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VOL. 129 | NO. 211 | Wednesday, October 29, 2014

‘Anything’s Possible’

Grizzlies, fans ready for new NBA season

By Don Wade

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Seated at the same table as guard Tony Allen for the Grizzlies’ 13th Annual Tip-Off Luncheon on Monday, Oct. 27, fan Kim Cherry couldn’t help but notice The Grindfather’s Army fatigues sport coat. It was the booming fashion statement of the day.

The Memphis Grizzlies were introduced to fans earlier this week at the 13th Annual Tip-Off Luncheon held at FedExForum. The team opens play at home today against Minnesota.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

But Cherry, an executive with First Tennessee Bank, also noticed something else: Allen didn’t touch his dessert, a fluffy apple turnover with a dab of whipped cream.

“See,” she said, pointing, “It’s still sitting there.”

And it was. Forward Zach Randolph also passed on the pastry.

“Let’s just say it’s not in my diet,” Randolph said.

Wednesday night, Oct. 29, at FedExForum, the Grizzlies begin the 82-game grind that is the NBA season vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Grizzlies understand they can’t merely be healthy, but must be fit and ready if they are to set a franchise record with a fifth straight playoff appearance.

“It’s not a given just because you’ve made it several years in a row,” said general manager Chris Wallace.

No, but fans are going to think the way fans think. So they were talking a bit larger as the start of the season neared.

“We hear everything,” point guard Mike Conley said of his discussions with fans at the yearly luncheon. “Have a good time, talk a lot of small talk, talk about the season and how we’re gonna win this championship.”

Cherry, for the record, wasn’t predicting a championship. But she also wasn’t envisioning a repeat of last season when Oklahoma City knocked the Grizzlies out in the first round, albeit in seven games.

“Let’s say Western Conference Finals,” Cherry said, which would represent a repeat of the team’s best playoff run in 2012 under then-coach Lionel Hollins.

Now, former Hollins assistant Dave Joerger is entering his second season as head coach. He has, from all accounts, been more direct with players and left less to chance or interpretation.

Memphis Grizzlies players and staff pose for a group photo with an auction winner at this week’s 13th Annual Grizzlies Tip-Off Luncheon.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“Maybe last year I made the assumption we would just carry forward our roles even though we know that year to year things change,” Joerger said during the preseason. “I made that assumption incorrectly last year. So I thought it was better (this year) to get ahead of it and talk to every single guy.”

The nightly rotations will no doubt change with the ebb and flow of a long season, injuries and the need for rest, and who’s hot and who’s not. What’s certain is that Conley, Randolph and center Marc Gasol form the nucleus of the team.

They and Allen received loud ovations at the luncheon, but newcomer Vince Carter got just as much love. At his table, fans wanted to dial up the past and talk about his Dunk Contest days. But Carter’s excited about what this season might bring.

“Anything’s possible,” Carter said when asked about the team’s potential. “It’s important to get off to a good start and get ourselves established with the West being so loaded. We have to win the games we need to win and stay healthy. But I think we’re very capable.

“The team’s been together for a long time. Everybody knows each other. It’s just me trying to catch up.”

The luncheon included live and silent auctions to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a family that lost a daughter to cancer spoke at the event. Long after the mother and father had shared their personal story, players were still moved.

“It just goes to show how important that it is, giving back and helping, the things that St. Jude does,” Randolph said. “It was just heart-touching.”

Said Carter: “My years in Dallas, every time we would come to Memphis we would go to St. Jude. Coach Rick Carlisle really believed in that. The family speech, it’s hard to even imagine until you’re in that position. You could just feel (the mother’s) strength and that’s amazing.”

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