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VOL. 130 | NO. 138 | Friday, July 17, 2015

Grizzlies Believe Big Man Backup Brandan Wright A Seamless Choice

By Don Wade

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It won’t always be as easy for Mike Conley in the NBA as it was for Scott Reall in high school. But when Reall talks about being Brandan Wright’s teammate at Brentwood Academy in the mid-2000s, you do get the idea that Wright brings some much-needed athleticism to the Grizzlies’ front court.

Brandan Wright, who most recently played for the Phoenix Suns, signed a three-year free-agent deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said he knew Wright would be a seamless fit.  

(AP Photo/Matt York)

“I was a junior when he was a freshman and I was the starting point guard, so all I had to do was come across half-court and lob it up,” said Reall, who today is strength and conditioning coach St. George’s Independent School in Collierville. “We took off and won four state championships in a row. Two in my last two years and then his last two years.

“The original Lob City was there at Brentwood Academy.”

So take that, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. You’re merely Clipper-come-latelies.

More seriously, the addition of Wright, who just signed a three-year free agent deal approaching a reported $18 million, does not signal that Memphis will become the full-on Southern version of Lob City. But Wright, who is 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds, also will never be confused with a player challenged by gravity.

Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and recently departed big man Kosta Koufos could all jump and their combined vertical would not approach that of an airborne Brandan Wright.

“Teams are downsizing, getting a little more athletic and a little faster – especially in the frontcourt,” Wright said. “That’s where I can come in and really help.”

Grit and Grind isn’t going anywhere and Wright is essentially here to replace Koufos, who signed with Sacramento, and to provide versatility. No one has suggested Wright will be the rim protector that Koufos was, but he does bring more on offense.

And while it’s true Wright, who has never averaged more than 9.1 points or 4.9 rebounds in a season, really hasn’t lived up to where he was drafted – eighth overall in 2007 after playing one year at the University of North Carolina – that’s not really a concern for the Grizzlies. He’s here to fill a specific role on a team aiming for a sixth straight playoff appearance.

He’s still young – turning 28 in October – and yet has the experience of having played seven NBA seasons; he missed the 2008-09 season with a shoulder injury. And twice he played in the postseason with the Dallas Mavericks. Last season, he played travelogue as he went from Dallas to Boston to Phoenix.

“He’s a young veteran,” said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace. “He still has a great deal of runway out in front of him. But he’s established. We knew the fit was going to be seamless.”

As the NBA moves farther away from hard-and-fast positions, Wright is a power forward who can be a center and a center who can be a power forward. For his career, he averages 7.1 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, and owns a 60.6 shooting percentage. His next made 3-pointer will be his first; he’s 0-for-11 lifetime.

(Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Yes, he’s not known for his 3-point shooting,” Wallace said, aware of the preoccupation fans and media have with the team’s shaky perimeter shooting. “But this was too good an opportunity to pass up to bring this kind of character and talent to the team.

“There’s so much small ball being played, especially in the Western Conference,” Wallace said. “He can handle a smaller player (better) than some of the big guys you bring in. He runs so well and scores in transition and you always have the lob threat with him. He’s a weak-side shot blocker, he’s got a leaner in the lane. He’s a proven contributor to winning teams in this league.”

He also knows a thing or two about playing at FedExForum.

“Coming in here and playing, it was all about tempo,” Wright said. “When I was at Dallas we did a good job at home of controlling the tempo. When we came in here, we couldn’t do it.”

Same as Gasol’s high school team at Lausanne couldn’t beat Wright’s Brentwood Academy team for the 2003 Division II state high school championship.

Small basketball world, isn’t it?

“I think he thinks about it a little more than I think about it,” Wright said, allowing a little smile. “He’s still pretty salty about it.”

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