Archive for the ‘Memphis Grizzlies’ Category

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Well, looks like we have yet another Grizzly to throw in to the ever-expanding Internet’s Favorite Memphis Grizzly pool, now that Sports Illustrated has snapped a picture of Quincy Pondexter’s puppy, Buckets, just chilling at practice while Quincy works on those corner threes he’s always shooting. The only thing that could make this team more lovable is if Tayshaun Prince adopted this kid. Don’t rule it out.

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“We crack jokes sometimes about what he used to [look like] in high school.”Zach Randolph, who probably would have picked on Marc Gasol in high school

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I had been itching to make a return trip to Memphis since my 60/30 NBA trip back in 2010, during which my visit to FedEx Forum was easily the coldest and most desolate of the 30 stops made. The team that seemed like a league afterthought early in that season became a sensation with their first round upset of the San Antonio Spurs as the eighth seed that postseason, and has grown from a veritable laughing stock into something semi-resembling a model franchise in the years since. Moreover, FedEx — since (unofficially) re-christened the Grindhouse — has seemed to turn into one of the NBA’s most vibrant arenas, a stark contrast to the intimate unplugged concert of my earlier visit. I felt cheated to have so narrowly missed out on it.

I finally went back to Memphis and FedEx for Game 4 of Grizzlies-Thunder last night, and the contrast was even starker than I had imagined. It wasn’t just that the crowd was now so in to the game, or that it was there at all — but rather, that since I was last there, FedEx had morphed into one of the NBA’s strongest home cultures, one that while virtually non-existent just two-and-a-half seasons ago, has blossomed into a relationship between city, players and franchise that 25 other teams in the league would probably envy. If I didn’t know better from my own experience, I’d have guessed that it had been this way for generations, or at least as close to “generations” as you can get from the 12 seasons the team has been stationed in Memphis. It’s a stunning transformation.

The first and most noticeable evidence of the growth of pro basketball culture in Memphis (to me, at least), was the preponderance of home team merchandise being worn by fans throughout the stadium. Now, most respectable hoops fan bases show out in impressive spreads of home jerseys and the like, but the Grizz crowd was distinctive for the diversity of merch on display. Zach Randolph jerseys probably made up the biggest individual percentage, but there was plenty of love for Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, even some for Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter if you squinted hard enough. The dearly departed were repped for as well — surprising amounts of OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay, as well as less impactful team discards like Josh Selby, Hamed Haddadi, Jeremy Pargo and (my personal favorite) Allen Iverson. Pretty good, considering last time I went there weren’t enough total jerseys worn to even attempt a consensus.

But it wasn’t just the jerseys. I’ve never seen such a wide spread of fan shirts for the same team. There were plenty of puns off the “grit, grind” and “We don’t bluff” quotes the team has been milking for some time now — more on those in a minute — but there were also shirts advertising the nGo (New Grizzlies Order), making “Hard in the Paint” boasts, playing on the 901 Memphis area code, displaying both “Keep Calm, Grind On” AND “Screw Calm, Grind On” maxims, listing the team’s five starters, Experimental Jet Set style (Marc & Tony & Z-Bo…), Photoshopping Marc Gasol into the “F— You, Thunder” scene from “Ted,” boldly declaring “I just Grizzed in my pants,” and so much more. Where did all this come from in barely over two seasons?

The answer appears to be traceable back to Chris Vernon, Memphis radio host and makeshift merchandiser, who was responsible for the first capitalization on both the Grizzlies’ newfound popularity, and their players’ remarkable quotability. After playing the bite endlessly on his show, Chris took Tony Allen’s now legendary “All heart … grit, grind” quote from a regular season postgame and put it on a t-shirt, wondering at first if ordering 50 copies of the shirt for sale was too overzealous. “When it came out, Bill Simmons re-tweeted it to 1.4 million followers,” Vernon explained to me at the game. “Then, it just took off. Started selling it at more games, online … once the wave got going, it just got going.”

A second t-shirt based around Zach Randolph’s “Blue collar player, blue collar town” shirt from that postseason proved similarly popular, and soon the team took notice of their players’ newfound marketability. By the time Z-Bo accidentally spawned another catchphrase this season with his “We don’t bluff” postgame interview following an emotional win over the Thunder, the team was ready to seize the opportunity, giving out rally towels with the message inscribed on them for this year’s playoffs. The constant phrase-coining with the Grizzlies threatens to stretch into cheesiness, especially given how hard the team seems to push some of them — the “grind”ification of everything at FedEx, down to mascot Grizz unveiling a late-game banner that declares “WE GRIND HERE,” can get particularly tiresome — but the quotes seem to originate so organically from the players and resonate so authentically with the fanbase that it’s hard to be too cynical about them.

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“We could send him a limo and then sidetrack the limo. That might be the best thing”Lionel Hollins, movie villain

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It’s award time again. This time, via Memphis bros Chris Vernon and Ronald Tillery, it’s DPOY talk. Here’s the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol will be named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year later this week, according to the multiple sources with knowledge of the voting.

Don’t expect to find too many arguments about this award. Not only did the Grizzlies finish second in defensive efficiency, according to 82games they were 6.5 points per possession better on that end when Marc-y Marc was on the court. Which is to say, the Grizzlies were great defensively but even better when the Big Burrito was watching the rim. That’s good stuff, even if his traditional defensive stats — your blocks, steals and defensive rebounds — don’t blow you away because other Grizzers are making those plays.

Cases could be made, I guess, for Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert or Tim Duncan, all of who would be fine choices for this award if they played more minutes. But as it stands, Gasol played 370 more minutes than Noah (the closest of the previous three in terms of playing time) and 718 more than Duncan (the furthest). Considering Marc plays a little bit more than 35 minutes a game, that’s like getting an extra 10-20 games of A+ defense from your center. Between that and the cool guy factor that Gasol is enjoying thanks to the tireless work of Zach Lowe, it’s a pretty easy choice.

But it’s a free internet, so please disagree in the comments if you want to. Just remember that if you do, Marc Gasol is going to give you a giant sweaty hug to win you back. Consider for a second if that’s worth it to say how great Andre Iguodala has been this season.

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There’s not going to be a big deal this trade deadline. Not again, anyway — we’ve already had it. No, instead, there are just teams taking free part-season looks at backups. Looks, they believe, are worth taking. Are they right? Perhaps.

To set the tone, Miami traded Dexter Pittman and a second round pick to Memphis, whose 12-man roster and available trade exception made them prime salary-dumping candidates. In Big Pitt, however, they see more than just a salary. Are they right? Perhaps not.

Pittman is one of those enticing prospects who entices without doing much to truly justify it. His combination of being a nice guy with great size, terrific footwork and decent touch is a rare one — when interspersed with an easy feel-good narrative about his weight loss, the attraction is obvious. But the less alluring part of the story is that Pittman just isn’t that impactful, and nor was he ever. He wasn’t at Texas, he hasn’t been in the D-League, and he definitely hasn’t been in the NBA. Pittman can’t defend without fouling, turns it over an excessively large amount, and doesn’t defensive rebound. The potential of Pittman, or the perceived potential of Pittman, far outweighs the production.

Nevertheless, he’s free. And he comes with a pick, which could bag another fringe prospect, who is also free. That, truly, is a look worth taking.

Miami, for their troubles, open up a roster spot without having to waste dollars in eating Pittman’s contract to do so. Since he had no role on the team, he was nothing more than a tax burden. As a matter of bookkeeping, Memphis — obliged by NBA rules to send out something in a trade, however trivial — sent Miami the draft rights to Ricky Sanchez, rights they had previously acquired in the deal that sent Sam Young to Philadelphia. Essentially, then, they traded Sam Young for Dexter Pittman and a pick, saving on some luxury tax dollars in the process. They also got to call Ricky Sanchez their own for a year. The real winner here is Ricky Sanchez, whose name gets splashed over the American basketball media all over again. (Without wishing to be callous, however, Ricky Sanchez is not a look worth taking.)

In a similar deal, Toronto traded the recently acquired contract of Hamed Haddadi (who never reported to Toronto, due to visa issues and general redundancy) along with a protected second round pick for Sebastian Telfair. After trading Jose Calderon in the Rudy Gay deal, the Raptors were down to two point guards and a cursory search of the waiver wire and the D-League turned up little. With no incentive to turn to retreads like Allen Iverson, Mike Bibby or Carlos Arroyo, and with little in the D-League point guard pool other than Ben Uzoh (whom they’ve already danced a merry dance with), Toronto turned their attention to the trade market, where Telfair could be found stealing Kendall Marshall’s minutes. Telfair’s legend blew out long before his candle ever will, but he’s proven himself to be a sufficiently mediocre backup NBA point guard to merit a look from a team that needs exactly that going forward. For the cost of a man who couldn’t even get into the country, it’s a look worth taking.

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When players get paid a lot, the default commentary position switches from pointing out their strengths to emphasizing their failings. Rudy Gay fell victim to this the day he signed a maximum value contract.

It is inevitable — he is being paid the max, but he doesn’t perform like a max player, and nor will he ever. This isn’t just true of fans’ perspectives, but of teams as well. Memphis, unashamedly and understandably on a budget, figured they don’t get enough from Rudy at that cost to make him worth keeping. Conversely, Toronto figure he’s worth the financial commitment. So who’s right?

In light of respective circumstances, possibly both.

Toronto’s small forward rotation has been one of the weakest positional rotations in the league. Landry Fields and Linas Kleiza have been hurt and underwhelming, while Mickael Pietrus has been just plain underwhelming. The position has been manned by out-of-position two guards who can’t defend the spot and shoot too much. Now the Raptors have a two-way fringe star of a player at the spot, for only the cost of two players whose usefulness they couldn’t maximize anyway.

Rudy’s performance this year has been frankly poor, but such is the very nature of apathy — a return to his usual career numbers is certainly plausible. At his best, Gay contributes in every facet of the game. Of course, even at his career apex, Gay’s contract is worryingly close to double the size it should be for a man of his impact. But the amount spent is only of importance if it prohibits future spending. The Raptors’s salary situation is sufficient that this should not be a factor going forward — as such, Gay’s contract, a big issue for Memphis, isn’t the same issue in Toronto. The issue is the impact of the team’s play going forward, and what value was achieved in the deal.

If you concede Jose Calderon couldn’t return to the Raptors next season — and, if you value Kyle Lowry, he couldn’t — he had to be dealt while his value was high. If Jose stays, he and Lowry negate each others value and create a expensive, if talented, logjam that’s destined to end in a ruckus. And, even though Calderon betters any team he is on, there weren’t many suitable suitors. Those who needed him the most didn’t have the pieces. And those who had the pieces didn’t really need him.

Toronto loses this deal if Gay doesn’t return to his best, and if they go forward with a trio of DeRozan, Gay and Bargnani, a highly paid trio that duplicates itself too much and doesn’t defend nearly as well as it should. But considering that Bargnani’s days are increasingly numbered, and in light of the intriguing play of Terrence Ross, there is no reason to believe that is the plan going forward. This trade completes phase one of a multi-part plan for the Raptors to return to the playoffs without tanking. Without pieces two or three in place, it’s hard to judge phase one accurately. In theory, however, Toronto takes forward a core of Lowry, Ross, Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, with Landry Fields and whatever they get for Bargnani and DeRozan also in the mix. That’s a low-seeded playoff team. For now, that’s a good start.

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