Now that most of us have awakened (however slowly) from our food comas, and the Grizzlies have a home game tonight against the Atlanta Hawks, I thought it might be nice to spend some time in reflection. Grizzlies fans have a lot to be thankful for. The team has made the playoffs five years in a row, they've made it to the Conference Finals in that stretch, they're still one of the best teams in the West (though this year I think it's pretty clear that Golden State is the best), they've finally managed to grow—organically, through many repeated years of success and through an uncommon identification between the team and the fans—a fanbase that seems like it will persist for years to come.
But those aren't the things I'm thankful for this year—well, they are, but they're not the ones that made my list. Here are ten Grizzlies things I am thankful for.
#1: I am thankful that Mario Chalmers has improved the team since coming in via trade.
#2: I am thankful that I was able to let go of my long-held grudge against Chalmers for what might still be the most emotionally devastating sports loss I've ever had to sit through, by myself in a hotel room in San Jose, California, wearing a Memphis Tigers sweatshirt around the Bay Area all week before that garnering some strange looks. I may not have let go of the loss, but I have come to realize that Mario Chalmers was supposed to make that shot. He is a basketball player. Can't be mad at that. The Tigers' free throw shooting, though...
#3: Well, that got off track, didn't it. I am thankful for JaMychal Green, who (even though Dave Joerger says he is a small forward) has stepped up as the first big off the bench in ways I don't think anyone imagined. I'm also thankful that I saw him in Kroger on Union Ave. that one time buying wheat bread at 9PM. Wheat bread is good for you.
#4: I am thankful that Jeff Green has finally started to find a role and a rhythm on this team, because having to watch him amble around the court without a clue what is happening around him is pretty exhausting. His defensive awareness is still only marginally higher than that of, say, a stump, or a small woodland mammal, but when he's finding lanes to drive to the basket, getting free throws, and not taking so many horrific pull-up jumpers, Green helps this team. Resentment is toxic. Being free from Jeff Green Rage has been good for us, as a group of people who watch this team.
That said, I'm sure it will be back. When Zach Randolph slots back into the starting lineup, the space in which Green has been able to operate so well as of late will go away, and he'll be back to trying to improvise without anywhere to go. My hope is that he moves back to the second unit when Randolph returns to the first, so that he can continue playing in more pace-oriented groupings. "More pace-oriented" is one of the least direct ways I could think of to say "Gasol/Randolph don't move very quickly".
#5: I am thankful for the time we had with Beno Udrih, as a city. Beno is a guy who gets Memphis. Now we'll see how much of Hog & Hominy's monthly revenue he was responsible for. The Grizzlies may need to offer them some sort of bailout package.
#6: As ever, I am thankful that the Core Four era continues, even as we start to see the cracks emerging around the edges. As the unit that has brought the Grizzlies their first real run of playoff success, they're always going to be legends. As the team starts to transform away from this configuration—and you're kidding yourself if you don't see it happening already—it's going to be easy to say "Get rid of the old guys." And in some sense, that's the appropriate response—the NBA is not (typically) an environment that engenders loyalty to players. Fans cheer for laundry.
But if you're not a little bit wistful about Zach's struggles to keep up on defense, and Tony's out-of-place-ness and commensurate negative net rating—if that doesn't give you a little bit of "Oh man it's finally happening" sadness—I'm not sure I can help you. So I'm glad these guys are still around, even as they start to age. Might as well go on and crown Z-Bo Permanent Mayor of Memphis.
#7: I am thankful for bootleg T-shirts. Come playoff time (assuming the Grizzlies are in it, which seems like a safe bet at this point) I think we're going to try to do some Beyond the Arc shirts. They'll probably be weird. It'll be cool.
#8: I am thankful that Jordan Adams hasn't been traded yet. If there's one thing I wish for the Grizzlies franchise, it's that they might finally get their collective act together and start developing younger players. With Adams, that trajectory has been complicated by his lingering knee injury, but the plan—as far as I can tell—is still to let him get on the floor and start figuring out the NBA game. That's something that hasn't happened in a while: a real commitment to developing a young guy. The past is littered with Grizzlies first round picks who are playing better for other teams (or out of the league, Thabeet). Let's not go back there. Adams and Jarell Martin both have a lot of potential, and they need a fair opportunity to develop it. I am thankful that it appears they'll get that chance. (Watch them both get traded tomorrow now that I've said that.)
#9: I am thankful that Marc Gasol re-signed with the Grizzlies. There didn't really seem to be a backup plan beyond "throw money at Kosta Koufos" (which, let's be honest, not a bad backup plan), but more importantly, it keeps a guy who loves this city as much as the rest of us around for the next five years, and gives the Grizzlies time to develop the organization around him so that as he ages and retires, along with Mike Conley, there is a new generation of talent there ready to step up. That's what it really means to be "like the Spurs": to avoid bottoming out, and have guys ready to step up into bigger roles as soon as players start to fall off. Locking Gasol up for the long term not only keeps one of the best in the game in Memphis for a long time—which is a good thing in and of itself—but means that there's now a five year window to start preparing for the future. One assumes that Conley will be re-signed this summer as well (and I will continue to consider that a fait accompli until proven otherwise), which just makes that window even more of a real thing.
#10: I am thankful that the Grizzlies don't have to play the Warriors again until April. Maybe the Warriors will have actually lost a game by then. Hopefully they'll already have the 72-10 record beaten and will take those games off. Holy moly.