Friday, April 12, 2019

Grizzlies' Irregular Season Ends In The Most Grizzlies Way Possible

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 12:02 PM

I was able to attend the Memphis Grizzlies end of season media availability on Thursday morning. I came into the FedExForum’s practice facility with what I thought were reasonable expectations: I would hear General Manager Chris Wallace give a generic spiel about how the season was a success, in spite of all of the failures; how he was confident in Coach J.B. Bickerstaff, going forward; and how he really didn’t have a plan to announce for next season. I expected to say my final goodbyes to Mike Conley, who I assume has played his last game as a Memphis Grizzly. I even expected Bickerstaff to basically say that he wouldn’t have done anything different, if given the opportunity, when I asked him about reflecting on his first full season as a head coach. 
Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

What I didn’t expect was the chaos that ensued just hours after the media availability ended.

Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera announced, seemingly out of nowhere, that Bickerstaff would be replaced as head coach, and that the front office would be restructured. That restructuring included Wallace and Vice President of Basketball Operations John Hollinger being demoted to lesser roles, and President of Business Operations Jason Wexler being named to oversee both business and basketball operations. Assistant General Manager Zachary Kleiman was promoted to Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Pera's announcement brought mixed reactions, due mainly to the odd timing of the move in relationship to the media availability earlier that morning, and the fact that Wallace and Bickerstaff had already had exit interviews with each other and with the players. The general feeling coming from the morning press availability was that instead of finding new leadership for the franchise, the team had simply relabeled their organization and would continue doing what they've been doing for years.
J.B. Bickerstaff - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • J.B. Bickerstaff

The timing of all of this was particularly odd. Wallace could have been demoted literally at anytime during the season, especially after the embarrassment and backlash of the botched Kelly Oubre trade. Bickerstaff also could have been informed that he would no longer be with the team at some point well before he and Wallace had had exit interviews with the players.

The way that the franchise went about doing this just added to the uncertainty about the team's leadership amongst the players — namely Mike Conley, who is rumored to want to move on; Jonas Valanciunas, who has the decision to opt in or out of the final year of his contract; and Jaren Jackson, who is the franchise's young and impressionable future star.

Although the timing came off as ill-prepared, and even shady, I still think that the two main things that needed to happen happened: Bickerstaff will no longer be the head coach, and the illusion of Chris Wallace being the decision-maker for this team has come to an end.

I doubt this was a decision Pera made after checking twitter for reactions from media members and fans about what happened at the morning press availability, so surely he could have done this without creating such a need for damage control — or making Wallace and Bickerstaff come off as victims. But at this point, it is what it is — just another reason for national media members to ask what’s going on in Memphis. It's a bad look.

But it’s also an opportunity for change, a possible step in a much-needed new direction. Yes, the Grizzlies have had four coaches in the past seven years, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bickerstaff just was not the answer. So here we are: A business guy and a lawyer are now in charge of the team. I also expect that someone else will be added to serve in a basketball decision-making capacity, whether it be in a position above Kleiman or in support of him, or even a coach with a general manager role. A (partially) new regime is about to set a fresh course for the Grizzlies, and I, like many, hope that the regime's shaky start is not a sign of what is to come.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

I Have a Confession to Convey

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2019 at 9:49 AM

I have a confession to convey. I’ll admit it. I’m legit afraid of what lies beyond the Grizzlies' last two games of the season and the pending 2019 NBA Draft lottery, and that's because I have real memories of previous pain and disappointment.
Otis Thorpe
  • Otis Thorpe

I was visiting a family member in the emergency room while watching the 2003 NBA draft lottery. My older brother and I were sitting in the waiting room as the draft order was unveiled, team by team. I can remember the anxiety that I carried that evening. The Grizzlies had been terrible the previous season, and here they stood with a chance to add a player from a draft that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. Admittedly, it was a slim chance, because the Grizzlies entered that year’s draft lottery owing a pick to the Detroit Pistons that was only protected if the Grizzlies landed the number-one overall pick. This was a result of a trade that the Grizzlies had made six years earlier with Detroit for the then 35-year-old, 13-year veteran, Otis Thorpe.

I don’t recall the reasoning behind the then-Vancouver Grizzlies trading for Thorpe, since they were never close to being a playoff team, but regardless of what made or didn’t make sense back in 1997, the Grizzlies had to pay their debts on lottery night 2003. The lottery went to commercial break and the number one pick literally came down to two teams — Memphis and Cleveland. The Grizzlies would either win LeBron James or they would go home with nothing but remorse. We all know how history would play out as the Cavaliers would indeed win the lottery and James would play two stints in Cleveland, including an NBA World Championship run.

The feeling I had as a fan of the still-new franchise in town was sickening, but not nearly as bad as it could have been if I had a long-term investment in the team, like I — and many others — do now. I also didn’t know that the 2003 draft class would end up being one of the best ever, with four NBA championships being won by teams led by players from that class. The protection on the Grizzlies pick that they sent out for Thorpe decreased year by year, and by the time that 2003 draft rolled around, the Grizzlies had to pay the ultimate price for the bad decisions of their previous management.

I’ll be honest. I sway back and forth between whether or not I want the Grizzlies to convey or not convey — to pick or not pick — in this year's draft. I understand all of the benefits of adding another potential star, or even a role player, beside Jaren Jackson Jr. to build for the future and show Jackson, as well as the fanbase, that the organization is headed in the right direction. I am also admittedly crippled by the fear of reliving that 2003 draft, the one that saw the future of the NBA handed over to Cleveland, and saw Detroit use their Grizzlies pick at number two for Darko Milicic.

The Pistons didn’t need Wade, Bosh, or Anthony, to win a championship and could afford to take a risk with Milicic, but the Grizzlies couldn’t afford that luxury. They desperately needed another star on that young team with Pau Gasol and Shane Battier, and they were not able to acquire one. I fear going through that again. I fear the Grizzlies being the laughing-stock of the NBA – giving the Boston Celtics, who are already a contending team, a chance to add a top-three pick to their team, while the Grizzlies remain searching for answers. I can see and hear the local and national backlash if something like that happens, and I’d rather avoid it all at all costs. Is this a gloomy, worst-case scenario way of thinking? Sure, of course it is. But is it that far-fetched to see Jeff Green as the reincarnation of Otis Thorpe?

As not only a journalist, but an actual native Memphian and day-one fan of the team, I can’t always think with a rational mind. I fear the worst. I hear, “Don’t worry about it! With this team, plus a draft pick, we will convey next season!” and that sounds good. But its nowhere close to a given. The draft lottery will be here sooner than we think, and the ping-pong balls will be randomly sorted and sifted through. The Grizzlies will have their name called on that night and I am scared to death that they might be handing over a future star to someone else — again. I watched it, lived it, and endured the ripple effect of not having a pick in the 2003 draft. And I’m not sure that I'm ready to go through that again.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Rivalries, Rebuilding, Rehab, and Rasslin’

Posted By on Tue, Apr 2, 2019 at 9:22 AM

I was a guest on Kevin Cerrito’s sports-radio show, Cerrito Live, on Sports 56 last weekend, to discuss, of all things, the Memphis Grizzlies and their Wrestling Night promotions. Every NBA team has themed nights to add some pizzazz to their home games, and Wrestling Night is the home team's exclusive version of this. It was a great event when it was initially presented back in 2015. The night featured Jerry “The King” Lawler and Ric Flair, and was capped off by the Grizzlies beating a rival Oklahoma City Thunder team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka.
901 Wrestling - MICHAEL BUTLER JR.
  • Michael Butler Jr.
  • 901 Wrestling

During my radio interview, we talked about how the Grizzlies Wrestling Night went from being an amazing annual event to one that the Grizzlies in-game operations team has run into the ground — resting on past accomplishments and probably serving up too much of a good thing. The Grizzlies had six Wrestling Nights this season, often featuring embarrassingly aging former wrestlers from the 1990s and early 2000s. Unfortunately, this gaffe by the team’s event staff mirrors some of the actions of the organization on the basketball side, as well.

I also attended a local wrestling show that Saturday night, from a promotion called 901 Wrestling. Its owner, Christopher Thompson, has been hosting outstanding shows at the Rec Room on Broad Ave recently, and I was able to bring Grizzlies beat writer Omari Sankofa from The Athletic out with me to experience and learn how deep wrestling is rooted in a certain subculture of the city. He grasped the parallels and passion of it and saw how it adds to what he has already observed about the city since moving here last fall from Detroit to cover the Grizzlies. In Memphis, we love our hoops — and we love our wrestling.

Wrestling and basketball have always played off of each other well in Memphis, due to the fact that both sports have a element of good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, and intense rivalries with individuals that you may hate when they are on the court or in the ring but still find entertaining. This is what made great Grizzlies rivalries against the Thunder and Clippers so good, because we savored the classic battles between Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley against the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant.

After the Grizzlies latest 113-96 loss to the Clippers on Sunday night, it sunk in for me just how much the once-entertaining Clippers rivalry is now dead. Both teams have new rosters and new directions and Conley is the lone member from either side's glory days. Something else that stood out was how the Clippers were able to lose Paul, Griffin, and Jordan over the last year and have still managed to find themselves in the Western Conference playoffs, even after dealing Tobias Harris, their star player from earlier this season. The Grizzlies' former rival embraced their rebuild, took the bumps, and added respectable but non-star free agents, while keeping a proven head coach to lead the retooled roster back to the playoffs. In 2017, Doc Rivers was demoted from his position as director of basketball operations to focus on coaching, and he got his team back in the playoffs ahead of schedule.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Grizzlies currently sit tied for the sixth-worst record in the NBA. They have a potential superstar-level talent in Jaren Jackson Jr. but a ton of uncertainty in the front office going forward. There is no obvious sense of direction, outside of what now looks to be failed attempt to convey the draft pick owed to Boston. Jonas Valanciunas, who has had a monster campaign since being traded to the Grizzlies for Marc Gasol, is now out for the season after an ankle injury that he suffered against the Clippers. This adds to a long list of recent injuries, including Jackson, Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Avery Bradley, CJ Miles, and likely Joakim Noah as players that are out for the season.

The Grizzlies are heading into what will truly be a rebuilding offseason for the franchise, as Mike Conley is also likely to be traded as early as draft night, this summer. It comes with a ton of uncertainty because of the organization's frustratingly unclear front-office structure, which includes long-time general manager (and scapegoat) Chris Wallace and whoever else seems to be pulling strings and making moves at any time. Can the fans trust an organization that has botched so many major decisions? There is no quick remedy to get the Grizzlies back to being a Western Conference competitor, but just as with their Wrestling Nights, I hope that the team's leadership realizes that just doing more of the same thing probably isn't going to work.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Conley Regains Griz Scoring Record: How Long Will He Stay?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 2:39 PM

Mike Conley’s time in Memphis is possibly coming to an end. If it does, he'll go out as the team’s all-time leading scorer, which is a fitting accomplishment.
conley.png

Although the Grizzlies fell short Wednesday night in a pseudo-road game against the Golden State Warriors in a FedExForum filled with faux-Warrior fans, Conley was able to regain the franchise’s all-time scoring record with a corner three-pointer in the first quarter.

Conley, who also leads the franchise in assists, steals, three-point field goals, and games played, joined LeBron James and Reggie Miller as the only players ever to lead in all those categories for their respective franchises.

Conley was a late-bloomer scoring-wise over his career, after struggles to be productive early. As a young player, he was often the butt of fan and media jokes, but Conley went from being the third to forth option on teams that had some combination of Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol to the team’s number-one option in recent years. His longevity, combined with his production, has now placed him among the franchise’s all-time greats.

But now, Conley has a cloud of uncertainty floating over his head, as he is constantly the subject of trade rumors — even as early as NBA Draft day — after not being moved at this year's trade deadline. There are those who believe the Grizzlies will, in fact, move Conley either around the draft or at some point before next season’s trade deadline, the thought being that another team looking to re-tool going into next season might be willing to give more for Conley than the offers that were presented to the Grizzlies this season.

The Lakers, Jazz, Pistons, Pacers, and Magic seem to be the most likely candidates, based on previous interest in Conley, as well as speculative looks into their roster make-up, needs, and draft placement. Conley’s recent scoring production has made him look like a much more desirable player. There are those who say that Conley might even be “auditioning” or showcasing his abilities to a league-wide audience because he might not be opposed to the possibility of leaving Memphis via trade.

There are two ways of looking at his situation. There's the obvious benefit of having Conley back next season, especially if the Grizzlies are not able to convey the draft pick they owe to Boston. A team that consists of Conley, Jackson, Anderson, Brooks, and some combination of the players acquired via trade this season could not only be good enough to convey the pick, but possibly be good enough that the pick lands high enough that it might not sting so much to lose it.

There is also the thinking that not only should Conley not have to be forced to be a part of a team that is clearly rebuilding, but that the Grizzlies shouldn't try to rebuild on the fly, and keep Conley in the process. This kind of clean break would force the team — and the fans — to embrace life after Grit 'n Grind, of which Conley is now the lone survivor.

Regardless of what the Grizzlies end up doing with Conley between now and the near future, it is great to see him cement his place in team history. His hard work, dedication, and loyalty to the franchise, his teammates, and the city has placed him where he belongs — on top.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Can It Be That It Was All So Simple Then?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 9:22 AM

The Memphis Grizzlies have found themselves in a strange place — where their wins and loses are suffering from an identity crisis.

Times were so much simpler this time last season for the Grizzlies. It was cut and dried, to say the least. A win equaled “bad.” A loss equaled “good.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. - JOE MURPHY/NBAE
  • Joe Murphy/NBAE
  • Jaren Jackson Jr.

That’s how things are when you are clearly in the middle of a dead-end season, facing one of the best draft classes in recent years. You want to position yourself to get the best draft pick possible. You knew you had Mike Conley and Marc Gasol coming back, in addition to a potential top-five draft pick, so it made perfect sense to place yourself in a position to umm … well, increase your odds of winning as few games as possible.

The formula worked as planned. Well, sort of. The Grizzlies ended up landing the fourth overall draft pick, which turned out to be Jaren Jackson Jr. Pretty good, so far right? They added an elite-level, potential two-way star player to the combo of Conley and Gasol.

But the second half of the Grizzlies plan is where things began to falter. The assumption was that the team would be good enough this year to possibly contend for a playoff spot and, if not, to be able to convey the team's first-round draft pick that is owed to Boston. This has been explained ad nauseam, but here is the condensed version.

The Grizzlies owe Boston a draft pick. If it's in the top eight picks this year, the Grizzlies keep it. If it’s in the top six next year, they keep it. The year after that, it goes to Boston no matter what, if it hasn't already been conveyed to them.

Got it? Good.

But yeah, back to the whole plan not really going according to plan thing.

It didn’t work. The wheels fell off of the Grizzlies season very early, and all hopes of having a playoff team were deflated. After Gasol was traded, General Manager Chris Wallace announced that the team still planned on attempting to convey its draft pick to Boston, and ever since, the Grizzlies have found themselves in an odd place, where wins and loses are becoming one and the same.

They aren’t bad enough to catch the five teams below them in the reverse standings, and they can’t string enough wins together to make it seem like they will finish 9th or better — or worse — or however it works. It's confusing.

Injuries to Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jeran Jackson Jr. have also put a damper on things; the team can’t evaluate how their young, potential core players will perform with the veterans acquired in the Gasol trade. With all of the accolades that Jonas Valanciunas has received, it’s truly unfortunate that we won’t get to see him play with Jackson this season.

Things were so much simpler last year, when all you wanted the Grizzlies to do was lose — just lose as many games as possible. Simple. That’s all changed this year. The team sits in a peculiar place — where their highs aren’t high enough and their lows aren’t low enough. For every three-game winning streak against playoff teams, there are losses to Atlanta and Washington. Both of the team's options lack appeal.

It's makes you yearn for the good old days, when tanking made everything so simple.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Valanciunas Catches Grizz Fans On The Rebound

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 10:18 AM



There is a newly acquired seven-foot, board bangin’, paint stompin’, reboundin’ machine named Jonas Valanciunas who has quickly captured the hearts of Grizzlies fans. Is it true love, or is the fanbase just on the rebound during the team's rebuild?
Jonas Valanciunas
  • Jonas Valanciunas


When Pau Gasol was traded from the Grizzlies to the Lakers back in 2008, many lambasted the trade. The Grizzlies were criticized for, in essence, trading away their franchise player, who was still in his prime, for what amounted to expiring contracts and future assets, including Pau's younger brother, Marc. Although Pau was criticized for being too passive to be the best player on a good team, like the Grizzlies needed him to be, the overwhelming consensus was that he was one of the most skilled big men in the entire NBA and would help the Lakers tremendously — as he did.

Except for General Manager Chris Wallace, who insisted that the younger Gasol was a hidden gem, not many anticipated Marc Gasol panning out like he did. When he finally made his debut with the team, after coming over to the United States from playing professionally in Spain, he instantly became a fan favorite. He was big, burly, and wild; he fought in the paint and backed down from no one. He was the Anti-Pau, and the antidote that the team and fanbase needed to get over their traded star. For every memory of Pau being balled up on the floor after getting overpowered in the paint or checking for blood, the fans were gifted with Marc roaring with energy as he finished in the paint through contact.

He was a rebound for the broken hearted — a symbol of hope for a franchise in transition. He was the bigger, stronger, tougher, Memphis-molded version of his older brother, and just what the city needed at the time.

Similarly, Valanciunas has been just what Grizzlies fans have needed after Marc Gasol's departure. During a period where wins and losses feel the about the same as far as draft positioning is concerned, watching JV thrive on the court has been a thrill. He’s averaged 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in the seven games he’s played for the team, and has reminded many of the younger more paint-oriented version of what Marc was. The idea of him playing next to now-injured Jaren Jackson Jr. has left many fantasizing that Valanciunas' physical style will be the perfect complement to Jackson’s youth and diverse talents, and cover his weaknesses — a yin to Jackson’s yang, an alternate reality Z-Bo to Marc, or the other way around — whatever makes sense to you.

Still, it’s not a great idea for fans to get too attached to their new-found love, since Valanciunas has a player-option on the $17 million owed to him for next season. He might opt in for the final year with Grizzlies, making him a free agent in 2020, or sign an extension with the Grizzlies, or opt out of his final year and become a free agent in 2019. No one knows, at this point.

There is also the possibility that he opts in and is then traded to another team.

That said, Valanciunas has been a pleasant surprise, especially to those who didn’t know that the team was acquiring one of the league's top young centers. He’s not Marc Gasol and might not even be here long enough to build a legacy, but he’s been perfect in the moment.

It’s perfectly fine to be excited about the potential that fans see in Valanciunas on the court and even in the locker room. But, be careful Grizz fans. It's okay to fall in love with a rebound, just don’t get too enamored by someone who may break your heart.

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Friday, March 1, 2019

Time Out For The Excuses

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2019 at 12:02 PM

After the Grizzlies suffered their 39th loss of the season against the equally woeful Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff went on a mini-tirade. He ranted to the media members in attendance about how NBA officials were not calling fouls for Mike Conley in a way that he felt they should, and pointed to how a late no-call against the Bulls swung the outcome of the game. 
JB Bickerstaff - SAMUEL X. CICCI
  • Samuel X. Cicci
  • JB Bickerstaff

Bickerstaff said that he had gotten earlier feedback from the league after issuing a complaint but hadn’t seen any progress as far as the referees calling fouls in Conley’s favor more often. For someone just looking at the Bulls game's final moments in a vacuum or as an isolated incident, sure, you can say that the referees’ bad calls affected the outcome of the game. But not if you look at the big picture — the picture that shows that the first-year coach is digging for excuses instead of owning up to his own shortcomings.

If some of Coach Bickerstaff’s decisions on the court didn’t include starting Chandler Parsons at small forward over Kyle Anderson, choosing to use Jamychal Green much more than Jaren Jackson Jr., especially in the fourth quarter, and an insane helping of Shelvin Mack, then I’d show more understanding and grace towards his rant. But now, he’s just passing the buck instead of accepting that it's a bed that he made and now has to lie in.

As I’ve written before, this entire season feels like one that could’ve been different in some way, if not in a major way, if things were done differently. But here we are — looking at a team that is currently 14th in the Western Conference and possibly slotted to pick sixth in the NBA draft.

This team has always looked like it had more left in the chamber — and that questionable coaching has been a catalyst in its shortcomings. To sit in front of the city's media and try to imply that a lack of foul calls for Conley is the major problem is not only an insult to the intelligence of the fan-base, but a desperate reach for sympathy — and a deflection. This wasn’t Dave Joerger crying back in 2016, after being swept, or even David Fizdale’s “take that for data” rant in 2017. This was Bickerstaff 100-percent deflecting from the real issue: His team lost at home to a very bad team. Just let that be what it is, without making excuses. Especially when the excuses include defending a player, in Conley, who is quite capable of defending himself.

If Conley accepts constantly being fouled while not losing his mind to the officials, then that is as much as an issue with him as it is with the officials. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and closed mouths don’t get fed. If Conley wants the calls, then he needs to stop with the good-guy thing and speak up for himself.

On Wednesday night, It didn't appear that too many people bought Bickerstaff’s attempt at sympathy. The rant garnered more eye-rolls than applause. It’s time-out for the excuses, Coach Bickerstaff. Own it. Do better. The city will respect you more for it. Trust me.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Jackson and Rabb: Addition by Subtraction

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 9:19 AM

The Grizzlies' two young big men have a prime opportunity to shine, now that a path has been cleared for them. After the dust of the NBA trade deadline settled, two of the team's veteran big men were gone: JaMychal Green and, of course, former franchise cornerstone, Marc Gasol. These two moves have freed up more playing time for rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. and second-year player Ivan Rabb, and gives them an opportunity to showcase their skill-sets.

Jackson replaced Green in the starting lineup fairly early in the season, after Green suffered a broken jaw during the team’s home opener against Atlanta. Since then, he’s flashed a plethora of talent, both offensively and defensively, while creating a conundrum for head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who seemed to be more inclined to play Green over Jackson. This created a ton of fan frustration, since many saw Jackson as the obviously better talent — now and for the future. Bickerstaff would often describe Jackson as you would a player who is years away — or a project — when in fact, Jackson, although still developing and struggling with occasional foul trouble, has produced on a high level when given playing time.
Jaren Jackson Jr. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jaren Jackson Jr.

This was also the case with Rabb, a second-year player who received sporadic playing time as a backup center/power forward before the trades. Since he's begun starting, he has been very productive, scoring inside and rebounding well. Rabb is undersized and can still be physically overwhelmed, so he struggles defensively at times, which was evident against Lamarcus Aldridge and the Spurs two weeks ago. But he has a knack for scoring around the basket and his newfound confidence has paid dividends for him — and the team — on the court.

As a player who has been compared to Tim Duncan since high school — which was probably based on aesthetics more than anything — Rabb has finally begun to show flashes of his promise since being given more responsibility. It can be assumed that newly acquired big man Jonas Valanciunas will likely replace him in the starting lineup, but hopefully Rabb can continue to be a major part of Bickerstaff’s rotation.
Ivan Rabb
  • Ivan Rabb

Bickerstaff has spoken about how Jackson’s role will change to become more of a focus of the offense and how he plans to “give him the rope to do more” and allow him to play through the expected bumps that come with being a 19-year-old rookie. This is interesting, considering that Bickerstaff has also hinted that he's still working on how to manage Jackson’s skill-set.

There are those who think Bickerstaff has mismanaged Jackson's usage this season. The rookie has the tools to be a phenomenal player on both ends of the court and it’s been a point of frustration that Bickerstaff has under-used him, until the trade that sent Green to the Clippers basically forced his hand. The Grizzlies have struggled with rebounding all season, and a tenacious rebounder like Rabb is just now being given an opportunity.

Should it have come sooner? Will Jackson and Rabb continue to not only get more minutes but show themselves to be a formidable future front-court tandem. Hopefully that’s the outcome — and more importantly — that the opportunity will continue to be given to them to make it happen.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Wendigone: Marc Gasol's Memphis Era Ends

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2019 at 10:47 PM

The tale of the Grizzlies' half-man, half-Memphian, has  come to an end.

Matt Moore of the Action Network coined a nickname for now-former Memphis Grizzly Marc Gasol that took off on twitter during the height of the Grit n’ Grind era. “The Wendigo,” as Moore called him, came from Gasol’s tenaciousness on the court and his physical appearance. A mythological half-man, half-beast creature known for devouring people whole, the Wendigo was an accurate description of the long haired, uber-aggressive Grizzlies rookie center that Moore saw in 2008. Gasol was a wild man on the court back then — an inside presence who banged the boards and battled in the paint to the delight of the fan-base that took pleasure in seeing a more “Memphis Made” alternative to Marc’s older brother, Pau. For everything that fans longed for in Pau, Marc was the tougher, grittier, upgraded version.
MATT PRESTON
  • Matt Preston

Marc Gasol was as close to being a native son as any non-Memphian could be. He played high school basketball at Lausanne Collegiate School and later turned down an opportunity to walk on at the University of Memphis in order to go play professionally back in his native Spain. Fate would bring him back to Memphis via trade. The younger Gasol’s years of being one of the best prospects overseas prepared him well, and he became a welcome surprise upon his arrival to the NBA. He was a traditional European-style big-man, infused with Project Pat lyrics and Bluff City swagger and toughness. What Matt Moore saw as being half-man, half-beast was actually more like half-man, half-Memphian — a player who became a product of his environment — but also the methodical, intellectual, introverted, puzzle that we know today.

As Gasol’s game would develop and change on the court, his understanding for the importance of the role that he played for not only the team on the court, but the Grizzlies organization — and the city of Memphis — would change as well. As Gasol faded farther away from the basket, his love and understanding for the essence of the city of Memphis grew closer to his heart, and Gasol himself grew closer to the heart of the fan-base.

The addition of Zach Randolph in 2009 allowed Gasol the freedom to not to have to bang in the paint as much and provided him with a teammate that joined him to form half of one of the best front-court tandems in the NBA. Gasol became more of a facilitator and an outside threat as years went by, and many, including me, would grow frustrated with his tendency to defer to his teammates instead of looking to be more aggressive offensively.

Gasol was an acquired taste for some within the fan-base. On some nights he would be an unstoppable monster that you could run everything through on offense, while also remaining an elite defender. Other nights he would seem to be disinterested and passive, blaming either his teammates or coaches. Gauging Gasol's temperament was difficult, but he was without a doubt the team’s thermometer. Want to know the mood of the team and the outlook in the locker room? Take a look at Marc Gasol’s body language, or better yet, put a microphone in front of him. Gasol's demeanor could range from grim and grumpy to grateful and giddy — and it could all happen before halftime. 
Marc Gasol - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol

Gasol’s time with Memphis has now come to an end. He is off to Toronto, where he will have a much lower level of expectation placed upon him. There won’t be as many people begging him to rebound, score in the paint, or attempt to block a shot. He will have less pressure on him, but he won't get nearly as much love as this city provided — a love that he always made an effort to return. From the aggressive half-man, half-beast without fear or limitations that he was back in 2008 to the more seasoned and worse-for-wear veteran he is now, his time in Memphis won’t soon be forgotten. Here’s to Marc Gasol continuing to represent for the city that adopted him as its own.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Conley and Gasol's Possible Farewell Brings Mixed Emotions

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2019 at 8:53 AM

Today the remaining two members of the Memphis Grizzlies’ “Core Four” era could be playing their final home game for the team they have played for their entire careers. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have been involved in several trade rumors after it was recently announced that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera was willing to trade the
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
m before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

The Grizzlies play at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, before a road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. I would expect the Tuesday game to be emotional for the fans and media members, who could be seeing Gasol and Conley for the final time in Beale Street Blue. I’m also sure that there will be a tone of emotion from both Gasol and Conley, as they reflect on the possibility of playing their final home game for Memphis.

The possibility of both franchise stalwarts being traded creates a unique situation for the Grizzlies. For a franchise with a relatively short history, compared to others in the league, Conley and Gasol represent the first long-tenured, accomplished players who are having a farewell tour, so to speak. Both players have played for Memphis since their rookie seasons, and Gasol, of course, attended Lausanne High School here in Memphis, while his brother Pau played for the Grizzlies. 
We've watched these two now-established veterans grow literally from being boys to men. We've watched them change in appearance and body frame over the years, and we've seen them get married, have kids, and become a part of the community — on and off the court. The thought of Conley and Gasol not being a part of the Grizzlies is a difficult one to comprehend, but one that, as far this season’s trade deadline is concerned, is definitely a possibility.

It has been reported that the Grizzlies covet draft picks and young prospects in any trade, and some reports also suggest that they desire expiring contracts in return for either of their stars. Many trade scenarios include the Grizzlies gaining players with warts and flaws that the team believes could be less worrisome in a different environment. Others have suggested that the organization should consider Conley's and Gasol's accomplishments and contributions and choose a destination for them that is mutually beneficial to the Grizzlies and the two players.
LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
I don't think that that should be a factor. The NBA is a business, and a shrewd one, at that. Teams have a limited window of success, and in a small market like Memphis, that window can have a screen, bars on the outside, and be quickly painted over, if opportunity isn’t seized and handled intelligently. There have been complaints that the Grizzlies organization failed Conley and Gasol by not providing an adequate supporting cast for them during their time here — especially recently.

I am personally fine with considering the possibility that Gasol and Conley were also the product of their other two Core Four members, and instead of being a two-man tandem, were part of a quartet that needed all four members to truly make hit music.

The Core Four was like a concept album. A beautiful creation built around Grit n’ Grind, where if you were to separate the various songs from the whole record, they don’t hold the same weight. Yes Conley and Gasol have been vital to this organization, but why do they deserve a better send off than Zach Randolph and Tony Allen received, which was nothing? They both played their entire final season expecting to be back, and wanting to come back, only to be told (or not told) that they weren’t welcome.

Could a trade be announced tonight in the middle of the game, leading to an awkward but potentially amazing moment? Possibly. Or will we see Conley and Gasol make it past the trade deadline and keep playing for Memphis for years to come? The one thing that is definite is that the NBA trade deadline is Thursday, and two of the city’s adopted sons might be playing their final home game here. It’s one game that I won’t miss — even though I might not miss these two players as much as others will.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Grizz Front Office Woes? Pera Doesn't Have To Look Far For a Solution

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2019 at 8:04 PM

With the Grizzlies now on the verge of possibly trading the last two pillars of the Grit 'n Grind Era in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, many fans and media members have shown concern. Not so much a concern over whether or not it is a good idea to trade the two veterans, but more a concern about who would be in charge of trading them — namely Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace.
Tayshaun Prince - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tayshaun Prince

Wallace has been connected to his share of baffling moves and blunders while serving as the team’s general manager. From the Hasheem Thabeet draft pick, the countless other picks that didn’t pan out, the questionable trades, the giving away of draft picks haphazardly, the overpaying for players, and the signing of Chandler Parsons to a max contract. Is it understandable fans might be gun-shy about trusting Wallace with another rebuild?

Yes it is. Especially when this rebuild is different — for many reasons.

This isn’t the fresh, cute and cuddly Grizzlies franchise that was new to a city that didn’t know what to expect. This team has grown on — and with — the city and the fans have tasted the spoils of victory. They won't settle for years of bad basketball or a poorly run franchise. It’s a crucial time for the organization. A mishandled rebuild could be fatal to the organization by driving away its fan base. 

So let’s assume that Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera also has concerns about Wallace’s ability to prepare the organization for its next phase. Where does he turn at this point in the season? Who would be willing to come on board with the organization (or lack thereof), with its seeming constant flux and instability? To me, the answer might be simple. In fact, the answer in this case might already be here.

Chris Makris - NBA.COM
  • NBA.com
  • Chris Makris
The Grizzlies have two under-utilized members of their front office in former NBA player Tayshaun Prince, who serves as Special Assistant to the General Manager, and Chris Makris, the Director of Player Personnel. As a former highly respected and professional NBA player, Prince has clout around the league. Players, coaches, and executives, alike, respect Prince and his work ethic. He is highly intelligent in terms of seeing the game, identifying problems, and looking at the many intricate ways in which they can be addressed. He has a wealth of knowledge about the game — and knows what it takes to win. Most fans will also remember that he was a steadying presence on the Grizzlies' Western Conference Finals team — and a major loss off the court when he was traded for Jeff Green two years later.

Prince is still relatively inexperienced in the area of day-to-day operations, but this is an area where Makris could come in and support Prince by filling that void. Similar to the Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka partnership with the Lakers, I could see Makris and Prince being a tandem that accentuates each other’s deficiencies for a common goal — a successful NBA team built the right way, with no short cuts or ulterior motives. With the Lakers, Magic Johnson has the clout, pull, and credentials, while Pelinka handles the behind-the-scenes grind. Neither Prince nor Makris are yes men. And both choose to let their work and their actions do the talking.

I originally became aware of Makris when he was serving as General Manager for the Iowa Energy, after the Grizzlies acquired the team as a developmental league affiliate. He served in this capacity for 10 years, during a tenure that included four division titles and one league championship. Makris ran the basketball side, as well as the business side. He hired three Iowa Energy coaches that now serve as either NBA head coaches or assistants: Head Coach Nick Nurse and Assistant Coach Nate Bjorken in Toronto, and Sixers Assistant Coach Kevin Young. Makris and his revamped and refocused scouting team also identified Jaren Jackson Jr. early in the scouting process and saw his potential as the best player in this draft, when many others didn’t.

Are Prince and Makris experienced enough to handle this team for the upcoming trade deadline and beyond? Maybe not, but they have done the work and have all of the tools needed to succeed. And they would be a breath of fresh air in a front office that needs a major upheaval. The fanbase has seen what Wallace and Hollinger have to offer and most think it's time for a change. I believe that Prince and Makris have the DNA that matches what the fans want to see, going forward.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Grizzlies, Memphis, and MLK Day: Still a Long Way to Go

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 9:09 AM

The Memphis Grizzlies do a phenomenal job with their annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration. In what I consider the crown jewel of the Grizzlies' operations side’s achievements, the team pulls out all the stops to recognize and celebrate the legacy that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind in this country for all who suffered racial and economic injustices. The team traditionally honors former athletes who have been examples of Dr. King’s legacy, and hosts a captivating symposium that allows the honorees to share stories of adversity and inspiration. 
A recent Grizzlies MLK Day uniform
  • A recent Grizzlies MLK Day uniform

The celebration, of course, also surrounds an actual NBA game. The Grizzlies were the first organization in the NBA to place an intentional emphasis on the day, which is fitting, considering Memphis’ history as a key city during the civil rights movement and Dr. King's tragic assassination here in 1968.

The NBA has since hitched their wagon to the Grizzlies' innovation and made MLK Day a major event league-wide. This also resulted in the Grizzlies being bumped from the prime-time nationally televised game to the earlier afternoon game (and even being moved to the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day in 2017). The NBA eventually made things right by returning the Grizzlies to the Monday game last season. In 2017 and 2018 the team wore uniforms inspired by Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

The Grizzlies and the NBA have done an excellent job of capturing the essence of Dr. King on a surface level, but there is so much more that needs to be done, especially in the city where Dr. King took his final breath. I was born and raised in Memphis and I love this city with everything I have. I love its soul, its attitude, its hospitality, its culture. There’s isn’t much about this city that I won’t defend to its core — except for the fact that now, 50-plus years after Dr. King’s assassination, Memphis still has a long way to go as far as achieving the actual essence of his dream.

The difference between schools in the inner city and the suburbs is appalling. As someone who has a background in working hands-on with the city’s youth, and alongside its school system’s employees, I can tell you that a visit inside of some of the inner-city schools can bring you to tears. There are no rules or laws that separate us but there is a lot of “that’s just how it is.”

The racism is veiled, but still alive and well. There are parts of town that people avoid, either because of perceived danger or just plain ignorance. From another viewpoint, there are also parts of town that people stay away from to avoid unfair treatment, stares, and racial profiling.

But the show must go on. The games and the festivities around them must still be played. There’s a cliché that gets a lot of notoriety here in Memphis: Namely, that the Grizzlies bring the city together. This is a cliché to which I will never subscribe. Sports don’t bring a city together. They are a temporary escape from reality — a coping mechanism. If a person has disdain or prejudice towards someone of another race or social class, it doesn’t magically disappear when you both see the upside in Jaren Jackson Jr.

Maybe the Grizzlies cause you to cheer together against a common enemy or to join together in the joys of victory, but all of that can quickly fade away when you see the guy that you just gave a high-five to pull his wife closer as she clutches her purse in the parking lot while passing you. I’ve been a part of this scenario enough to know that it’s a real thing. I’ve lived in this city long enough to know that it needs work to achieve all that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. Has there been progress? Yes, but there is little to actually celebrate about.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Trade Deadline Forces Grizz into a Tough Gasol Decision

Posted By on Sun, Jan 20, 2019 at 8:19 PM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
With the NBA trade deadline approaching, the Memphis Grizzlies’ ownership and front office will have a tough decision to make. Marc Gasol, who has a player option on the final year of his contract in 2019-20, can either opt in for one year or opt out — and become an unrestricted free agent. Opting in would pay him the remaining balance of the nearly $26 million owed to him. Opting out means he could explore other offers and find out what NBA teams might pay for his services.

Opting out doesn’t necessarily mean an end to Gasol's career with the Grizzlies, as he could also re-sign with the Grizzlies with a new contract. This could also include a situation where Gasol would opt out of his final year, become a free agent, and re-sign with the Grizzlies for a lesser amount that would help the team with its cap situation.
All of these options, of course, depend on Gasol’s decision, but the Grizzlies ultimately have the opportunity to decide their own destiny concerning Gasol by simply — or not-so-simply — moving him by the February 7th trade deadline. Many within the fan base have been saying that Gasol should be traded, and the constant, and now annual, trade rumors from local and national media have done nothing but add fuel to the fire.

It’s easy to see Gasol’s decline on the court. Never an natural athlete, he has even struggled lately as a positional defender — an ability that once led to his being named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Gasol hasn’t been assertive offensively, either. Whether this is because of health issues, physical decline, or disinterest is hard to tell. He's been routinely passing up shots and hasn't been much of a primary, or secondary, option, which is vital to this Grizzlies team's success. Gasol's been frustratingly gun-shy from mid and three-point range, as well, and his post fade-away has seemed to well … fade away.

Gasol's decline at both ends of the court is a key reason for the Grizzlies' failure to win this season.

Of course, it would be great if a deal happened that would benefit the Grizzlies and Gasol, but the often-heard refrain of “just trade Marc for some picks” is more fantasy than reality. For the Grizzlies to be able to trade Gasol, the other team would have to be able to return comparable salary numbers. This would likely take the form of a bad contract coming back from a contending team. It won’t be multiple young players – and maybe not even one young talent. You also more than likely won’t see a lottery team with cap space (which is also a rarity) absorb Gasol’s deal and trade a lottery pick.

The same decline in his game that's obvious to those of us who see Gasol up close can can also be seen from afar — including by the teams that the Grizzlies would most like to trade with. Would a contending team be willing to trade one of their young players, a larger contract, and maybe a low first-round pick for Gasol? Maybe. But this same team would probably also be more inclined to offer more for the services of Anthony Davis, who will definitely have suitors at the trade deadline. The Grizzlies also have the option of simply leaving the choice up to Gasol, and not trading him. What could then be viewed as “Marc Gasol leaving for nothing” could also be the Grizzlies freeing up $26 million in cap space without having to take on years of a filler contract from a trade.

Regardless of how this all plays out, the ball is in the Grizzlies hands, and they are on the clock.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Is It Time To Crank Up The Tank?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 9:34 AM

cover_grizztank-teaser.jpg

This time last year, I created a hashtag on Twitter that would serve as a coping mechanism for fans who were left to deal with the doom and gloom of that losing season. As a play on words, based on the rallying cry for the Confederate statues to be removed — “Take ‘em down 901” — as coined by former Grizz head coach David Fizdale — #TankEmDown901 was my personal attempt to get fans on board for the team's tanking.

Last year, it made perfect sense. A team that was aging and filled with mediocre young talent in need of a potential young star had the opportunity to position itself to do just that. Mike Conley had suffered a severe heel injury, so sitting him for the season gave the team an out. The Grizzlies were so bad without him that it was second nature to do as little as possible to try to actually win games. It was clear what the best course of action was. The “tank” was full of gas — locked and loaded.

This season, things are a little different. The Grizzlies owe a conditional first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics from the Jeff-Green-for-Tayshaun-Prince trade. So, it would be a little haphazard to go into what is an imminent rebuild for the franchise without a strategic plan.

It was no secret that Grizzlies ownership and management were doing everything they could to make this season’s team the best it could be in order to convey the worst pick possible to Boston. If this plan also resulted in a playoff berth for the Grizzlies, it would be a win-win for the organization. Regardless of the spiel coming from the front office, coaching staff, players, and even the owner, the main goal was always to get off of the trade obligation to Boston with the least amount of damage.

This plan looked like it had a great chance of working, earlier in the season, but now that the Grizzlies sit at 19-24, 14th in the Western Conference, and with the eighth worst record in the NBA, the question of whether or not to tank again this season is not as simple as it seemed, even a few weeks ago.

There are a few things of which many fans don’t really have a clear understanding. So, it’s been entertaining to see those who fought the #TankEmDown901 movement last season until the bitter end, now turn bloodthirsty over the chance of taking another high pick this year. Tanking has an odd thrill to it.

But fans need to understand what is at stake in totality and not what is just in front of their faces. For one thing, the pick that the Grizzlies owe Boston is top eight protected this season, top six protected in 2020, and unprotected in 2021. If the Grizzlies are bad enough to finish in a position in which they draft in the top eight this season, you can expect that they will be bad enough again next season to be among the top six picks.

The kicker is that in the 2021 draft, which is most certainly going to be a bad one for the team, the team is staring at the possibility of not only being bad but having to surrender their pick, regardless of position, to Boston. Most who are for tanking this season are basing that position on the team getting one of the projected top four picks, including Duke Freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. The reality is that the Grizzlies would more than likely, based on current odds and record, draft outside of the top four — in a draft that is weak, except for the studs at the top.

I would prefer the Grizzlies just let the season play out and not do anything drastic to put themselves in the best position to neither win nor lose. The reality is that with proper planning and execution of the pending cap space, good things could become available over the next two years. I know that asking for proper planning and execution from Pera and company is basically like asking for consistent weather in Memphis. But regardless of what they do, a lot is at stake regarding the draft this season and the next few to come.

There are too many question marks about how tanking this season could turn out. I would prefer to see the team finish outside of the top eight picks, but with the way things have been going lately, the Grizzlies may not have a choice.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

After Slow Start, "Slow Mo" Keeps Things Moving

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 7:04 AM

Kyle Anderson defends against the Spurs, Wednesday night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kyle Anderson defends against the Spurs, Wednesday night.
I’ll preface this by saying that I am probably the last person to expect to write something about Kyle Anderson without being biased. I’ve had a strange fascination with him, dating back to the summer before the 2014 NBA draft, when he was taken eight spots behind the Grizzlies' pick at 30th overall.

Tayshaun Prince was the team's starting small forward, and I welcomed the prospect of having a play-making small forward that actually showed the ability to make three-pointers in college — shooting 48 percent in his final season. And Anderson was crafty around the basket and found ways to get to the rim in spite of his obvious lack of athleticism.

And then he was “Spurred.” Or should I say “Popped”?

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is known for shaping his players to fit his system and philosophy and he made no exceptions with Anderson. Gone were Anderson's days of being on the ball and being the primary ball handler. Instead, Popovich used Anderson as more of a power forward with limited on-ball usage. While Anderson’s offensive game was forced to change, he also developed a knack for being a high-level on-ball defender.

Anderson’s signing with the Grizzlies was a bit of a surprise, and his tenure with the home team started off a little rocky. After an early achilles injury that limited him in the preseason, Anderson found himself coming off the bench in a reserve role. He would struggle to find his way with the team even after gaining the starting spot after the now-departed Chandler Parsons began to experience knee soreness.

As of late, Anderson has picked up his game, and despite his nickname, “Slow Mo,” he has quickly become a necessary component of lineups that lead to success. He is far from being a great shooter — especially from three-point range, only shooting 27 percent on the season — but Anderson has a knack for scoring around the basket and has been much more assertive since being allowed to be on the ball more this season.

Defensively, he has been outstanding. Though he's Limited athletically, Anderson's high basketball IQ, combined with his elite-level hand instincts and reactions, allows him to work angles and create turnovers. He was one of the team's best rebounders during a crucial period where rebounding was a prime need, and his ability to find and feed rookie stud Jaren Jackson Jr. is unmatched among his team-members. (Not to mention, it brings cheer to the fanbase that wants to see Jackson emerge as more of a scoring threat.)

In Wednesday night's 96-86 victory over his former Spurs team, Anderson didn’t have a monster game, or even a revenge game, but he had the type of Kyle Anderson game that we have come to expect — one that's relatively low scoring, mixed with timely plays and defensive highlights. This was most evident in a highlight-reel lob pass and finish by his favorite target, Jackson Jr., late in the second quarter, and an insane block of a Bryn Forbes shot with 4:47 remaining in the game.

That sequence was typical Kyle Anderson, as he missed a free throw on one end, got back on defense for a chase down block, and started off a break that led to a Mike Conley layup that made the score 91-77, basically sealing the deal on the victory.

Anderson will never be a knockdown shooter, he won’t blow by anyone on his way to the basket or amaze you with his offensive aesthetics, but he does things that pass the eye test — and fill the spreadsheet — that contribute to winning. When the Grizzlies are making a run and playing good basketball, it's more than likely that Anderson will be on the floor. Regardless of his deficiencies, he's looks to be a player you would want to keep throughout this transitional season and the imminent rebuild.

His game won’t wow you, although you will get a kick out of noticing that he actually appears faster during slow motion replays than in real time. Go look it up. It’s a real thing and it’s low-key awesome. Sort of like what he brings to the table for this team.

Don’t blink, (well you actually might have time to blink a lot) because Slow-Mo is making things happen faster than you think!

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