One last look back at Grit-N-Grind (as we know it)

Plus: GritGrindGrizz columnist Lee Eric Smith weighs in on All Star Game changes.

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I know what the Grizzlies official position is: Grit-N-Grind isn’t dead. It’s evolving.

“Grit-N-Grind is a mindset,” said Mike Conley, who is poised to become the face of the franchise at Media Day. “It doesn’t just mean the way we play, not anymore. The mindset is to be tough, to be mentally stronger than your opponent, to not get rattled.

“On the court, we’re transitioning to a different style of play,” he concluded. “But that’s it.”

Except for this: Grit-N-Grind isn’t just a style of play or a mindset. It is (was) watching Tony Allen scream “First Team All Defense!” while football-signaling a first down. It’s the unique thrill of watching Zach Randolph accumulate “Z-bounds” — you know, when he doesn’t outjump anybody but still comes up with the rebound and the putback, while mean-mugging the opposing players he knocked down. It was Tony smacking his own butt after a good play, and Z-Bo’s feathery jumper. It was Tony wandering into a kids’ dance routine during a timeout and Randolph barking to Serge Ibaka “I’ll beat yo’ a$$!”

Every successful team has players that fans want to see play, regardless of whether they’re winning or not. As awful as the Lakers were in Kobe Bryant’s final season, KB24 was still worth the price of admission, even with all his high-flying days behind him. We’ve never really had that type of offensive perimeter “must-see” type of player in Memphis; again, maybe it’s Mike Conley’s year.

But even when Tony Allen is blowing layups or pulling up for unsanctioned jumpers, Grizz fans still wanted to see him on the court. Even when Zach couldn’t guard a traffic cone out by the three-point line, you still wanted him to get the ball in the crunch.

And I miss that. Already.

Don’t get it twisted — I want to believe that this evolution of Grit-N-Grind will succeed. I want to believe that the Grizzlies will be renowned and feared for their defense again. I want them to lead the league in deflections and forcing turnovers and fast break points. Heck, I could even go for a revival of  “Hubieball” — when former coach Hubie Brown’s 10-man rotation usually meant his starters had enough rest to outrun their opponents in the fourth quarter. On paper, Fizdale’s squad is deep enough to give it a try.

But personality-wise, we just don’t know what to expect from the new guys. We don’t know what quirks and “isms” guys are going to bring, if any. I don’t know who the “tough guy” is anymore, or which guy is going to play so hard fans will be scared for him. We don’t know who fans won’t be able to take their eyes off of. We don’t know which players are going to feel like they’re from Memphis.

And let me be clear: I love Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They are amazing players and people who have done a lot for Memphis, and they both have their own unique personalities. But Marc wants no part of a spotlight and would prefer to defer. And Conley is the perennial nice guy; perhaps the wildest thing about him these days is his hair. I don’t want these guys to change.

I guess it gets real simple real quick: I used to know what to expect from NBA games at FedExForum, and now I don’t. I used to pencil the Grizzlies in for the Playoffs; now it wouldn’t shock me if they win 24 games or 48 games.

And until we see what Grit-N-Grind “New.0” looks like, I won’t feel guilty about having a hard time saying goodbye to yesterday.

All-Star Game: An NBA Pick 5

Late Tuesday, the NBA announced a new wrinkle to the NBA All-Star game: The top vote-getter from each conference will CHOOSE their team from the pool of All-Stars — yes, just like you used to on the playground.

Didn’t see that coming. But the league had to do something to generate some interest in the weekend.

Excluding that epic showdown between Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine from a few years ago, the Dunk Contest was largely a snoozefest. Remember when the dunk contest was more exciting than the 3-point contest? Yeah, that’s not the case anymore.

But generally, until this year’s game in New Orleans, you could count on the actual All-Star Game on Sunday for some solid entertainment. The unspoken rule was that players would give fans little defense and many highlights for three quarters, then get serious about actually winning the game.

That didn’t happen this year, for arguably good reason. Let’s face it: How would you feel as a fan if Mike Conley popped a hamstring while actually trying to win the All-Star Game? Now, take that feeling and multiply it by $153 million (Conley’s contract). Nobody wants to see players get hurt ever, let alone in a meaningless showcase for the fans.

As a result, players ran virtually uncontested layup lines during All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis led the West to a 192-182 victory over the East. Davis’ 52 points is now the All-Star scoring record, but it feels hollow. Heck, at 48, I could score 52 if nobody was guarding me.

And while I still don’t expect either team to play much defense, this new format is going to create some interesting drama and storylines. Team captains can choose players from either conference.

Say it won’t be fun to watch LeBron zipping a pass to Kevin Durant in the corner. Or Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving breaking ankles on the same team before throwing a lob to Blake Griffin. That’s going to be fun!

It’ll be even more fun if we get to fantasize about Marc Gasol and LeBron on the same team. Or if we see Mike Conley in an  All-Star uniform period. But it’s not like the West has gotten any easier for a point guard to break through, so I won’t hold my breath.

I’ll be back with a season preview next week, but as a shout out to all the new players in Beale St. Blue, I’ll finish with this:

GRIND ON!