Widgets Magazine

By Lee Eric Smith, lesmith@tri-statedefender.com

To almost no-one’s surprise, last Friday Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley decided to continue to bring his talents to Beale Street for the next five years. To everyone’s surprise, it took a $153 million max contract to do it.

Also to everyone’s surprise, the Grizzlies thwarted the franchise’s history of top-tier free agents choosing to play here by signing Chandler Parsons to a $94 million max contract. When was the last time the Grizzlies were able to get a coveted young free agent to choose Memphis? I won’t hold my breath while you try to figure it out.

Add in James Ennis, a promising young strong forward who came to Memphis along with Mario Chalmers, the continuing growth of JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin, the return of Tony Wroten Jr. and the addition of rookies Wade Baldwin IV and Deyonta Davis, and check it out … the Grizzlies are younger, more athletic with … gulp … better shooting!

Here, we bid farewell to Matt Barnes, who elected to join former Grizz coach Dave Joerger in Sacramento. I will miss his play and personality, but Sacramento is closer to his kids in L.A.

And the Grizzlies are likely not quite done. There’s still a question about what to do with Vince Carter. Will the team consider bringing Lance Stephenson back on a smaller contract? And will the team consider doing the unthinkable – trading Zach Randolph and/or Tony Allen?

How all of it gels (or doesn’t) under new Head Coach David Fizdale won’t be sorted out until October. But without question, the Grizzlies were having a good summer, maybe a great one until …

Kevin Durant chose Golden State. Mixed feelings about that, mostly on the positive side.

As a Grizzlies fan, of course, I hate it. The team already struggled with KD and former teammate Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. I knew those playoff classics would eventually give way to something new. But I was also hoping that Durant wouldn’t join the team the Grizzlies haven’t been able to beat when it mattered.

As a lover of basketball, I can’t wait to see that lineup. I was joking with my publisher that teams would need to deploy eight players on defense since Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can each legitimately command double-teams as soon as they cross half-court.

Who can say whether the Warriors will beat the 73-win season they just had? But this team has all the talent to be one of the greatest teams in NBA history. If you have the chance to do something historic, don’t you have to give it a shot?

And that’s why I don’t have any shade to cast at Durant’s choice — signing with the very team that rallied from a 1-3 hold to put Durant and the Thunder out of the Western Conference Finals. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN called it “the weakest move by a superstar that I’ve ever seen.”

That’s absurd. The thing people like to immediately jump to is whether Michael Jordan would have abandoned the Bulls to join Magic and Kareem with the Lakers or Larry Bird and the Celtics. Jordan’s competitive nature is maniacal, and it’s truly impossible to imagine him turning rivals into teammates instead of working overtime to stomp his rivals into the ground.

But Kevin Durant isn’t Michael Jordan. Of course, he is supremely talented. Of course, he wants to win at all costs. But in terms of defining his legacy by which NBA stars he can or can’t beat, his own sense of value isn’t tied up in that at all. I actually admire that quite a bit.

And today’s NBA is much different than Jordan’s. First of all, it was virtually unheard of for a franchise to trade their franchise player. I always wonder why franchises don’t get dinged for “loyalty” when they trade a player that fans love.

These days, players don’t usually hate the guys on the other team, not like it was in Jordan’s day. In many cases, they’ve played with and against each other in AAU, maybe in college. And in the NBA, you could play “Six degrees of separation.” Warriors point guard Shaun Livingston played with both Durant in OKC and of course, Curry in Oakland.

Let’s go deeper: Although they won’t all be playing in Rio for Olympic Gold, consider the players who practiced together at a USA Basketball Minicamp last summer: Durant. Curry. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green. Heck, even LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were there. Why is it a stretch to imagine these guys develop friendships beyond basketball?

But honestly, my favorite counter for those hating on Kevin Durant comes from my buddy Dejuan Hendricks. We were chopping up the deal on Tuesday when he pointed out: “When you play ball at the park, and you’re picking teams, don’t you try to pick the guy you KNOW can ball?” he asked. “I mean, who’s not going to choose the guy you think gives you the best shot of winning?”

And that’s what it really comes down to, right? Durant thinks he’s got a better shot of winning in Oakland than in Oklahoma City. And on a team that just smashed the ‘96 Bulls record, who’s going to argue that?

As exciting as the Golden State show was last season, the upcoming season will provide even more “must-see” TV. And honestly, I like all these men — not just as players, but as people. I’ll be watching, cheering and appreciating the Warriors for 78 games next season.

The other four games? I’ll be yelling for the Grizzlies to “Whoop That Trick,” for Tony Allen to turn off Durant, Curry or Thompson’s water. Can’t wait for the fall.

Until then… GRIND ON!