Tri-State Defender Sport Stories



By Lee Eric Smith, [email protected]

Now that the Memphis Grizzlies season is over, let’s take an advance look at who might be available in the NBA Draft. What’s that? Right, the Grizzlies have no first-round pick this year. That’s not to say they won’t be trying to trade their way into the draft — of course they will. But there’s a while yet before draft night; we’ll have time to talk about that. The bigger question would have to be this: Who do the Grizzlies want to be next season? And how will they get there? Or, more bluntly: Will Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Vince Carter and JaMychal Green be back? Randolph, Allen and Carter are all unrestricted free agents and can sign wherever they want to on July 1. As a restricted free agent, the Grizzlies can match any offer Green gets, if they decide to. And there’s this: To a man, each has stated a desire to remain in Beale Street Blue. Fans certainly hope that Zach and Tony in particular re-sign. If only it were that simple, though. For all of the revamping that Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale did — requiring Marc Gasol (and the rest of the team) to shoot 3s, unleashing Mike Conley’s offensive powers — he only produced two more wins than Dave Joerger did before bolting for Sacramento. In fairness, injuries have sucked the hope out of the past two seasons, regardless of whether Fizdale or Joerger was coaching. But the fact remains that with a (fairly) healthy Conley, Gasol, Randolph and Allen, the team finished with 43 wins — two wins over .500. Combined with the ever-looming spectre of Memphis’ older, slower players being outrun in the “run, gun ‘n’ fun” NBA, it’s reasonable to expect changes this summer. But what should they do? I don’t have answers; I only have questions: Will Randolph’s game ever age? The answer is NO. He’ll be able to use his butt to move teenagers out of his way when he’s 50. And while the team understandably wants to get more athletic, Z-Bo thrived in his “super-sub/instant offense” role off the bench. Fans love him. And who else is going to give you that kind of production for a relatively reasonable contract? If he’ll agree to a reasonable contract, he should retire at FedExForum. Period. Can Tony Allen still be an elite defender? No. But his value can’t just be measured that way either. You know he will come to compete every night. And his fire gets the rest of the team going. The bigger question is whether his body will hold up. Do you want more Vinsanity? At this point, everything Vince Carter does on a basketball court is amazing. And he’s still got game. He’d be a nice consolation prize if the Grizzlies don’t make significant upgrades elsewhere. How much is JaMychal Green worth? We’re about to see how this bloated salary cap thing really works. Will some desperate bottom feeder team make Green a ridiculous offer? Probably. Will the Grizzlies match it? Probably not. Will Brandan Wright be back? Fizdale stapled him to the bench for the Spurs series, and he is probably the team’s most tradeable asset. But if the team thinks Deyonta Davis is ready, I could see Wright being shipped out for that draft pick or other key free agent. Eh. The soonest any of this can be solved will be June 22, the night of the NBA Draft. I think we’ll see some fireworks that night. But I also hope the current crew returns for another go at Grit ‘n’ Grind. Regardless of how old or nonathletic they may be, it’s just FUN to watch these guys put on their hardhats and play in this hard-knock city. Here’s hoping we get another season of it. GRIND ON!

Relentless Spurs bounce determined Grizzlies out of the playoffs

By Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press The San Antonio Spurs wanted no part of playing a seventh game against the Grizzlies, not with the Houston Rockets looming in the next round. ...

GritGrindGrizz: World, meet Mike Conley

By Lee Eric Smith, [email protected]

I remember one of my first videos covering the Grizzlies: it was a piece on the young point guard out of Ohio State, Mike Conley. Having seen video of his Buckeye days and watching him do a dribbling drill on YouTube, I remember looking into the camera and saying: “Mike Conley can get into the lane whenever he wants, to create for himself or his teammates.” That was back in 2010, somewhere around the time when trading him for Ramon Sessions and a bag of popcorn still seemed like a good idea. No, Mike Conley isn’t a shooting star — he wasn’t picked by a shoe company or the league to be the next “it” guy — not like say, Damien Lillard, whose game I love but isn’t nearly as accomplished as Conley. It’s crazy when you think about it. Conley was the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft. You expect a player drafted that high to blossom sooner. But it was bad timing. Conley survived the Marc Iavaroni experiment at coach before getting drilled by Lionel Hollins. He was the one the team bet on instead of Kyle Lowry, who has had a great career. Shortly afterwards, the team identity and style of play (rightfully) began to take shape around the “Smash Brothers,” Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Conley was often the last option on offense, behind Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. Conley’s stardom would have to wait. Then, what do you know? The Grizzlies started winning. They started winning regular season games. They started winning playoff games and series. And somewhere along the way, everybody except fans and NBA coaches could figure out that Mike Conley deserved to be an NBA All-Star. But I get it: It’s hard to put Conley ahead of players like Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden... yikes. No wonder the world was buzzing when the Grizzlies signed Conley to an NBA record $153 million contract. How in the world do you give that kind of money to a guy who’s never made an All-Star team, and isn’t even the best player on his own franchise? Well, as the saying goes: “You gone learn today!” I have a lot of reasons for wanting the Memphis Grizzlies to keep winning, to somehow pull off another miraculous upset over the San Antonio Spurs. This time next week, I’ll either be writing a preview of Grizz-Rockets, or I’ll be writing about the end of the season. But I’ve simply got to say, I am flat out enjoying Mike Conley’s coming out party in these Playoffs. I have seen him do things that made me gasp — that wicked hesitation, crossover, drive-the-lane thing he does is SICK. So let me repeat: Mike Conley can get into the lane whenver he wants. We’ve known it here in Memphis for some time. It’s been a lot of fun watching the rest of the world learn, though! GRIND ON!

Grizzlies drop Game 5 in San Antonio, 103-116

By Lee Eric Smith

GritGrindGrizz: Three Point Play: MEM 103 SAS 116 We knew going into Game 5 that one of these two teams would be facing elimination in Game 6. Of course, people in Memphis hoped the Grizzlies would be in a position to close out San Antonio on Thursday. But despite another stellar performance from Mike Conley and a good game from the rest of the team, the Spurs were simply better on Tuesday night, winning 116-103. It is so much fun watching Mike Conley turn into a league-wide star. Conley turned in 26 points, six assists and four steals, and showed off his own handles and ankle-breaking skills in a variety of ways. Just as the Grizz couldn't stop Kawhi Leonard (28 points, six boards), the Spurs had no answer for Conley. He is on his way to supplanting Gasol as the Grizzlies best player, and I don't mind that one bit. I’m working on a preview of Game 6 for our print edition out tomorrow. However, here’s a quick recap of my preview of Game 5, and how the Grizzlies did in comparison: On a role: As I predicted, several Spurs players had better games in their own gym, none more than backup PG Patty Mills. Mills uncorked 20 points in 22 minutes off of the Spurs bench, including five three pointers, several of which helped seal the game in the fourth quarter. Also, Manu Ginobili finally scored, and did so early with six quick points in the first quarter. In fact, Mills, Ginobili and Pau Gasol combined to score 39 points. By comparison, Grizzlies’ reserves Andrew Harrison, Wayne Selden and JaMychal Green combined for 26 points. Troy Daniels was on the floor for 10 minutes and DID NOT. ATTEMPT. A SINGLE. SHOT. Yikes. No sloppy basketball! After becoming the first team in literally 20 years beat the Spurs despite 23 turnovers in Game 4, Memphis took much better care of the basketball in Game 5, with only nine turnovers. But their defensive focus did not carry over, as they allowed the Spurs to shoot 52.5 percent from the field and a ridiculous 50 percent from the arc. Ordinarily, Memphis scoring 103 points on 51 percent shooting (40.9 from the arc) would be enough to win. But, y’know, defense. Make threes. Overall, Memphis had a good night from the arc, going 9-22. Both James Ennis III and JaMychal Green found themselves wide open in the corner, and knocked them down. So I was befuddled when the player who would seem a no-brainer for those situations — Troy Daniels — took NO shots. The kid often looks a bit lost on defense, but I can’t understand how the team didn’t make sure he got the looks that Ennis and Green got. Also, Marc Gasol went only 0-1 from the arc . . . not enough attempts, and certainly not enough makes. How can Memphis solve these issues by Thursday night? I’ll tackle that in our print edition due out tomorrow. In the meantime . . . GRIND ON! Should be a fun night . . . GRIND ON!!!

GritGrindGrizz: Warmups for Grizz-Spurs Game 5:

By Lee Eric Smith

Look at God. That’s all I can say, given what I wrote last week — you know, before the Grizzlies shocked the Spurs (okay and almost everybody) by waking up winning Games 3 and 4 at FedExForum. To recap (in italics): With a level of luck that church folk typically call “God’s favor,” I could be writing a preview of a Game 6 by this time next week. But the Grizzlies will have to do their part too. “Doing their part” means stuff we already know: Make shots. Defend the three-point line. Get at least one Grizzlies role player and/or bench player to score. Try to keep the ball out of Leonard’s hands. All easier said than done. And if somehow the Grizzlies pull that off for 48 minutes, the “God’s favor” part means they have to do all that stuff again for at least one more game, to force a Game 6 at FedExForum on April 27. Well, the Grizzlies indeed did their part, and God’s favor kicked in as well. I will be previewing Game 6 in this week’s print edition, which will be an elimination game for one of these teams. But before we get to that, there’s a pivotal Game 5, tonight in San Antonio. Here are three quick thoughts on what Grizz fans can dread, expect or hope for: Does momentum matter? The Grizzlies have played well in Memphis, largely because their role players and bench players played well and made shots. Correspondingly, guys like Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Pau Gasol have struggled in Memphis. I think it’s simply a fact of life that some role players play better in front of their fans. And frankly, I’m most concerned about Manu Ginobili. He has been a nonfactor for this series so far, and while I don’t expect a 2007 Ginobili to show up, even at 39, he’s capable of swinging a game. For Memphis to keep this game close, the heightened game of Andrew Harrison, Troy Daniels, James Ennis III and JaMychal Green simply MUST travel. No sloppy basketball! Somehow, the Grizzlies won despite turning the basketball over 22 times. That would be miraculous by itself, but a whopping FOURTEEN (that’s a Four with a “teen”) of those turnovers were unforced. Seriously, I did a search of the play-by-play, and the phrase “Bad Pass Turnover” popped up 14 times on the Grizzlies column, by veteran starters. Crazy. And you won’t survive that many unforced errors against the Spurs in San Antonio. No sloppy basketball! Make threes. Really, Memphis needs to keep scoring at all costs. Nothing will sink this team faster than the dreaded 16 point quarter. But within the overall context of making shots, Memphis will need to shoot often and well simply to keep up with the Spurs, and I expect their role players to shoot better in their own gym. Obviously, we want Conley to shoot well, but there are two other players I’ll be watching. Marc Gasol went 3-3 in Game 1, but has only attempted six threes in the next three games combined. Remember, Fizdale wants Gasol averaging four attempts per game, and Big Spain must not ignore that critical weapon for scoring and spacing. Also, this would be an EXCELLENT night for Troy Daniels in particular to go nuclear. Should be a fun night . . . GRIND ON!!!

The Playoffs: Tied at 2!

By Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said he was an option to take the final shot and that the San Antonio Spurs thought so, too, on a night when he ...

Grizz ride Z-bo in takedown of the Spurs

By Karanja A. Ajanaku, [email protected]

No matter the game, when a player or team goes up against a mountainous and perceptively superior and stronger foe, success often results from a gradual – and largely imperceptible – process. The key some sports sages say is threefold: stick together through the bad times, develop a game plan to narrow the mountain’s broad base and to rely upon a proven camaraderie with a superior man for stability. Grizzlies vs Spurs, Game 3: Memphis 103, the mountain – also known as the St. Antonio Spurs – 85. The Grizzlies had lost 9 straight playoff games and 10 straight to the Spurs before Wednesday night’s victory at the FedExForum; a win in the opening round of the NBA Western Conference Playoffs. The stabilizing force for Memphis was Zach Randolph: 21 points, 8 rebounds and a superior presence that was so visibly on display that it lit up the house. “It was fun to see him (Randolph) succeed doing the things he has done here for so many years,” Mike Conley, the Grizzlies starting point and floor general, said. “It was almost like he was a secret weapon tonight. We finally unleashed him. And man, he really changed the game – hopefully changed the series – and gave us some confidence.” Doing his job coming off the bench for most of the year, it was widely thought that Z-bo would be in the starting line-up for Game 3 after impacting the Grizzlies so positively in the Game-2 loss. “It felt good out there to start and get a rhythm and get in a rhythm out there faster,” Randolph said. “The guys were looking for me and giving me the ball. It looked good. We’ve just got to carry on and just put this behind us. We’ve got Saturday to get ready for.” Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale said the Grizzlies’ success means so much to Randolph. “The guys been through so much this year personally and he’s made the biggest sacrifices. Whether he’s starting for or coming off of the bench, he’s just been fantastic and I’m just very happy that I got a chance to coach Zach Randolph.” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich was asked before the game about the Grizzlies possibly altering their starting lineup. “It doesn’t change anything that we might do. We’ve got to guard whoever is on the court and if he’s on the court (Zach Randolph), we’ve got to try and guard him,” Popovich said. “You can’t change your spots at this point in the season. We’ve got to just be who we are and whoever they start, they start. I don’t have any control over that.” Afterwards, he pointed to Memphis’ aggressiveness. “They were very focused and executed well on both ends of the court. They made it really tough on us offensively….They put us in the mud…” Randolph was the man with men-sized help digging a hole for the Spurs. Conley (24 points, 8 assists), Marc Gasol (21 points, 6 rebounds) got ample support from the likes of James Ennis III (12 points, 2 rebounds) and an engaged bench. Conley noted the effort from the bench, with guys making more shots, being aggressive and doing the best they could with their matchups. “That opened it up for a lot of us, especially Z-bo,” he said. On this night, the toppling of the Spurs saw their superstar anchor Kawhi Leonard held to 18 points after 30-point-plus performances in the first two games. And point guard Tony Parker, whose resurgence in the playoffs helped bury the Grizzlies in the opening games, didn’t score a point. Conley said Memphis would not be going into Game 4 thinking that the team had the success for chopping down the Spurs all worked out. “They are going to come back and make adjustments and the adjustments could be something that you would never think of,” he told The New Tri-State Defender’s GritGrindGrizz columnist Lee Eric Smith. “It’s going to be something and we’ve got to be ready.” Game 4 is going to be the ultimate test,” Conley said. “It’s going to be the most important game for us in the sense that if we come out with the same mindset, the same amount of intensity to show that this wasn’t a one-game thing and that we can do it multiple games back to back. That can change the series. “And literally, if we can get back to San Antonio 2-2, it’s anybody’s game. So that’s the way we look at it.”


By Lee Eric Smith, [email protected]

“Take that for data!” Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale barked as he slammed his hand on the table after a tough Game 2 loss in San Antonio. He stormed offstage in a huff. I have no idea what “Take that for data” is supposed to mean. But I do know that Fizdale meant it. He had just dared the NBA to explain the disparity in foul shooting in that game — things like how Spurs star Kawhi Leonard had shot four more free throws (19) than the entire Grizzlies team (15). Or how Zach Randolph, who is constantly banged around in the paint, took ZERO foul shots. “I’m not going to let them treat us that way!” he growled. “I know (Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich) has got pedigree and I’m a young rookie, but they’re not going to rook us. That’s unacceptable. That was unprofessional. My guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game, and they did not even give us a chance.” Knowing that the NBA doesn’t suffer criticism of its officials, everyone knew a fine was coming. Wednesday it was made official: the NBA slapped Fizdale with a $30,000 fine. Even before it was announced, Memphis-based Servicemaster volunteered to pay Fizdale’s fine Turns out that the NBA doesn’t allow sponsors to pay fines. And news broke as I was writing this that Fizdale’s players have volunteered to cover his penalty. Either way, Fizdale’s explosion sets the table for what should be a wild, raucous and insanely fun pair of games this weekend at FedExForum. Let’s go down the list: • Grizzlies players and fans in the role of scrappy underdogs? Check. • Feeling disrespected and overlooked? Check. • ServiceMaster sponsoring a special edition of Growl Towels, probably with a Fizdale quote on them? Check. • More than 18,000 angry fans at FedExForum? Check. And with his fiery remarks, Fizdale just put a cherry on top of that Memphis Playoff Sundae. Fizdale is about to experience his first playoff game in Memphis. He’s about to see how wild Memphians get in the postseason, especially whenever they feel slighted. Which, of course, is always. Will they win these two home games? Who can say? After all, the Grizzlies players still have to put the biscuit in the basket and stop the Spurs from doing the same. And it’s not like San Antonio hasn’t crushed the playoff hopes of whole cities in their own arenas before. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: They ain’t gonna rook us. Is this the end? There’s a song from my childhood with a line that feels appropriate when talking about these Memphis Grizzlies: “Mama told me one day it was gonna happen, but she never told me when . . .” The song, of course, was New Edition’s “Is This The End?” And every year for the past few years, that’s been a popular question to ask as it begins to sink in that the Memphis Grizzlies will not finish the season with a championship parade down Beale Street. Fine. Anything can happen in the playoffs. But let’s be real: Memphis would need to win four out of five games against a Spurs team that’s built a 25+point lead TWICE in this series already. Oh yeah, and the Grizz will have to do it without their best defender (Tony Allen) against MVP candidate Leonard — who’s already posted back-to-back 30+point games in Allen’s abscence. With a level of luck that church folk typically call “God’s favor,” I could be writing a preview of a Game 6 by this time next week. But the Grizzlies will have to do their part too. “Doing their part” means stuff we already know: Make shots. Defend the three-point line. Get at least one Grizzlies role player and/or bench player to score. Try to keep the ball out of Leonard’s hands. All easier said than done. And if somehow the Grizzlies pull that off for 48 minutes, the “God’s favor” part means they have to do all that stuff again for at least one more game, to force a Game 6 at FedExForum on April 27. Absent that, this time next week, I’ll be at the the end-of-season media scrum, including interviews with Head Coach David Fizdale and his erstwhile “Core Four” of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Allen and Zach Randolph. And seeing as how Allen and Randolph are free agents on a team that desperately NEEDS to get younger and more athletic . . . Well, insert that New Edition song title here. Ugh. Don’t even like to think about it. Certainly don’t want to write about it during The Playoffs, so I’ll shelve this post-mortem until the Grizzlies’ run has officially ended. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to tell you the team will likely look a LOT different next season. Probably won’t win as many games. May finally fall out of the playoffs. And some of your favorite players may be in different uniforms. Time is precious, so savor this team, these players, these memories while you can. It’s been one helluva ride. Grind ON!

Fizdale’s rant costs him $30K

By The Associated Press The NBA has fined Grizzlies coach David Fizdale $30,000 for his rant against the officiating in Memphis' 96-82 loss to San Antonio in Game 2 of their first-...