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VOL. 128 | NO. 52 | Friday, March 15, 2013
Don Wade

Don Wade

Post-Trade Grizzlies Finding Identity

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

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When Rudy Gay talked to Yahoo Sports about needing a change, about the trade from Memphis to Toronto being good for him, all the focus fell on the following quote about Memphis’s new ownership group:

“They’re rookie owners,” Gay said.

A bit of a shot, that. Even if this whole NBA ownership thing is new to controlling owner Robert Pera. But it is what Gay said next that is of relevance to who the Grizzlies were with No. 22 and who they have become without him.

“It’s a player’s league,” Gay said.

Notice he said “player’s,” the singular. Not players’, the plural.

Life ARG – After Rudy Gay – the Grizzlies are all about the collective. If they had a team candy bar, it would be a 3 Musketeers. Maybe you can’t lay all of the Grizzlies’ success since the trade on Rudy’s exit from the Bluff City. Then again, they are 15-4 since then.

If you want all the advanced metrics and analytics that prove they are better without Rudy, by all means Google until your fingers are down to mere nubs. But really, it isn’t necessary.

On Wednesday, March 13, they beat the Clippers in Los Angeles (no small feat) for a sixth straight win that also raised their road record to a gaudy 19-11. I don’t have any advanced stats to back up this next assertion, either, but I believe it to be no less accurate. Whatever flaws a team has, whatever imbalances in team chemistry exist, they most often surface on the road. Players are trapped together on planes and buses and in visiting locker rooms that often are no bigger than oversized broom closets.

If you’re not all for one and one for all it’s bound to show up on the court. None of this is to say that Rudy was a raging malcontent. He was not. By all accounts, he was a decent guy.

But there was never any doubt, judging by what he left unsaid, that in his heart of hearts he believed himself capable of more. He finally was blunt about this in Toronto.

“I needed a new task with something I could grasp, something I could take over,” he said.

Like almost every game. Like possession after possession despite career-low 40 percent shooting.

Look, it’s no accident that the Grizzlies are now assisting on more field goals, or that point guard Mike Conley is playing freer as both a playmaker and a scorer.

After the win over the Clippers, Marc Gasol spoke of this being a different Grizzlies team than when the Clippers gave the Grizzlies a beatdown earlier this season at FedExForum, of the team being more “together.”

It wasn’t hard to figure out what he meant. It’s also clear that the trade of Rudy Gay, though Lionel Hollins was against it, has been good for the Memphis coach, too. Hollins put too much trust in Gay because he was the most athletic scorer with size at his disposal. This, however, never meant Rudy was the most reliable offensive option, just the guy most willing to heave an off-balance shot.

After beating the Clippers, the Grizzlies improved to 44-19 and they are just ahead of the Clippers for the 3 seed in the Western Conference. Charles Barkley, for one, believes them much more of a legitimate contender in the West than the Clippers, a team Barkley has dismissed as “fool’s gold.”

What are the Grizzlies? Ultimately, we don’t know the answer to that.

But since shedding the offensive player who gave too little return for his $16 million-plus per year salary, the Grizzlies have become a nice little stock trending ever upward.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the “Jon & Don Show” on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

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