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Morning shootaround — September 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Marc Gasol is good to goSuppose there’s an anthem protest in Utah? | Unsigned JR Smith is still hopeful of being with Cavs

No. 1: Marc Gasol is good to go — The Grizzlies are one of the league’s mystery teams. Will Memphis be a 50-win club with reasonable post-season expectations? Or has time caught up with the Grit and Grind? Well, one thing in the Grizzlies’ favor is the return of Marc Gasol, whose season was cut short from a broken right foot. Gasol is also 32, but when healthy he’s one of the elite NBA centers. The subject of Gasol and other issues was explored recently by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

There won’t be a shortage of storylines. Several developments over the summer dramatically changed the roster and presented new head coach David Fizdale with plenty to ponder:

1. Gasol is healthy, but how quickly can he play at a high level?

Gasol is said to be a full participant with the Grizzlies after being inactive for several months, and the team plans to continue to proceed with caution. That Gasol didn’t play for Spain in the Rio Olympics wasn’t surprising given his devotion to being ready for Griz training camp. He suffered a fracture in the midfoot area, and despite the growing optimism, Gasol’s comeback won’t be easy.

Gasol will turn 32 years old in January, almost halfway through the season. So conventional wisdom would suggest that the Griz would initially put him on a minute restriction and allow the foot to strengthen for a strong stretch run.

There have been mixed results with big men returning from the injury over the past 15 seasons. Joel Embiid, a former Kansas Jayhawk, has yet to play in the NBA after suffering a midfoot fracture. Former Rockets center Yao Ming had a midfoot fracture during the 2008-09 season at age 29, and the injury essentially ended his career. Former NBA big men Brendan Haywood, Michael Olowokandi and Eric Montross never recovered.

Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is one of the success stories. The Griz believe they have every reason to believe that Gasol will be a positive exception, too.

2. What is the status of Jarell Martin and 2016 draft pick Deyonta Davis?

Martin underwent foot surgery after being drafted in 2015 and suffered a bone bruise and then required another surgery that cut short his season. Griz officials said that Martin returned to full basketball activity the past two weeks. Davis is doing strength and conditioning, and rehabbing after the team reported that plantar fasciitis in his left foot forced him to miss summer league play.

3. Could mounting injuries have cost athletic training Drew Graham his job?

The person hurting most this offseason might be Graham. He was fired, general manager Chris Wallace confirmed.

“We’re in the process of putting together a complete medical team,” Wallace said. “We’re revamping our approach to player care. He’s no longer our trainer. We wish him well.”

The Griz will not change team doctors.

Graham is believed to have two years remaining on his contract. The divorce is a bit curious given Graham’s history with the franchise and his accolades. Graham was named the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association’s Joe O’Toole Athletic Trainer of the Year after last season. The honor came after a season in which the Griz endured an unfathomable string of injuries and used an NBA-record 28 players while earning a sixth straight playoff berth.

The award recipient is recognized for exemplary achievement or outstanding service to the NBA, NBATA and his community. It is named after Joe O’Toole, a long-time former head athletic trainer of the Atlanta Hawks, long regarded as the father of the NBATA.

Graham recently concluded his 10th season as the Grizzlies’ head athletic trainer. He was also Vice President of Player Care, a promotion he received in 2013. Graham joined the Griz in 2006 after working the previous six seasons (2000-06) as an assistant athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach with the New Jersey Nets.

The Griz have not yet announced Graham’s replacement.

4. How will Mike Conley respond to a remarkable summer?

Shaquille O’Neal made the comment that “if Mike Conley gets $153 million, then (a team) would have to pay me $300 million (today)” during an interview as O’Neal entered the basketball Hall of Fame last weekend.

After recovering from a sore Achilles, Conley signed the richest five-year contract in NBA history at $153 million. Re-signing Conley was necessary to keep the Griz competitive and to preserve continuity.

Still, owner Robert Pera is embracing the risky nature of the business. Pera paid Dallas free-agent forward Chandler Parson a maximum $94 million, meaning there’s a bulk of the salary cap tied up in two players who have never made an All-Star team.

Conley has developed into a major cog of the Grizzlies’ Core Four. He’ll be forever judged by the contract — a la former Griz Rudy Gay. So after signing the deal, experiencing the birth of his first child (a son, Myles Alex Conley) and purchasing a $1.8 million home in Collierville, Conley now will be called upon to do major things on the basketball court.

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No. 2: Suppose there’s an anthem protest in Utah? —  Protesting the pregame national anthem is all the rage in the NFL as more players are choosing to take a knee or raise a fist or simply ignore the traditional honoring of the flag. Obviously, much the same is expected in the NBA, if only because player protest has been rather common in the last few years. However, a potentially interesting scenario could take place in Utah if Jazz players decide to make a statement during the anthem. Salt Lake City is one of the more conservative cities in the NBA; what might be the reaction. Long-time local columnist Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune explored the issue:

According to recent comments by Oklahoma City guard Victor Oladipo, it’s natural to expect some NBA players to join in, too.

Which raises the question: How would you react if a Jazz player chose to kneel during the anthem?

Oladipo was asked by Complex Sports if such protests will rear up in the NBA. He said: “Oh, no question. I truly believe it will. Because at the end of the day it’s a sport, and people are gonna be looking at some guys in the NBA to see what they’re gonna do, as well. At the end of the day you just control what you can control, so your opinion is your opinion, that’s the beauty of the United States, so, do whatever you feel is best that will help you do whatever you believe.”

He added: “Whatever you believe, believe in to the utmost. But I think, definitely, we’ll see a few guys in the NBA doing the same thing.”

So, if a Jazz player decides to demonstrate his beliefs regarding social injustices or anything else he deems important in the United States, by choosing not to stand to “honor America,” what happens next?

In a place such as Salt Lake City, the action-reaction would be fascinating and compelling to watch.

Kaepernick has generated all kinds of responses, including anger from those who think his gesture is disgusting, ungrateful and unpatriotic, to supporters who believe his actions call attention to a significant issue — the sometimes unjust treatment of African-Americans by police in this country — that needs correcting.

One of the difficulties in any reaction, pro or con, is that nothing is absolute here. The United States has its flaws. There are stupid acts perpetrated by people of authority in this nation, including, in some cases, horrible mistakes made by police officers. Conversely, there are many police officers who are heroes, who do their jobs admirably, who risk their lives — and, at times, lose them — in the dangerous process of keeping citizens and communities safe. There are servicemen and women protecting U.S. values and interests every day, putting themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of people they don’t personally know, people who they know only as Americans.

When a symbol such as The Star-Spangled Banner, cherished and revered by so many, is then disrespected, or seen to be disrespected, by a player’s gesture, as some view Kaepernick’s protest as being, it’s a blow to their own beliefs. And they react negatively.

It has been pointed out many times before that the flag represents and stands for the freedom that allows Kaepernick, or any other player or person, to express his love for or unhappiness with whatever is happening in and around the country.

So, how do you respond? How would you react if that protest comes home to Vivint Arena, demonstrated not just by a player on an opposing team, rather by a player for whom you normally cheer on a team for which you always cheer?

I do not know the answer to the question. I am grateful, though, that we live in a country — the same country, distressing parts of which are being protested against here — where Kaepernick and others, including any Jazz player, can peacefully act out what’s on his mind, even if it’s not something others would do, without getting hauled off by authorities for that dissent.

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No. 3: Unsigned JR Smith is hopeful of being with Cavs — He was a fairly important rotation player for the champion Cavs but JR Smith officially isn’t a member of the Cavs any longer, at least until he re-signs with the club. That’s going to happen, right? Well, everyone still expects the two sides to reach an agreement, yet it hasn’t occurred just yet. Smith’s been endorsed by LeBron James and others, which hasn’t exactly quickened the process. Smith recently spoke about his contract and other issues while being interviewed by Adam Caparell of Complex Sports:

 

Smith, believe it or not, is still a free agent with Cleveland’s training camp just weeks away on Sept. 27. He has no idea when he’ll sign with the Cavaliers—“Soon, I hope,” he says. Cleveland is realistically the only team Smith can sign with for the money he’s looking for. So what’s the hold up?

“Well, obviously we’re not where we want to be at from a personal standpoint,” says Smith. “But it’s more than just numbers. I don’t want to feel like I’m taking advantage of the Cavs for everything they’ve done for me, and I don’t want them to feel like I’m taking advantage of them. It’s more of a mutual respect thing.”

Smith is reportedly seeking a significant increase in salary after making just $5 million despite starting all 21 playoff games. And with the way free agents were compensated this summer—former teammate Timofey Mozgov is getting $64 million over four years from the Lakers, for example—$15 million a year for his services doesn’t seem ridiculous. But the Cavs are still holding out, so there’s a chance he may not get it.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is Paul George a top-10 player? … Steve Clifford believes the Hornets’ defense will be much improved … The Rockets and Domantas Montiejunas are still on hold over a deal … Remember Vin Baker? He’s doing TV within old team, the Bucks … Cameron Payne is expecting big things in his second season with OKC …

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