Opinion » The Rant

Goon Squad Forever

The injury-plagued Memphis Grizzlies somehow manage to keep grinding against all odds.



"Only in the movies, and in Memphis." And maybe the Old Testament. Because the long succession of "What now?" moments the 2015-16 Memphis Grizzlies season has endured rivals the Plagues of Egypt. Even Job would be like "Man, that Joerger dude has got it rough."

And the hits just keep on coming. Vince Carter — who has been surprisingly durable this year, despite being the fourth-oldest active player in the league — is hobbling to the locker room as I type this.

The storyline is full of you-can't-make-this-stuff up adversity that might make inspiring 30 for 30 material, depending on how it ends. It began with a summer of mostly unwarranted suspense, after which the undisputed anchor of the team re-signed. The draft brought an unknown big-man option from LSU. Free agency brought a promising big-man option in Brandan Wright. And Matt Barnes? Sure, why not? He seems grit-and-grindy enough. Not a whole lot of drama, as far as NBA offseasons go.

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dave Joerger

Then the season started and things got weird. An opening-night blowout at the hands of LeBron and the Cavs? Not great. A 50-point shellacking at Golden State? Yikes. Losing to the hated Clippers? Ring the alarm, it's time to shake things up.

Shipping beloved backup Beno Udrih and local product Jarnell Stokes out of town stung enough on its own. But asking salty, grudge-loving Memphians to cheer for the Mario Chalmers, a man whose game-tying shot once crushed their dreams? That might be one of the front office's boldest moves yet.

Redemption came quickly for Chalmers, who had really just been doing his job all along. As much as I miss Beno's cheery tweets from Hog and Hominy, we needed a point guard who wasn't 34 and injured. Chalmers filled in ably for the unlucky Mike Conley, whose contract year has been disrupted by injuries. Could the search for a serviceable backup point guard finally be over? Did we curse him by considering the possibility? Are we just cursed in general? Did somebody move the crystal skull from the top of the Pyramid when the Bass Pro Shops opened?

On the Boston Celtics' parquet court, Chalmers uttered four words that forecast the sudden end of his Grizzlies career: "I heard it pop." "It" was his Achilles tendon. The team had to waive him because there were not enough healthy players to field a team, even before his injury. Nine players dressed that night, which was actually an improvement over the previous game. Forget "Memphis vs. Errrbody." The Grizzlies' new slogan is "Errrbody Is Injured."

It started with Wright. Then Marc Gasol — the literal engine that propels the Grit and Grind Machine — suffered a season-ending foot injury that has felled some players for good. Tony Allen has missed games. Zach Randolph, Barnes too. Sometimes I forget Jordan Adams is even on the roster. Oh, and I forgot to mention Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson is on the team now. And P.J. Hairston. And Birdman. He's "Grizzilla" now, though. And you're never going to believe this, but he's hurt too. Courtney Lee and Jeff Green are no doubt relieved they were traded before the injury bus could run them over too.

Our starting point guard is on a 10-day contract. He had to jump in on such short notice they couldn't find him a pair of shorts that fit. He went from packing for a D-League game in Ohio, to playing and starting in his first NBA game, in 36 hours. If you told me you saw him in the Grizz Den before tipoff getting his name sewn on to the back of his jersey, I would believe you. I would believe anything at this point. Conventional wisdom would have eliminated the Grizzlies from the playoffs the moment Marc Gasol went under the knife. Conventional wisdom has been writing eulogies for "Grit and Grind" for three years.

Yet here they are, on the verge of another playoff appearance. This time they've added more grit, more grind, and more guys with wacky nicknames who fit only in a place where you're never fully dressed without a chip on your shoulder.

So obviously the Grizzlies are going to win their first NBA title this year. Yeah, the odds of that happening are something like 200:1, but they have already shown that they care not for your odds, your conventions, or your logic. Look out, Warriors and Spurs. You don't want none of the Goon Squad.

Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian and a digital marketing strategist.

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