In case you were somewhere thousands of miles from sports media yesterday, the Grizzlies are officially in the preseason: Media Day was yesterday, and training camp starts today in San Diego. Usually Media Days across the league are a time when players, coaches, and executives come together and meet with the media and say... well, they don't say much of anything. In fact, here's everything you usually hear on Media Day, compressed down to a handy bingo card:
Has any team gotten Media Day Bingo yet? pic.twitter.com/u7k4ZWJ1Ns
— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) September 30, 2014
I have to say that, with a few exceptions, the Grizzlies' media day wasn't much different: making the playoffs isn't good enough anymore; everyone wants to win a championship. Everyone feels like they'll be more comfortable with head coach Dave Joerger in his second year at the helm. Guys are much healthier than they were last season—Gasol feels better, by far, and even Tayshaun Prince is healed up. The young guys (Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, both of whom appeared to have lost a lot of weight) are ready to face the challenges they know are coming. The camp guys—Hassan Whiteside, Earl Clark, Kalin Lucas, whoever else—are ready to compete for a spot and prove they can contribute, either to the Grizzlies or to whatever team they eventually land on.
There were a few storylines that will (probably) carry through the whole season that were recurrent yesterday, though. Season previews are all about storylines, right? Media days are all about starting the narratives that will continue through the rest of the year, a time for the team to set the message. These are the messages that were set yesterday, whether intentional or not.
Marc Gasol's Contract Situation
Everyone (including Gasol himself) said that Marc Gasol's impending free agency was not going to be a distraction this year, even as Gasol himself hinted that there's not much chance he signs any sort of extension before the end of the year. And why would he? Gasol stands to make a lot more money over a much longer period of time by going to the end of the year without reaching a new deal.
At any rate, there's going to be a lot of talk (nationally and locally) about the potential for Gasol to take a big deal somewhere else (New York has already come up a couple of times as a team that's interested in acquiring him) rather than staying in Memphis on what will presumably be a max or max-ish deal. None of the players asked about it yesterday seemed concerned in the slightest that Gasol has plans to leave—Zach Randolph specifically said not to worry about it, and he doesn't bluff, remember?—so either (1) they know something about it that we don't or (2) Gasol's not making a big deal out of it, and doesn't plan to, because he's generally a quiet dude who doesn't like a lot of attention on anything but whether the Grizzlies are winning. Handy hint: it's definitely #2, though I wouldn't rule out #1.
Either way, get ready for a lot of talk about Marc Gasol and his contract this year. Is he worth a max contract? Should the Grizzlies pay him a max contract? Are there other teams he'd rather play for? Is he going to stay in Memphis for his whole career? If they keep him, will they also keep Mike Conley when his contract is up?
We'll see. It'll be discussed more here and elsewhere.
All These Gosh-Darned Wing Players
The Grizzlies still have a whole lot of wing players, and a not a lot of minutes to go between them. It's pretty much understood at this point that at least one starting spot is up for grabs (and even Tayshaun Prince said yesterday that he hoped he could be a contributor with the second unit, so that seems like a done deal) and maybe both the 2 and 3 spots. I go back and forth on whether it's safe to assume Tony Allen is a guaranteed starter. He wasn't last year, and while he said all the right things about it in interviews, it was clear that he didn't want to be coming off the bench—he wanted his spot back.
But now there are a lot of guys with eyes on that starting 2-guard spot: Jordan Adams, Courtney Lee, and Allen. The small forward spot is even less clear: Allen could start there instead of the 2, or Quincy Pondexter could start, or maybe Earl Clark could make the team as a small forward, or instead of playing his Super Sixth Man role from Dallas, Vince Carter could start, or Tayshaun Prince could somehow find a place (this seems exceedingly unlikely). Who knows?
Hopefully some of this starts to shake out during camp; if Adams is going to make a splash early, it would seem that he needs to have a strong camp to do so. The preseason rotation may tell us some about who's not going to be starting, but... preseason is preseason. There's going to be a lot of guesswork about who can fill what role going on between now and November (and probably on into the first half of the year), and it's going to be interesting to watch.
The Michael Beasley Project
Michael Beasley seemed like a guy who really wants to work hard and make it work here in Memphis—like a guy who knows this is probably one of his last shots. That said, it was Media Day, so of course he sounded like that. He had some pretty great quotes, though:
Beasley says people have seen everything he has to offer, but “maybe not in a row.”
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) September 29, 2014
Me: "Do you think people look at you wrong?" Beasley: "I think people look at everybody wrong." Me: "Everybody?" B: "Everybody."
— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) September 30, 2014
I asked Beasley: "Since others perceive you differently, how do you see yourself?" Beasley: "I see myself as the Hulk - big, green, strong!"
— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) September 29, 2014
At any rate, I hope Beasley makes the team, only so we can keep getting to talk to him this year. He seems like he's in a pretty reflective mood these days, willing to talk pretty openly about himself and what people think of him.
But I still would give Earl Clark a better shot of actually making the roster. I just don't think Beasley is worth the risk at this point, and he's going to have to have a heck of a training camp and preseason to prove otherwise. Which is a shame—he's clearly such a talented guy— but that's the way the league works.
Speaking of Earl Clark
He's hasn't been in town long enough to find many good restaurants, but he has had some good catfish. Consider that your Breaking Earl Clark News Update. Seriously, though, Clark has started games with the Lakers and Cavs recently, so I'm surprised that he's just a "training camp" guy and not on a one-year guaranteed deal somewhere. He seemed pretty surprised by that too, but philosophical, determined to make the most of it. It sounded like if he didn't make it with the Grizzlies he was pretty sure another team would give him a shot, and I hope so, because he was a nice guy and I also think he's a pretty good basketball player.
Since no one is ever surprised when I talk about Tayshaun Prince anymore, I'll spare you the details in this particular column (though with any luck there will be one coming later this week): I actually had a really good, candid, philosophical conversation with Tayshaun about where he's at in his career and how he thinks he can contribute going forward. Everyone else kind of wandered away from Prince after he answered a few of the standard "media day" questions about the upcoming season for the cameras, and he (Don Wade from the Daily News was there for some of this) talked about how the Pistons shouldn't have broken up the title team when they did, why the Spurs are still so good, the differences in the East and West, how he stays motivated, what's going to be different this year, the things he's frustrated with—it was a good talk, from a guy who doesn't talk much. Say what you will about his on-court performance since coming to Memphis, but I still think we are all lucky to have this guy around. Just... maybe don't start him, OK?
I had to leave before Vince Carter actually made it down to the media room, so I didn't get to talk to VC, but what was crazier was that every single person who was asked about Carter yesterday said that they idolized him growing up—Quincy Pondexter had a Vince Carter poster; Tony Allen looked up to him, and then remembered Carter always fouling him out; Jordan Adams said he was "2 or 3 years old when Vince Carter came into the league" (which sounds like grounds for rookie hazing if there ever were such a thing).
These guys are really excited to have Vince Carter on the team, and they're really excited about getting to spend time around a guy who is so clearly one of their heroes. And, for what it's worth, the Vince Carter Era should be one of promise: Carter brings an offensive skill set that's been lacking in Griz wing play as of late, and he also brings a veteran "superstar" cachet that no one on the team has (not even Tayshaun, who has won a lot more games but never did this). The Carter signing was a great move this offseason—that's pretty much indisputable.
Quote of the Day
TA says he gives rookies advice, such as: Don’t eat hot wings 35 minutes before the game starts.
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) September 29, 2014
Ah, yes, conclusions: the longer I do this, the less willing I am to draw any from Media Day. I get why they do it, for sure, and I certainly garnered a lot more from off-the-record conversations around the fringes than the soundbite-oriented player interviews, but I don't think it really says anything about how the year is going to go. It's the first day of school, when everybody figures what classes they're in, and goes over the syllabi, but nobody actually does or learns anything. It's an exercise in re-familiarization.
This is going to be a really fun year to be writing and thinking about the Memphis Grizzlies. For every potential storyline I mentioned here, there are one or two more that could become just as big of a deal down the road. The team seems to be on the same page about getting off to a hot start, and willing to experiment with the roles they've settled into over the recent run of success if that's what it takes to get over the hump and win a championship.
And that's what the ultimate goal of this whole exercise is, right? To win a championship? This season seems like as good of a shot to do that as any other in recent memory, and that's an exciting place to be.