VOL. 133 | NO. 159 | Monday, August 13, 2018
Small Moves, Significant Results?
By Don Wade
As the Memphis Grizzlies recently unveiled their new uniforms in a special event at FedExForum, there was a large image of Mike Conley – noted NBA fashion plate – modeling the new threads. Asked what he thought, Conley smiled and said: “In my personal opinion, I think I look great.”
No doubt, he will look that much better wearing the uniform for real on opening night. He’s recovering from a foot injury and says he is on track to be ready. If he is, then his return with new additions ranging from No. 4 overall draft pick Jaren Jackson Jr., who showed well in NBA Summer League, to veteran role players, offers renewed hope after a 22-60 season.
“The moves we’ve made may seem small, but they’re really, really big for our franchise for where we want to go,” Conley said. “The switch to changing our culture to a team that brings in guys that kind of fit our system. We’ve got high IQ guys … guys who bring some different things, do a little bit of everything.”
Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, left, and guard Mike Conley laugh as they warmup before an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP File Photo/Brandon Dill)
Besides Jackson, the draft netted guard Jevon Carter with No. 32 overall pick. Both rookies are defense-first players, but not without some offensive potential, too. Kyle Anderson, formerly a classic “system” player with San Antonio, has been added and will bring stingy defense and deceptive playmaking ability.
“Kyle, he’s a point forward honestly,” said Conley, adding that he gave a thumbs-up to the move when the front office sought his opinion. “He can play any position. He can guard any position. What makes him special is his ability to control his body and not have to move so fast. He can take two long steps.”
Hence, Anderson’s nickname: “Slow Mo.”
Veteran forward Omri Casspi could add some 3-point shooting and is a bit of insurance at a low price if Chandler Parsons is again limited by knee issues. Veteran guard Garrett Temple came over in the trade that jettisoned empty uniforms in Ben McLemore and Deyonta Davis. Temple should slide into a rotation spot and gives the team another veteran leader.
Dakari Johnson was acquired in the trade that sent Jarell Martin to Orlando and it is hoped Johnson can provide some backup minutes at center behind Marc Gasol.
J.B. Bickerstaff, whom the Grizzlies elevated from interim coach to head coach after the season, has stressed a return to defense. Conley likes it.
“We’re still gonna try to move it and get up and down, but we’re gonna try to hang our hat on defense like we always have. Make (the other team) uncomfortable and get an identity back not a lot of teams have. The great ones do, but we had it at one point and I think took a step back the last few seasons. And it’s time to get it back and J.B.’s been talking defense since he’s been here.”
Conley, by the way, says he had more contact this offseason with Big Spain than any he can remember. And Conley takes that as a very positive sign.
“He’s really excited,” Conley said. “Normally he goes to Barcelona, I go to Ohio or will be in Memphis, and we’ll just give each other a break and see you in September kind of a thing.
“And every other week he’s like, `What’s up Michael, what are you doing?’ And with the time difference it could be any time of the day or night. We’re constantly texting.”
Gasol, of course, made news when he was part of a rescue mission through Spanish nonprofit Proactiva Open Arms that saved a migrant woman adrift in the Mediterranean Sea.
“He’s been busy saving people,” Conley said.
At an entirely different – hardly life-and-death – level, Gasol was in the middle of an NBA season cast adrift. Conley was helpless because he was injured. But he says Gasol experienced some of the same feelings.
“Mine was something I had no control over,” Conley said. “His, the situation was what it was. He was giving his best and it just wasn’t enough. And that can be super-frustrating and I know that that stressed him out a lot.
“So he’s excited I’ll be back and give him a little time to relax from carrying the load, everything on his shoulders.”