In the two months since “Bloody Monday” there has been a great deal of debate and discussion about Robert Pera’s vision for the continued growth of the Memphis Grizzlies. While every owner talks a good game about their “commitment to bringing a championship to City X,” the early returns are that Pera is actively investing in player development in order to see that prophecy to fruition.
In every interview (though I guess there is only really that one) and at every press conference, Pera has mentioned the San Antonio Spurs as the model for building a successful small market franchise. In doing so, he has emphasized some aspects of the Spurs program that aren’t as visible and don’t necessarily have as direct of a correlation to a team’s on-the-court success. Investment in player development also offers the advantage of not being restrained by a salary cap, meaning a team can spend without limit or restriction in an effort to gain a competitive advantage.
Indeed, the vision that Pera has articulated is that of “Total Player Development”. Exactly what that means is not clear, but it speaks to a commitment to helping an athlete reach his full potential on a physical, mental and personal/professional level.
Obviously developing a player’s basketball skills and physical condition is the most important part of a team’s player development program, as that is what most directly nets the team wins on the court. However, because every team in the NBA is doing that, the only competitive advantage to be gained is if you find a way to do it better. That is no small task, either, because these programs have been around for years and there is only so much room for true innovation.
What you can do, however, is commit the resources to ensure that your team is staffed to provide the very best physical program. You can provide the players with coaches who possess the expertise necessary to provide the best fundamentals, shooting and skills guidance. You can also provide the staff and equipment necessary to have a strength and conditioning program designed to maximize a player’s physical strengths, and to keep your players on the court and - when injury strikes – to get them back to full health as quickly as possible.
Pera has proven his commitment to the physical aspect of player development with the recent hiring of John Townsend as director of player development and the promotion of Drew Graham to head athletic trainer and VP of player care. Beyond that, the Grizzlies have added several developmental staff, strength and conditioning coaches and a physical therapist to the basketball operations staff. Combine these hires with Pera’s commitment to providing his players with the best available medical technology and it becomes clear that the team’s goal is to ensure they will not be out-classed by any team in the league on this front.
Where the Grizzlies appear to be seeking a true competitive advantage is in a player development area that is often overlooked. The addition of Trevor Moawad, an expert in athlete mental conditioning, will pay dividends for the team going forward. Moawad – who previously worked with Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State University – has a wealth of knowledge about the mental strain placed on athletes during the pursuit of a championship. As Pera mentioned in his recent press conference, this includes not only working with players who are struggling with slumps, but helping them to cope with the rigors of an NBA season, manage their sleep schedules and maximize their confidence and mental preparation.
It is easy to see how that type of program will provide immediate benefits to the younger players like Jordan Adams, Jarnell Stokes and Jamal Franklin, who are still adjusting to life in the NBA and – for maybe the first time in their basketball lives – being relegated to minor roles as they learn from and wait behind established veterans. It would be naive, however, not to recognize the value the program can provide to veterans.
Take Tayshaun Prince. Prince has been a starter for essentially his entire NBA career, starting more than 95% of the 882 career games he has played and an astonishing 837 out of 840 games since the end of his rookie season. With a healthy Quincy Pondexter and the addition of Vince Carter, there is a very real possibility that Prince not only losses his starting position, but may not even be a part of the team’s regular rotation. The addition of Moawad gives Prince and the coaching staff an asset that will help Prince adjust to the change and hopefully find a path to remaining a valuable member of the locker room who is ready to contribute when his number is called.
There are many other aspects of Total Player Development and player care that fans overlook. One such program is what I’ve called “concierge service.” As Brevin Knight pointed out when he joined us on 3SOBRadio last month, great organizations provide staff to assist the families as well as the player. The players, coaches and staff are on the road for weeks at a time, during which they have to leave their families back in Memphis. Franchises offer such “concierge service” in order to ease the burden on the player and family during those trips, and it seems that Pera is committed to making sure players and their families have these type of resources available to them as members of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Beyond that, teams can (and often do) provide players with access to a broad scope of professional services related to financial planning, asset management, real estate, taxes and law. The league also provides certain aspects of these services, including scheduled speakers who give presentations to all of the teams throughout the season. That certainly doesn’t mean that individual franchises can’t further invest in these aspects of personal/professional development. These peripheral or fringe benefits may never be utilized by many of the players, but offering a Total Player Development program is a marketable asset for small market teams competing for free agents. I don’t know to what extent these types of personal/professional development programs are currently being implemented by the Grizzlies, but if you’re striving to be the best in the league, these would be logical programs to include.
As Pera has acknowledged on multiple occasions – and as well all know and accept – Memphis is not, in and of itself, a premier destination for the best basketball players in the world. However, the experience that players like Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Beno Udrih have had in Memphis help lend credibility to the idea that players enjoy playing for the Grizzlies more than they may expect, and the love they feel from #GrizzNation is real. Of course, Tennessee’s lack of state income tax is an appealing benefit, but not one that other franchises (like those in Texas) can’t also offer. In order to bring a championship to Memphis the team has to focus on identifying, obtaining/retaining and developing talent that is available. In the cut-throat world of the NBA, you have to exploit every advantage available to you, and Pera’s Total Player Development program can give the Grizzlies just that: an advantage.
Grind on, Memphis.