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VOL. 132 | NO. 130 | Friday, June 30, 2017

New Grizzlies Ready to Work, Free Agent Picture Still Cloudy

By Don Wade

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Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale and general manager Chris Wallace, right, hand 2017 draft picks Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb their team jerseys during a press conference Wednesday, June 28, in the lobby of the FedExForum. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

All across the NBA landscape, teams are trotting out their second-round draft picks and saying the same things: We had these players rated higher. We couldn’t believe they were still there. And the classic, “We’re so happy they fell to us.”

Yes, it’s NBA Summer and if you’re not expressing unbridled optimism about your latest second-round investments – volatile futures stocks, to put it in Wall Street terms – then you aren’t trying.

The Grizzlies had to scramble to even get in the game this time. They sent a future second-round pick to Orlando and that netted them 6-11 California forward Ivan Rabb at No. 35 overall. They sent another future second-round pick to Houston and they came away with Oregon guard and Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks at No. 45.

“I don’t know how they got to us, honestly, with what they’ve done this year,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said on Wednesday, June 28, when the newest Grizzlies were introduced to the media alongside Fizdale and general manager Chris Wallace. “If you look at the numbers and the accomplishments, it goes to show you that NBA teams make mistakes.”

He means other NBA teams. All the ones that passed on Rabb and Brooks.

The Grizzlies’ initial scouting of Rabb began with the idea he would come out after his freshman year. He was a projected first-rounder. Instead, Rabb returned to school for his sophomore season. He averaged 14.0 points per game and his 10.5 rebounds led the Pac-12. He blocked 73 shots in two seasons, landing among Cal’s all-time leaders.

Reporters gather around 2017 Memphis Grizzlies draft pick Ivan Rabb after a press conference in the lobby of the FedExForum. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Apparently, though, the more that NBA scouts saw of him the less sure they were about his place in the NBA. For his part, Rabb says returning to school was a good decision. But he says he was perhaps “penalized, maybe overanalyzed” because of it.

Brooks, a three-year player at Oregon, averaged 16.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.09 steals this past season in leading the Ducks to the school’s first Final Four since 1939. He also shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range and earned the reputation as a clutch shooter.

“I admire the grind and the grit,” Brooks said of being in Memphis, where he no doubt will learn the proper order of things. “I’m excited to get started to show who I am.”

And the Grizzlies are eager to see.

At the top of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are making tweaks while everyone else maneuvers and chases. The Cleveland Cavaliers know they have to get better. The Houston Rockets believe that pairing Chris Paul with James Harden and adding a third star could make them competitive with the Warriors in the West.

Meanwhile, teams in the lottery are building up and trusting that youth and time can take them where they want to go.

The Grizzlies, proud owners of a seven-year playoff run?

“We’re trying to win right now, too, so we’re on both paths,” Wallace said. “We’re trying to develop young players, not just for the future, but hoping some guys can come in and play early on like JaMychal (Green) did, like Wayne Selden did last year, Andrew Harrison. We obviously are in it to win now too because we’re in the window of (Mike Conley’s and Marc Gasol’s) career. They’re very productive and among the best in the league at their respective positions.

“You never sell young players short,” Wallace added. “You just never know what they can do if given the opportunity. I’ve seen this time and time again in the NBA, they can often outperform expectations.”

What’s to be made of that, besides a GM spinning the way a GM has to?

Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace speaks with reporters at a press conference Wednesday, June 28, in the lobby of the FedExForum. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Well, Wallace flatly said the draft picks do not represent a decision to replace anyone else – be it Green, who is a restricted free agent, or older, unrestricted free agents Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter.

He also didn’t say the Grizzlies were committed to bringing any particular player who is a free agent back next season. But in Fizdale’s first year, the Grizzlies demonstrated the willingness to play young players and to stick with them, to a degree, through growing pains.

“I don’t care about your age,” Fizdale said. “If you can play, you can play for me. My history already says that. I started a rookie in the playoffs (Selden) and I played another (Harrison) a lot of minutes. Both of these guys are ready to go. They have an NBA skill set.

“The things they did in college translate to the NBA. And these guys are big-time character guys.”

Fizdale also now has a year of experience as a head coach leading young players through the ups and downs of an NBA season.

“Every guy’s different,” he said. “Everyone’s buttons are different. I hold everyone to the same standard, but I go about getting to the finish line a lot differently with each guy. You know, some guys can take it where you can just rip ’em right there in front of everybody. And some guys can’t handle that. You put your arm around them or get them behind closed doors to really get after ’em. You learn personalities. Both of these guys can take it.”

Soon enough, the Grizzlies will start to learn about their latest investments. Summer League. Then training camp. And then a season that might see them stick with the Grizzlies or spend a lot of time playing for the nearby minor league Memphis Hustle.

Rabb, who has worked in his mother’s restaurant doing everything from washing dishes to waiting on tables – “a little bit of everything,” he said – already knows what it is to be a role player and look beyond the present moment to a bigger picture.

So the fact he once was a projected first-round pick is now just filed under past asides.

“I’m not too worried about last year,” Rabb said. “I’m just ready to get to work. I plan on being around in the league for a long time. It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish.”

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