A Period of Transition is an underrated Van Morrison record, but the 2017–18 Grizzlies are about to test whether it also works as a framework for a basketball season. At yesterday’s Media Day, there was no greater theme (outside of the unavoidable intersection of politics and pro sports) than the Grizzlies’ new faces and new challenges. At best, the upcoming season will be a brilliant struggle to carve a new identity out of a formless young roster. At worst, that struggle could drag the whole enterprise down to the basement of the stacked Western Conference. Here are some of my observations from Media Day:
Chandler Parsons’ Health
Parsons: “I look forward to doing the things they brought me here to do.” pic.twitter.com/JiOpvvk3Vg— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) September 25, 2017
The conversation around the health of Chandler Parsons was very different in tone than last season, which was a hopeful sign that he might actually be able to contribute something meaningful to these Grizzlies. From GM Chris Wallace to coach David Fizdale to Mike Conley to Parsons himself, to a man, they all expressed their confidence in his rehab and the expectation that he’ll be playing and contributing from the first night of the season.
It’s a pretty stark contrast to last year, when the main talking point was that the Grizzlies had signed him “for the full length of his contract, not just the first year.” There always seemed to be a question hanging over the team last year of whether Parsons would ever play again at all, not just whether he’d be a meaningful part of the 2016–17 rotation, so it’s encouraging to see that the expectations and progress are totally different coming into this camp. That said, outside of 5-on–5 pickup games, the guy still hasn’t played a minute on the court in a game.
A great deal of this season’s fate rests on Parsons’ health. They’re deep at the wing spots but thin at the forward spots, and if they have the ability to play small with Parsons at the 4, things start to line up and make more sense roster-wise. If this is all talk and Parsons is looking at another limited season (or even a month or two of missed time), it doesn’t bode well for the Grizzlies’ ability to make the playoffs this year, which was very explicitly stated as an expectation by front office, coach, and players alike. It all comes down to The Hundred Million Dollar Knees.
Fizdale’s Summer of Reflection
David Fizdale—when he wasn’t taking a stand against Memphis’ Confederate monuments (he specifically referenced #takeemdown901 yesterday) or traveling to Romania to watch Marc Gasol play in EuroBasket—spent all summer talking to other coaches about how he can do better. The main thing Fizdale said he learned was not to force things. In a particularly candid moment, Fiz said he tried to force leadership and force a sense of family on the team last year, rather than creating the conditions for those things to develop organically, and that he can’t do that again if he wants to be successful.
It certainly lines up with what we saw last year. Fizdale came into training camp telling everyone who would listen that he wanted Marc Gasol to step up and be The Leader on last year’s team, and by the end of the year (after another one of his months-long stretches of clear mental disarray) Mike Conley was the guy who rose up and claimed the team as his own. Perhaps if Fizdale had eased up on forcing Gasol into a role in which he was clearly uncomfortable, some of that strife could have been avoided.
I think it says a lot about Fizdale that he spends his summer talking to other veteran coaches about how to do his job better. It explains why he was hanging out with Larry Brown at Summer League. One hopes that self-actualization will translate into an even more solid year on the court.
The (JaMychal) Green Elephant in the Room
As of this writing, JaMychal Green still has not signed with the Grizzlies. That reality hung over yesterday’s proceedings, with execs unable to talk about it and players only able to say that they like playing with him and think he’s important to the team. And to be real, I really don’t understand what the holdup is.
Without Green in place, the Grizzlies’ roster makes even less sense. He’s not a great player, but he’s certainly a good one, and one gets the sense that he expected a Tim Hardaway Jr. type of offer sheet rather than the money that was out there in the market. But whatever the case may be, one hopes to see Green in camp with the Grizzlies when they start today. It makes sense for both sides for Green to sign some sort of reasonable three-year deal, maybe in the $8–9 million range per year. More than that and the Grizzlies are probably overpaying, but less than that and Green probably isn’t getting paid what he’s worth. I’m not sure a two-year deal is in the best interests of either party, and taking the qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent next year places Green potentially twisting in the wind next summer with even less money to go around league-wide.
I’ve written all of these things ten times over the summer. You already know this. But until Green signs (and he can’t do much else unless the Grizzlies withdraw his QO for some reason, which they won’t do), we have to keep thinking about it.
Marc Gasol Trade Talk
This was certainly the first year that Chris Wallace and Marc Gasol both had to answer questions about whether, when the time came, the Grizzlies would be willing to trade Marc Gasol. Wallace basically said “nobody is untradeable but it’s not something we’re actively looking to do,” while Gasol, after being asked about the similarity between his situation and the one in which his older brother Pau found himself were the same, said he doesn’t think like that.
For the most part, I believe him. While they both bring the same artistic temperament to basketball, where they approach it as a craft to be carried out under a specific set of circumstances and conditions, a commitment to playing with a certain level of fluidity and creativity, Marc has always been a very different animal than his older opera-loving brother. Marc seems (almost maniacally) obsessed with the process of playing basketball at the ground level, Playing The Right Way turned into some kind of cultic religion. Pau seems more worried with being in the right kind of situation, where Marc seems to take the situation as something he’s duty-bound to improve.
I’m not saying he’d never demand a trade–quite the opposite, actually. I think if Gasol determined there was no way for him to Play The Right Way in a Grizzlies uniform, he’d be demanding a trade tomorrow. But the younger Grizzly Gasol’s checklist of things that would have to happen to bring that about seems much longer than Pau’s.
At any rate, it was interesting that this finally became an active topic of conversation instead of a back-channel “what if.” I still don’t think it’s likely, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Anthem Protest Sound-Bite Hunting
I want to keep this short because I find it exhausting to have to consider the entire political health of our union (TL;DR: it ain’t great) every time I try to write about basketball. But the question everyone was trying to get catchy sound bites about yesterday was obviously whether the Grizzlies would take a knee or make some other gesture of protest during the national anthem at games this year.
When asked about it, several players and David Fizdale (almost) all spoke very eloquently about why they saw the need to make a political statement and use their platform to advance the conversation about oppression of and police brutality against people of color. But those answers, as clear and considered as they were, weren’t ever good enough. The TV-guy comeback was always “yeah, but are you gonna kneel.” Because that’s how this whole news cycle thing works, right? It doesn’t matter why any of this is happening, we just need to know whether people need to be Mad about the Grizzlies before they’ve even done anything, so the controversy can continue. Forget actually listening to these men about what they believe and what they think. “Yeah, but what are you going to do?” is a great way to short circuit the conversation in the name of clips for the 10 ’o clock news. I didn’t expect better, but it was still frustrating.
I will be surprised if the team doesn’t make some sort of gesture. But if we’re not talking about why they’d be doing it, I don’t think we deserve to be sportswriters. To be unwilling to explain to our readers (or audiences) why they’re doing what they’re doing is to play into the narratives of the dullards yelling about “MSESPN” or whatever the #MAGA set is fuming into their steak and ketchup about this week. When these men talk about what matters to them, we’re not doing our jobs if we don’t pay attention.