by Kevin Lipe
Last year was ugly. Everyone was injured, everyone turned on everyone (and then turned to Sacramento), the players were dissatisfied, and the whole thing collapsed in on itself like a burned-out house left too long with a hole in the roof. Things were bad before the injury plague. But after? After Mario Chalmers went down, after the losses kept piling up, the games got uglier, the list of players grew to 28, and the sweet release of the summer was postponed by one of the most pointless series in playoff history?
Last season the Memphis Grizzlies were not too far from being Basketball Job. Or, if you're more into Lamentations, maybe Jeremiah was watching the Grizzlies back in April:
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
Anyways, the point is: it was bad.
And yet, hope springs eternal: coming into 2016-17, a season with so many new things, so many new faces, so many clean slates, I put together some thoughts, an outline of the newborn season and a frame for the many months of basketball ahead.
Back in July when Chandler Parsons was first signed, people were talking about "Glam and Grind" or something that. No.
Speaking of "___ and Grind," Hrdlicka wrote a great essay about the end of Grit and Grind that I'm going to assume you've already read. if not, read it, and know that this is the territory in which we're now operating.
It's not so much that it's dead so much as it's that it's done. That's a subtle distinction.
Dead means you mourn it. Done means you move on to the next task. And the Grizzlies have a lot of "next tasks" this season.
Health is everything this year, but it also isn't. Health is going to be the story if someone gets hurt (or more than one someone, since there are now three "on the mend" guys and two other older guys making up the 5 best players on the team) (And even if you think Tony Allen isn't one of the team's 5 best players anymore, you're probably wrong, and it feels like all the young guys got hurt last year too). But even if health doesn't become the story:
Can these guys really play any other way? Was the system constrained by the personnel, were the personnel being deployed in a system that was too rooted in past successes to move forward, was the coach just not willing to take risks, were the players just not willing to take risks, or is the whole thing still forever tied to the skills of circa-2011 Zach Randolph? Put another way: these guys never bought into any of Dave Joerger's changes. Are they going to buy into David Fizdale's? They should, but will they? Why or why not?
I can't remember the last Grizzlies season that started out as this much of an unknown. 2009-10, when we weren't sure Zach Randolph was still worth having on a roster?
Twitter is mostly a vile echo chamber where racists and web servers bark at each other in coded hate-language, but it seems like basketball Twitter has found itself a safe haven, like those bacteria that thrive at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean without light or oxygen. And yet: most of the conversation around sports on the internet is still pretty dumb. Last year, I let that get to me. This year, I'll probably still let it get to me, but hopefully less so.
What does that have to do with the passage of Grit and Grind on into the outer darkness, or about whether the team is ready to be coached in a different way? Lots, in a way. Our entire culture is wracked with changes and reactions to it right now. Certain segments of the population feel things slipping away from them, and they're lashing out in any and every direction they can. There's going to come a time when Zach Randolph and Tony Allen and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley aren't going to be on this team anymore, and as this team evolves—a team loaded with young talent, and starved for depth at some positions—things are going to change. Will Grizzlies fans panic about it? Can they "keep a cool booty," in the words of Our Beloved Grind Prophet?
I've got to have more fun this year. Last year was a grind. Jeff Green was frustrating enough on his own, and the lack of cohesion on the team trying to play around him. Can we talk about that yet? Can we admit that the Jeff Green trade was an abject disaster and that it was apparent that he caused a lot of problems on the court? Anyway, we who watch this team were liberated of that millstone only to be dragged down by a phalanx of failing human bodies, shredded joints and splintered bone. And then stomped out of our collective misery by a Spurs team that didn't even look like they were playing that well—because they weren't. No matter what happens this year, even if it's that, I want to have more fun. You probably should, too.
I don't know. We're going to find out a lot of things together this year. It's a voyage of exploration.
Seriously though, I'm probably going to block people who say "Glam and Grind." Let's be better.