Eighteen months, one week and one day. That’s how long it’s been since Darrell Arthur played a game in anger, as they say. For his NBA employers, the Memphis Grizzlies, and for his own self.
The Grizzlies look considerably different since that playoff loss to Oklahoma City in May 2011 – O.J. Mayo, Shane Battier, Sam Young and Greivis Vasquez are all gone, as is Michael Heisley as the team’s principal owner. In their place: owner Robert Pera and players such as Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington and an Arthur playalike Marreese Speights. But Memphis’ record (8-2) and status as an NBA contender look good again, same as before, and Arthur is eager to feel a part of that.
Just as long as someone provides the bubble wrap. That shouldn’t be too much to ask in an arena named the FedEx Forum, should it? His unwrapping begins Friday night at home against the Lakers.
If there were “Fragile / Handle with Care” stickers on Arthur before, no one paid much attention to them. The 6-foot-9 forward from Dallas, by way of the University of Kansas, had what would have been his fourth NBA season wiped out by a torn Achilles tendon last winter, then had his comeback delayed by a leg fracture in a pickup game in September. Now, finally, he’s ready to contribute, as Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins explained to Memphis beat writer Ronald Tillery:
“He’s an athletic 6-9 guy who can play the smaller forwards,” Hollins said. “He can shoot the ball so he can spread the court. He can rebound. He plays with a lot of energy and hustle. … I want to get him in the game and give him confidence. When we started the season, I envisioned Darrell and Mo (Speights) playing together with Marc [Gasol] and Zach [Randolph] both sitting on the bench.”
That sort of rotation mostly has been a luxury Memphis couldn’t afford, lack sufficient frontcourt depth. But with Arthur available again – along with Speights, acquired last January soon after Arthur went down, the Grizzlies might not have to ride its stellar bigs quite so hard. Randolph and Gasol again have been averaging nearly 38 and 37 minutes nightly, respectively.
Even when Arthur was out of sight, he wasn’t out of mind for Memphis; the team signed him to a three-year, $9.7 million contract before his Achilles rehab even was complete. But having him on the floor – that is, running, jumping and cavorting on the floor rather than writhing on it – figures to be better still.