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VOL. 133 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 20, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Grizzlies’ Front Office Makes Calculated Moves to Give Team Real Shot at Relevance

By Don Wade

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We will not be granting general manager Chris Wallace and the rest of the Grizzlies’ front office absolution. Can’t do it. Too many bad draft picks over the years, the bungled Tyreke Evans situation, and the failure to sufficiently vet Chandler Parsons’ health, make that impossible.

That said, let’s give some credit where it’s due. From draft night forward, this has been a very solid off-season. A measure of hope/dignity has been restored for a team coming off a 22-60 endurance test.

Dumping the mopey Deyonta Davis and the “get-mine” mentality of Ben McLemore on the Sacramento Kings inspired a collective exhale from the Grizzlies’ fan base. It also raised a question: Could coach Dave Joerger be a secret double-agent?

Truthfully, I’d have been happy to get a postcard of the California state flag in return for Davis and McLemore. Addition by subtraction and all that. But for two players the Grizzlies wanted to be rid of, plus a future second-round draft pick and cash, they received well-respected veteran wing Garrett Temple, who is coming off the best offensive season of his career and will fit in nicely as a role player/leader.

Granted, some of the off-season maneuvering became necessary because after failing to trade Evans at the deadline, the Grizzlies couldn’t salvage the relationship and re-sign him. But their overall plan to again, emphasize defense and not try to imitate the rest of the league trying to imitate the Golden State Warriors, makes sense.

On draft night, the Grizzlies used the No. 4 overall pick on forward Jaren Jackson Jr., and their second-round pick on guard Jevon Carter. Both players not only have the skill set of good defensive players, but the mindset, too.

Jackson had that promising night in the NBA Summer League when he hit eight 3-pointers, but he will contribute first and most on defense. Same for Carter, who gives no indication he will be intimidated by anyone regardless of their pedigree.

As coach J.B. Bickerstaff said, “Why try to copycat and be like everybody else? Everywhere you look around the league, people are chasing the Golden States. They’re chasing the Houstons.”

Even at their best, which means a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and a healthier Parsons, there is no future in that for the Grizzlies. There is not an elite shooter on this roster unless Parsons dials up some of his greatest hits from his days with Dallas and Houston.

While I’m weary of putting the intentional stylistic change under the old Grit & Grind banner – it’s still a different team and a different time – I can get behind the larger sentiment: Return to being a pain in the butt for the rest of the league.

To do that, however, requires buy-in up and down the roster. The Grizzlies were not then, and are not now, built for any one player to carry them even for a night. Sure, Zach Randolph had some glorious my-turf moments in the low post and Tony Allen regularly helped himself to the other guy’s lunch money in the open floor. Wallace brought both of them here and that’s history that should not be forgotten.

The Grizzlies’ biggest risk in the off-season probably was investing $37 million in swingman Kyle Anderson, 24, when he is anything but explosive on offense. Hence, the nickname “Slow-Mo.” But in Anderson they get a high-IQ player (Gregg Popovich’s words) coming out of the San Antonio system, who has good court vision, digs in on defense, and should be able to fit with any combination of players around him.

Veteran forward Omri Casspi, signed to a one-year deal, doesn’t fit the defensive mold, but is a career 37 percent shooter from deep. He can be a hedge against Parsons’ continued knee problems.

None of this means the Grizzlies are lock to return to the playoffs. No question, their margin for error is small.

But after David Fizdale became the latest Grizzlies coach to fail at forcing the Grizzlies into playing copycat basketball – Joerger once went down this road, too – the strategy is plain: Don’t try to be something you’re not. Clear the locker room of players that don’t have the stomach for playing defense, for playing hard, and for playing unselfishly. And give Gasol and Conley a collection of players willing to be led.

The moves this off-season provide an opportunity for all of that.

If it works out, and the Grizzlies return to the playoffs, credit Wallace and the front office with a significant assist.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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