I’ve got my new year’s resolutions, and you’ve certainly got yours. But what about the resolutions of sports figures that will impact the games Memphians cheer in 2013? I’d like to imagine a few.
I, Robert Pera, resolve to ignore the trading deadline. My first winter as an NBA owner, and my — our! — Memphis Grizzlies appear to be on the short list of legitimate title contenders. Not only is the team playing well (wins over the Heat, Thunder, and Knicks before Thanksgiving!), but they seem to have firmly established a culture of energy in the Mid-South. A Grizzly vibe.
Jason Levien will be a difference-maker, I’m convinced. And adding John Hollinger to the staff sure caught some attention, didn’t it? The Grizzlies’ front office trending on Twitter?! Yep, this team is mine ... no, ours! Soon enough, our prints will be all over the on-court product. I’m not paying John Hollinger to merely gaze at his ratings system. But for this season, I’d like to give coach Lionel Hollins and his team a chance. The core of this roster made a playoff run two years ago without Rudy Gay. They did so last year with Zach Randolph hobbled. Which leaves the fundamental question: How far can this team go if healthy? We’re gonna find out. (Come draft day in June, the team is mine. Ours!)
I, Josh Pastner, resolve to take an early shower. Hard to please, this Tiger Nation. (Though they’re well coached.) There seems to be a growing perception that I’m soft on my team; I suppose an 0-11 record against ranked teams does that to a guy. (Ask Pierre Niles if I’m a soft coach. Or Wesley Witherspoon. Heck, ask Tarik Black.) No one wants to win a championship — national championship, that is — more than me. And that includes my players. But that doesn’t mean my players have grown deaf to the message. Does it? Come on, do I need to guzzle coffee and include expletives with my sideline tantrums to fully engage a group of athletes?
We have loads of talent. We have hometown kids, players Tiger Nation wants desperately to succeed. So why the slumped shoulders? Why the vitriol on talk shows and chat rooms? Heck, I’ve had enough of it. I’m coaching for my players, and they’re playing for me. Band of brothers, you know. (You’ve seen that movie, right? TV series, whatever.) I’ll pick the game (it will be at home), but I’m getting my rear end booted from a game during conference play. If this team (and season) needs a jolt, it can come from something other than caffeine. This will be the first (and hopefully last) secret I’ll keep from my players. But we’re fighting onward, criticism be ... you know.
I, John Mozeliak, resolve to let Oscar Taveras and Memphis get acquainted. Since I was named general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008, we’ve managed to take our farm system from the depths of Baseball America’s rankings to near the top. All the while remaining a contender (and winning that remarkable World Series two years ago). Next month, we’ll head to Jupiter, Florida, with as much starting pitching depth as we’ve had in decades. And with one of the finest young hitting prospects on the planet.
Oscar Taveras won the Texas League batting title last year (.321) on his way to being named the loop’s Player of the Year. The kid’s slugging percentage was .572, and he turns 21 in June. With Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Carlos Beltran returning, our outfield is full (if healthy) for 2013. So we have the luxury, should we choose, to let Taveras take more than a few Triple-A hacks before adding a second bird to his jersey. The last time Memphis had this kind of hitting talent for a full season? In a word, never. (J.D. Drew was a midseason acquisition in 1998, Albert Pujols a postseason call-up two years later.) Enjoy the barbecue nachos, Oscar. We’ll see you — full-time — in April 2014.
I, Justin Fuente, resolve to ignore the noise. Man, what a first season. Open with a loss to UT-Martin and finish with a blowout win over Southern Miss. Toss that into your crystal ball for 2013 and shake it. Two months of hearing “same old Tigers” ... followed by a three-game winning streak where we scored points at will. Wish the season had been 16 games.
The only bad part of a season-ending winning streak, though, is the tease. A tease is kindling to the fires of expectation. When we enter the Big East this fall — the watered-down version, if you listen to the experts — we should be competitive. Break-even, if not in contention for a conference title. Come on, now. This program is still aiming for a full allotment of scholarship players. Our starting quarterback creates more “wow” moments on the piano than he does in the pocket. (But he’s a winner, dammit. We’re sticking with him.) I have an idea for where this program can go. And I’m willing to take risks to get there. (Check my record on fourth-down attempts.) As for all the chatter our taste of success has created? That’s what headphones were made for.