately approachable in that way usually have figureheads. Who is Pera's figurehead? Who explains decisions to the public?

This year, too often, it was Chris Wallace, JB Bickerstaff, and Marc Gasol. Emails to season ticket holders are fine, but ultimately, as Chris Herrington said excellently this morning, a sports franchise—especially the only pro team in a small market like Memphis—is something more like a public trust than a private corporation, especially when that sports franchise plays in a building built and owned by the City of Memphis itself.

Between starting their own media company in Grind City Media and breaking news in emails to season ticket holders, the Grizzlies try to manage their PR by going direct, and while they seem to be building audiences for some of the Grind City stuff, it's hard to argue that sending emails to season ticket holders helps them disseminate their messaging more broadly. It makes them look cloistered, like they're hiding something.

I guess it's easy for someone who has to go to press conferences to say the answer is "hold press conferences," but I don't think it's that simple. In creating their own avenues to share their messaging, the Grizzlies are creating an atmosphere of secrecy and an information vacuum, inadvertently or not. Having someone who can face the public—and, again, by no means does it have to be Pera himself—would go a long way towards helping the Grizzlies seem more open, more transparent, like less of a black box out of which come little morsels of information about decisions that seem to have been pulled from thin air. The channels they've created for themselves—no matter how hard they fight this assertion and try to set them up so that this isn't the case—will always feel a little bit like state media.

Conclusions

I think it's hard to argue that this isn't a win for Memphis compared to the alternatives. Admittedly, the Straus group is a bit of an unknown, but it's clear that the Kaplan group, no matter what their intentions about keeping the team or moving it or anything else, would have implemented some pretty sweeping changes on the basketball and business sides of the organization, and that those changes would have been happening during a time in the history of the team when the leadership needs to be "on one accord" to use a phrase Mario Chalmers says all the time.

Pera says he's committed to Memphis as an NBA market and as the home of the Grizzlies. I hope that's true, and I have no real reason to doubt it. But, now that he knows he's going to own the team, it's time for him to set a course for the organization. It's something that only a controlling owner can do, whether he wants to be seen doing it or not.


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