Today is Thanksgiving. A wonderful day of the year when across America we give thanks to all we have. This year I have had a lot to be thankful for.
I have a new wife, a beautiful step-daughter, two loving kids, a fantastic family and great friends that combined makes my life truly something to be thankful for but this is a Grizzlies blog so I won’t bother you with all that.
Instead I will write about what I am thankful for with the Memphis Grizzlies. After all, that is why you come to this blog in the first place. So here are the Grizzlies things I am thankful for this season.
Zach Randolph’s Ninja Trainer: Last year it appeared that Zach Randolph’s injured knee would make it difficult for him to return to the level of play he exhibited during the playoff run two seasons ago. What little lift he had before appeared to be gone. Instead, after working out with the mysterious Frank Matrisciano, Randolph has returned to the double-double machine he was in previous years. He is in the best shape of his career and has actually started dunking the ball every now and then. Randolph has overcome early maturity issues to become the face of the franchise and leader in the community. However, if not for the training he received he may not have made it back from the injury and who knows what would have happened to the team.
Marc Gasol Not Getting a College Scholarship: Marc Gasol seems to have been raised in Memphis not Spain. After all a few people may remember that Marc spent his formative days playing for Lausanne here in town while his brother Pau was toiling for the Grizzlies. He was viewed as soft and overweight and no college took a chance on him. Instead Marc returned to his native country of Spain and played in the Spanish League. There he transformed his game from a soft jump shooter to a bruising center willing to bang with the biggest and baddest men in the league. That, combined with a European tendency to look to pass before shooting, has made Marc one of the best bigs in the league.
Rudy Gay Failing to Make the Olympic Team: Failing to reach a personal goal could be a major detriment to a player. Sometimes not getting what you want causes people to fall into a funk and by their attitude actually prove the decision correct. Rudy hasn’t done that. He channeled the disappointment into a lesson on where his game was weak. This season Rudy has improved his defense and his ball handling skills not to mention his desire to be the Grizzlies go to player down the stretch. He also has learned that two points from close to the basket counts the same as two points on the perimeter making him that much more difficult to stop.
Mike Conley’s Contract Criticism: Conley entered the league as a top pick in the draft. He had weaknesses but what 19-year-old doesn’t entering the league? He was developing normally and improving gradually right up to the point the Grizzlies gave him his second contract. While not extreme it was viewed as far more than he deserved given his previous contributions. That criticism seems to have driven Conley to improve even more to the point that he is now one of the finer point guards in the league, a clear leader on the team and capable of hitting clutch shots when needed. He is not the type of player who will single-handedly try to win games but that isn’t what the Grizzlies need. Instead Conley makes sure the offense runs as planned and on defense he does what he can to disrupt opposing team’s offenses as well.
Tony Allen’s Mentality: The Memphis Grizzlies were nothing in NBA discussions prior to Tony Allen becoming a starter. Afterwards, the Grizzlies became a team to watch, discuss and fear around the league. He coined the phrase “Grit and Grind” which has become the team’s mantra. His defensive intensity has harassed the best players in the game to mere mortal status and sometimes even worse but that isn’t all he has done. Allen has become a social networking sensation with his interesting tweets and who has done more to discourage gambling in the NBA than Tony Allen?
Chris Wallace’s Vision: Chris Wallace has always been respected around the league but not always among fans. Boston fans were ecstatic he left town after being blamed for destroying the Celtics franchise for a trade he made there (anyone remember that Joe Johnson was drafted by the Celtics?). His first major move in Memphis was to unload the franchises’ best player in Pau Gasol for a second round draft pick, an expiring contract and other considerations. People assumed that Wallace was just repeating the franchise destruction he had done in Boston. And in some ways he had. However, Wallace had the vision to see that staying in the middle meant never competing for the top. He brought in Marc Gasol (that 2nd round pick), used the cap room to acquire Zach Randolph and extend the contracts of Gay and Conley. He saw where the franchise could be and didn’t worry about the route it took to get there. Wallace also has made it a point to be seen all over town helping to build support for the franchise.
Mike Heisley’s Wallet: I know, Heisley was cheap as they come for quite some time but he never believed in paying for mediocrity. His insistence on making the bottom line as important as the win/loss column may have forced some terrible seasons on the Grizzlies but it also gave the Grizzlies the money they needed when it came time to protect their future. It was Heisley who offered Rudy a contract that guaranteed he’d be in Memphis for the majority of his career. That contract may look like he overpaid but that move showed Randolph, Gasol and Conley that he was serious about building a winning team here. It’s funny to hear people complain about Rudy’s contract now which is pricey to say the least when they forget that without that statement the Grizzlies wouldn’t have kept the rest of the team’s core that makes them one of the best franchises in the league (and allowed him to get his desired amount in resale).
Robert Pera’s Stock Collapse: At the start of 2012, Ubiquity Networks’ stock price valued Pera as a multi-billionaire. The fall in value forced Pera to bring in help from local investors to make it work. So instead of a Californian owning the Grizzlies we have a rich Californian in partnership with a large number of smaller Memphis investors that all but guarantees the franchise remains in Memphis for a long time to come. It also forced Pera to look at how he could benefit from the local market instead of ignoring it. So thanks to UBNT’s collapse we have a franchise more integrated with the local community than ever before.
The Memphis Zoo: I don’t know if the fantastic local zoo had anything to do with Wayne Ellington naming the bench the Zoo Crew but I am giving them credit for it anyway. Too often media types and blogs (yes even our blog) attempt to create a name for players or groups of players and they rarely catch on (outside of Hasheem Thabust of course). By the players giving the bench a name it eliminates the need to read forced nicknames that usually hurt readers heads and disappear in a matter of days which also seems to be an eternity for others. Besides, how can any self-respecting Memphian not appreciate the Memphis Zoo?
Lionel Hollins’ Attitude: I am sure there are other Head Coaches in the NBA that terrorize players, opponents and especially reporters as much as Hollins but few can back it up with a resume as impressive as Hollins. As an older NBA fan I remember when Hollins played for the Blazers and the 76ers but most players don’t. They know Hollins simply as coach. However, every year when the team practices in Portland they can see Hollins’ jersey hanging in the rafters. That legitimizes Hollins with players and allows him to press them in ways a coach without such credentials would struggle doing. Tony Allen may have come up with Grit and Grind but it was Hollins who insisted on it long before it had a name. How many coaches could bench O J Mayo and have him accept it after all?
The Denver Nuggets: It was great starting the season at 7-1. It was thrilling being ranked the #1 team in ESPN’s power rankings. Who can’t love hearing the TNT guys talking about the Grizzlies being a serious threat to take the Western Conference crown this season but that isn’t Memphis. Memphis is a team that overcomes not front-runs. We are a city of blue collar hard workers not media icons and movie star daters. It just didn’t feel right seeing the Grizzlies on top as the unquestioned best in the league. Denver reminded us that we can’t win on talent alone. We have to get dirty and do the things other teams don’t want to do. Denver reminded us of that Monday night.
So that is my short list of things I am thankful for today. I could go on and talk about Kyle Lowry signing with Toronto (allowing Jerry Bayless to come here), O J Mayo signing with Dallas (forcing the Grizzlies to acquire Wayne Ellington and his big 3’s against Miami), Darrell Arthur’s torn achilles (leading to the trade for Mo Speights) but I think you get the point.
Sometimes it isn’t what comes easy that we are most thankful for. Sometimes it is the things we fail to notice at first that become the things we are most thankful for later.
Here’s wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.