When the Grizzlies front office sent Tony Allen and Zach Randolph packing last season, our city lost more than just two outstanding basketball players; We lost our Grit-N-Grind. Players who came to this franchise and made the type of unprecedented changes that will bring a tear to some of us true fans, it was hard to visualize a Grizzlies team without Tony and Zach. Who would this team become without the personalities that literally created the blueprint to our style of play? While many of us expected a lesser squad, nobody could have guessed this far of a downfall (or Mike Conley’s injury, maybe?). For a city of such passionate fans, watching this downfall came as a hard pill to swallow. A pill the front office has seemed to resoundingly refused to accept, General Manager Chris Wallace (bleh) and Co. have publicly stated their desire to return to the Grit-n-Grind style of past ways; They seem to be making the moves to back it up, too. So this ultimately begs the question to me: Can Grit-N-Grind ever make a real return to this city?
“Nick, you have to look up a picture of David Fizdale’s wife. They both came into my work earlier and damn is she fine. I can’t wait or this season haha.” My brother texted this to me two or three days after the Grizzlies had just hired new head coach David Fizdale (he became coach in 2016). Much of the speculation and hype around the future of the team’s style resembled this view of Fizdale’s wife: sexy. The Grizzlies were set to follow the rest of the league’s suit in adapting to a more modern style of basketball under this coach. We were finally going to start shooting 3s! Everyone was so sure of an extended stay in this league’s relevance, and by damn a few weeks into the season did it sure look to be that way. The Memphis Grizzlies opened the 2017 season on an absolute tear. We cruised to an early 7-4 record, even beating Golden State in impressive fashion and climbing to a No. 1 spot in ESPN’s power rankings. Tyreke Evans was flashing glimpses of his former college self; Marc Gasol was stretching the floor with a staggering number of smooth sailing long balls. Everything in life was good. That was until Mike Conley ruptured his achilles tendon. This injury created a torturous-downward spiral that can be called last season. What used to be a power four of Mike, Tony, Zach, and Marc, Gasol was now stuck staring at a dead, unguided locker room. He felt isolated. The once recognizable personality of the Memphis Grizzlies was nowhere to be found in his eyes. Trying to move on from old partners in crime, while learning a new coach’s system and managing expectations of teaching all the young guys? Marc Gasol struggled with concept of being the face of a franchise. He had never been forced to be the main leader; Mike and Marc had always somewhat hid from public spotlight behind the vibrant personalities of Tony and Zach. Marc has always just wanted to show up everyday and play basketball, no gimmicks off the court. Well this didn’t settle well with new, full of gimmicks coach Fizdale. The frustration between the two became palpable as the Grizzlies’ season continued to plummet. Marc’s game seemed rusted while the team as a whole looked lost. Nobody hustled, there was no coordination, and wins were coming very sparingly. Eventually, this became apparent enough to our management that they decided to part ways with Fizdale not even after a full season with the team. We all could see one of the two had to leave; the front office decided to stick with Marc. Fast forward almost a year later, and now Marc can look up at a better head coach (I love JB), what will hopefully be a healthy Conley to start season, and a new partner in crime in Jaren Jackson, Jr. Things certainly look more optimistic now as compared to last season, but will this be enough to bring back Grit-N-Grind? Am I going to be able to go back to shouting “Whoop that trick!” during games, and actually having a trick to whoop? A lot of this will hinge on Marc Gasol’s ability to take these new pieces and make a personality out of this team again. Can Marc give the blueprint of Zach Randolph’s grittiness to Jaren Jackson? Can Mike Conley become vocal and help newcomer Jevon Carter turn into a clamp of a defender like former teammate Tony Allen? The capability of returning the mantra of Grit-N-Grind will rest with the responsibility of our new coach and star leaders to mold these young players into the grindfathers of past time.
The impressionably young age of both Jaren Jackson and Jevon Carter, along with their glowing personalities, give me hope that our organization has a real chance to foster a reboot of this team’s Grit-N-Grind image. An image that has, in the eyes of many credible people, significantly gained steam back over the past six months, after being wrecked last season. This season’s image will directly reflect how well new head coach JB Bickerstaff can develop these draft picks, along with other young players such as sophomore Dillon Brooks and newly-acquired 24-year-old Kyle Anderson. Bickerstaff has been well noted throughout his coaching career for being a developer, and I think he might just be the perfect fit to lead these young men. For a coach that was put in an awkward situation last year, JB seemed to hold it together a lot more than our record would indicate. He showcased the type of leadership an experienced head coach has in this league. That doesn’t make sense coming from a guy whose never been an official head coach though, right? Not when you grew up the son of an NBA head coach/ executive. This unique trait has a strange way in tying back to developing two specific players on this team, who grew up the son’s of NBA players. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson both have fathers with professional basketball careers, and this NBA connection with their new coach means two things to me: JB has the insight to help these two grow as men more so than anyone else, and these professional pedigrees should result in more professional play on the court. Along with the help of veterans Conley and Gasol, Bickerstaff has all the tools to grow these young players into potential stars, and maybe bring our game back to the level of Grit-N-Grind days. Yes, JJJ and Dillon have the potential to be stars, but I think we all from Memphis already know that.
So, do I think the Grit-N-Grind days can make a return to Memphis? It’s really hard to say. There will always be some level of nostalgia for that feeling of knowing our Grizzlies could beat the ass of any other team in the league. Anybody who drove the paint on us knew to expect an elbow from ZBO or Tony, and what happened if you had something to say about it? I thinks words might not suffice:
Do I think the Grizzlies can return to this level of badass? No. That level of respect proves hard to come by in this league (go ask Kobe who defended him best). While this level of respect may never be attained again, I do believe the Memphis Grizzlies can make a return to true Grit-N-Grind though. With all the moves we have made, including ones not already mentioned like adding Shelvin Mack, Omri Casspi, and shedding Deyonta Davis and Ben McLemore (!!!), this organization has placed itself in a position to regain its identity back. While Tony and Zach may never return to square some people up for us, this team has the talent to return to a Grit-N-Grind level of defense. It may not come to fruition as early as this coming season, but I believe Grit-N-Grind will make a return.