“A Season 10 years in the Making” was the Grizzlies slogan for the 2010-11 NBA season. Nothing could have been moreappropriatefor this year’s Grizzlies franchise.
How the season to remember came about is almost as unusual as a team losing 12 consecutive playoff games. It wasn’t an easy road to the Conference Semi-finals to say the least. Looking back on every thing that happened from the end ofthe successful 2009-10 season to today it seems almost surreal that the Grizzlies did as well as they did. We’re going to take a look back at the season that was so everyone can remember just what a long strange trip its been.
Part 1 deals with the dreaded Memphis summer and the bad news pouring out of Grizzlies camp. It was an auspicious start of the 2010-11 campaign.
May-June –The Clouds Before the Storm
The 2009-10 season of improvement was over. Stage two of the oft insulted 3 year plan was complete and the results were optomistic. The Grizzlies had improved by 16 games from the previous season. The team had only one free agent that needed to be resigned and he was restricted. The team had a lottery pick coming, was expecting improvement from a full off-season of work with Hasheem Thabeet. Things were looking if not rosy at least very optomistic.
The Grizzlies were involved in the NBA lottery. Since the Grizzlies finished just two games below .500 there were not high hopes of a move up in the lottery and the team didn’t move up. Picking 12th however was not all bad since this draft was one year ahead of a new collective bargaining agreement. The draft was considered extremely deep and even picking 12th was not a bad outcome.
Then a story broke fortnight after the lottery. Zach Randolph, the hero of the Grizzlies transformation, had been implicated as a possible marijuana supplier in Indianapolis.
The story originated in the arrest of Arthur Boyd. Boyd was a childhood friend of Zachwho was given access toRandolph’s house and cars in Indianapolis. Boyd was arrested after leaving a suspected drug house while driving a car owned by Randolph. Inside the car the police found a hidden compartment that contained marijuana (about 3 ounces). Following up on this development the police searched a storage facility where Randolph rented four large lockers. In two of the lockers police dogs alerted the police of possible drugs and inside they found more cars with hidden compartments.
The police did not charge Randolphin the crimes Boyd committed but the fact that Randolphexhibited such poor judgement with friends had been a on-going problem in his life. What’s more an unnamed police informant said that not only was Boyd involved in the sale of marijuana but Zach Randolph himself was a kingpin in the drug trade in Indianapolis.
To date there have not been any official accusations made against Zach Randolph and after 12 months of searching and with the ability to squeeze Boyd for information it appears the police are not going to move against Randolph in this matter but that is not for certain.
Either way it was a difficult story to hear after such a successful season for Z-Bo in Memphis.
July-September – Not Your Usual SummerDoldrums
July is where things started to get really strange.
First, the Grizzlies resigned Rudy Gay to a new near maximum deal of $82 million dollars over five years. This was not an absolute max deal as some people reported. The maximum the Grizzlies could have offered Rudy was 6 years and $105 million. The deal the Grizzlies offered Rudy wasjustslightly above the max deal any other team could have offered. A small but significant difference.
Since it wasgeneral conscensus around theleague that the Grizzlies’ owner wasn’t interested in paying for a winning franchise as much as earning the maximum dollars from the franchise win or lose, the speed and size of the offersurprised many basketball pundits. Probably because most of the pundits listened to anyone but Michael Heisley. Heisley repeatedly said he was going to resign Rudy.
That was a sunny day in Memphis. Unfortuately, as so often happens with the Grizzlies, storm clouds came up out of nowhere.
Then O J Mayo’s summer drama began. Mayo was unhappy with his role on the team. Not with his minutes mind you. Just his role. Mayo wanted to play PG not SG. The Grizzlies already had a PG and needed a scorer at the 2 guard position but Mayo was adament so Hollins relented and allowed the 3rd year player to show what he could do in the Vegas Summer League.
What the team saw from Mayo was less than spectacular. Mayo scored easily including a game winning shot in the first of only two games for the player. He shot 47.8% for two games but he also committed 15 turnovers compared to just 6 assists. Mayo left summer league after the second game to prepare for the upcoming Team USA tryouts but the stygma of his performance left Mayo down.
”It’s all about situational basketball down the stretch,” Mayo said of possibly playing some at the point. ”Whenever you’ve got a guy like Stephen Jackson or Joe Johnson posting up down the stretch and getting what they want to, I can slide to the ‘one’ and still be a threat.”
Some people took this as a realization that Mayo struggles against larger SG’s in the league and wanted to play PG to avoid bad defensive matchups as much as his desire to be the point guard. Mayo showed he could score on anyone in the Summer League but turnovers and assists were major weaknesses in his game. After being cut from the USA National team Mayo left the news but people worried about how this summer would affect him going forward.
That wasn’t the only problem for the Grizzlies in summer league either. Xavier Henry, the 19 year old phenom, was absent. He was being held out of camp in a contract dispute with the team. At first it seemed to be a normal rookie draft pick holdout. One side postures the other postures back but within the week the deal is done. After all Greivis Vasquez was at summer league and he didn’t have a contract either. The problem with Vasquez at the Camp was that he didn’t look very good. He seemed a step slow and had trouble bringing the ball up against pressure and getting his shot off. After camp it was revealed that Vasquez had bone spurs in his foot and would require surgery.
Nothing ever works that simple in Memphis however. Majority owner Michael Heisley was not complaining about a few thousand dollars here or there. He was trying to change the way all rookie contracts would be structured going forward. Heisley didn’t want to automatically include the 20% bonus to the slotted salary for rookies in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Heisley wanted to attach the bonus to certain performance based incentives. If Henry (and Vasquez for that matter) failed to reach the incentives then they wouldn’t be paid the additional money. The incentives were not easily met either. Heisley was expecting either a Rookie-Sophomore challenge appearance or being named to an All-NBA Rookie team, average 16 minutes a night and play in over 60 games. These are rather high hurdles to reach for the 12th and 28th picks in the draft, especially on a team that was already stocked with veterans at every position.
Arn Tellum, Xavier Henry’s agent and a person considered to be one of the most influential agents in the league, was having none of that. Tellum reportedly told Henry that he would pay his full salary amount himself before he would allow Henry to accept such a deal. Both sides dug in and it became a long summer of waiting to see if Henry and Vasquez would accept an incentive laden deal or if Heisley would relent and pay the players the bonus money with no strings attached.
The low point came when Mike Heisley went on the Chris Vernon radio show and announced that he in fact hadn’t read the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here was a man who was trying to redefine the way rookies are compensated in the NBA and he hasn’t read the agreement between the players and the owners of the league? It made no sense. Heisley defended his position by saying he had people who had read it but his people weren’t insisting they not pay the bonus. Heisley was.
Just before the start of training camp Heisley relented and paid both Vasquez and Henry the 120% of the slotted amount. This ended the rookie drama and the team was finally prepared to open training camp with everyone on the roster present.