Posts Tagged ‘Robert Pera’

Next few steps critical for Grizzlies

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Grizzlies fell in Game 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The picture of instability.

The living and breathing definition of disarray.

That’s what that smoke cloud in Memphis looks like from afar.

The Grizzlies, a year removed from a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals and weeks after a first round exit from the 2014 playoffs, dismissed team CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash on Monday, ensuring a major shake-up would dominate their summer for the second straight year. They parted ways with HT fave and well-respected head coach Lionel Hollins after last season’s trip to the conference finals.

Further complicating matters this time around is the Grizzlies giving Dave Joerger — who succeeded Hollins and led the Grizzlies to a 50-win season — permission to speak with the Minnesota Timberwolves about their coaching vacancy.

On the surface it’s yet another head-scratching decision from a franchise that’s making that a habit:

“The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota … and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard,” Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.

Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn’t see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.

“He’s just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon,” said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while [Grizzlies owner Robert] Pera restructures the front office.

All signs point to Pera being the one instigating these changes after a reported clash with his management team, changes that elicited this simple but appropriate response from Grizzlies guard Tony Allen:

All this is yet another disconnect between ownership, management and the coaching staff that leads to dysfunction and entropy. The Grizzlies aren’t true championship contenders. But they’re certainly closer to the Western Conference power elite than they are to the consistent lottery crowd.

Pera has every right to do as he pleases with his franchise. He’s paying a handsome price for that right. But he should be careful. There have been others in his shoes who have chosen to do it their way, a “new” way, despite being advised to hire smart people and then step back and allow them to do their jobs.

The richest or smartest man or woman in the room isn’t always right when it comes to basketball decisions. It makes me think back to the way things unraveled in Phoenix when the Robert Sarver-led group took over a contender and slowly but surely reduced the team to a lottery-dweller that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.

(Granted, the 2013-14 Suns won 48 games and became just the second team in the past 40 years to win that many games and miss the postseason.)

In a copycat league in which teams structure their franchises based on the most successful outfits, down to the way the socks are organized in the equipment room, it boggles the mind that anyone would want to retrace the steps the Suns took when they broke from the sturdy leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Bryan Colangelo.

Yes, the Suns survived for a couple of seasons without the Colangelo-Mike D’Antoni power structure in place. But that talented roster they initially had — Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson —  eroded over the years leaving nothing from the glory days but an aging Nash,who was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers..

The Grizzlies would be wise to tread cautiously as they go down what appears to be a similar path. Wallace has been in the front-office game long enough to know just how hard it is to get back to where the Grizzlies are now if they do dip below the playoff line.

Memphis battled back this year from early stumbles and an injury to Marc Gasol to secure that seventh spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Who knows what would have happened in Game 7 of the opening round against the Thunder if they had been able to play Zach Randolph, who had been suspended for clocking Thunder big man Steven Adams in the jaw in Game 6?

The point being, overreacting after a season like this could be detrimental to the long-term health of what’s been built in Memphis. Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Mike Conley, Mike Miller and the rest of the the Grizzlies are ready to compete for the foreseeable future.

Someone needs to wake up, quickly, to refrain from any more of the foolishness that has marked the Grizzlies’ offseason for a second straight spring.

Jordan Calls Pera Challenge ‘Comical’





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan offered an appropriate response for a laughable challenge from Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, who wanted to challenge arguably the greatest player of all-time to a game of one-on-one for charity.

Jordan dismissed Pera’s Twitter antics by laughing at his fellow owner.

“I think that’s comical,” Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. “It didn’t make any sense. Why would I play one one-on-one? It’s a no-win situation for me no matter what.”

Pera issued his challenge Monday night, accompanied by a video (above) showing off his on-court prowess:

Jordan let it simmer for a while before brushing Pera aside. Pera’s intentions were most noble, he was trying to raise $1 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Trying to do it at the expense of a fellow owner who also happens to be a Hall of Fame player and considered by many the greatest player in NBA history, didn’t win him any points with Jordan’s legion of fans and admirers.

Jordan’s response was certainly appropriate. He didn’t take the bait from Pera, who at 35 is 15 years younger than Jordan. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted from his most pressing concerns, which revolve around reviving a Bobcats franchise that is breaking in yet another new coach, Steve Clifford, and several new faces, including veteran big man Al Jefferson and rookie 7-footer Cody Zeller.

Jordan told the Observer that he is pleased with the progress he’s seen on all fronts:

“I’m so happy about Steve. He’s a very professional guy. Professional in a way that the players can respond. He’s worked with some very good programs. I’ve watched him with the players. He has the right patience and rapport – he knows how to position himself with the players.

“That’s a big move for us because no matter how we spend on players, it starts with the coach. I’m not putting down (predecessor) Mike Dunlap. He had some of the same qualities.”

On Jefferson:

“Jefferson is a great addition. He’s been asked to be a leader on the basketball court. He’s never been asked to do that before. But he has some credence with our guys and I think they’ll respond.”

On Zeller:

“I love Zeller. To me, he’s a connector like (Josh) McRoberts, only more talented. He’ll make teammates better. He’s not flashy in what he does, but he’ll be a really solid player for us.”


If Pera wants a challenge he might be able to win, he’d should ask his Grizzlies to challenge Jordan’s Bobcats. But owner-on-owner, he’s a major underdog any way you slice it. (Here are a couple of reminders for you Mr. Pera!):




Morning Shootaround — Oct. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan dismisses Pera’s challenge | Oden misses practice (knee) | Monroe won’t get extension …  yet | Howard hopes his jersey is retired by Magic

No. 1: Jordan calls Pera’s challenge ‘comical’Just two days ago, Grizzlies owner Michael Pera took to Twitter to challenge Hall of Famer and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan to a game of one-on-one. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell, Jordan had a quick reaction to Pera’s challenge:

Hours removed from the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies challenging Michael Jordan to a charity one-on-one game, MJ had a response:

“Comical.”

That’s the word the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats (and Hall of Fame player) used in a brief interview with the Observer Wednesday. If new Grizzlies owner Robert Pera wants to play one-on-one for $1 million to charity (as he said on Twitter), Jordan won’t be his opponent.

“I think that’s comical,’’ Jordan said. “It didn’t make any sense. Why would I play one-on-one? It’s a no-win situation for me no matter what.”

***

No. 2: Oden sits out practice with knee swellingTwo days after participating in his first full practice as a member of the Heat, center Greg Oden suffered a small setback on Wednesday. The big man was held out of Miami’s practice, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, due to swelling in his left knee:

Oden’s return to contact work had spurred some optimism that he could play in a preseason game. Those hopes have been dimmed now as he’s had to ease off his workload.

The Heat and Oden have been very careful to avoid setting a timetable for the center’s return in part because they’re preparing for setbacks such as this.

“This has been three years for me, as long as it’s no surgery, it’s OK,” said Oden, who last played in an NBA game in 2009. “This is going to be a long season, I’m going to get there.”

The Heat training staff measures Oden’s troublesome knees before and after every workout to monitor any swelling. The team has moved cautiously but had slowly been increasing his workload as he responded well to the first weeks of training camp and the preseason. Getting back to doing full-court work was an anticipated step.

“I was hoping it didn’t (swell up) but it did, but what can I do about it?” Oden said. “Next thing to do is get (the swelling) back down and get out there and figure out what I can do to not let it swell again.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ Monroe will have to wait for extension — Pistons fans shouldn’t read too much into the news that Detroit is unlikely to offer center Greg Monroe a contract extension before the NBA’s Halloween deadline to do so. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press says much of the reasoning behind the Pistons holding off on the move is not because they don’t want to offer Monroe an extension, but more due to them wanting to monitor the development of fellow big man Andre Drummond:

At this point the Pistons still consider Monroe a huge part of their rebuilding effort, but the circumstances suggest the team would be better off letting the season play out.

The Pistons probably could get a signature on a five-year, maximum contract offer. There wouldn’t be much point in the offer being declined. But the collective bargaining agreement dictates that teams can have only one five-year, designated player. That spot likely is reserved for second-year center Andre Drummond in the off-season before 2015-16.

So the season plays out and Monroe builds on his promising first three seasons, couldn’t he just walk? Nope. The most another team could offer is four years. The Pistons match it and still retain the five-year designation for Drummond.

The situation works for Monroe because things can change. What if Drummond is hurt or Monroe outplays Drummond this year? Circumstances could change where the Pistons would be open to offering Monroe five years. Or Monroe could be linked to trade rumors if the grouping with Drummond and Josh Smith isn’t working.

***

No. 4: Howard hopes Magic retire his number one day — Yesterday, Dwight Howard spoke with Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel and said he had ‘no regrets’ over how the end of his tenure played out in The City Beautiful. Before Howard’s Rockets topped the Magic in Houston last night, Howard said he hopes he and the Magic can one day mend fences enough to consider retiring his No. 12 jersey (which is today worn by Magic player Tobias Harris):

This morning, after Howard’s Houston Rockets completed their shootaround, I asked him whether he can envision the Magic retiring his number one day in the distant future.

“No doubt,” he answered.“Despite how things ended, we had eight or seven great years. We went to The Finals. A lot of those banners that are in the arena happened when I was there. I was a major part of that. A lot of the records that are there, I put them there.

“I hate talking about myself, but I feel like I’ve done a lot, not just for the team but the city and the arena itself and the businesses that were around. There’s a lot of things that happened that didn’t happen before I got there. Our team, we did an excellent job at putting all that stuff together, especially in the community. I was deeply embedded in the community and I feel like one day it should [be retired].

“But with all that happened, I can’t control that. All I’ve got to do is win. And, hopefully, when I’m done playing here, I’ll have my jersey retired here.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs still seeking a capable backup for budding star Kawhi Leonard … Cavs coach Mike Brown wants a better defensive effort from Dion Waiters Caron Butler of the Bucks has trimmed down a little this season

ICYMI Of The Night: Derrick Rose‘s regular-season debut is in 12 days, but if you asked the Pistons after this move on Peyton Siva, they’d say he’s in mid-season form already …

Griz Owner Pera Wants Piece Of Jordan





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Be careful what you ask for, Robert Pera.

Challenging Michael Jordan, even at his advanced age (50), to a game of one-on-one is probably not a wise thing to do. Everyone knows how competitive the greatest player in NBA history (at least in my opinion) was as a player and remains in the second phase of his basketball life as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.

That didn’t stop Pera, 35, and the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, from calling Jordan out on Twitter Monday night:

And that was after he dismissed the idea of battling another owner, some guy in Dallas, to a one-on-one game for charity.

It’s all for a noble cause, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, so a little owner tournament for charity would be cool. But Pera’s probably working with a false sense of security in challenging MJ.

I’m not saying he doesn’t have skills. I saw his workout video shot on the Grizzlies’ practice court (above). He certainly looks like he’s put in some quality work in the gym. It should also be noted that the adoring audience and the folks playing less than stellar defense in that video are all on his payroll. Something tells me they didn’t have any interest in showing up the boss.

Jordan, the cutthroat competitor who has slayed all challengers over the years, would probably have little trouble taking advantage of Pera (or any other owner in the league). Maybe they’ll shove the tables aside at the next owners’ gathering and get on the court and see who is truly the man among the owners.

The smart money, of course, is on MJ!

Small Markets Scrap For Success

memphis-fans

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When a couple small-market Western Conference teams battled for seven grueling games in the semifinals of the playoffs two years ago, who could have foreseen that they would meet again this postseason — after each was forced to deal with the inescapable repercussions of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Rudy Gay was injured and out of that postseason two years ago. But at only 24 and locked into a lucrative contract, the No. 8 pick of the 2006 NBA Draft was a central figure for the fast-rising Memphis Grizzlies. Yet on Jan. 30, 2013, Gay, the team’s leading scorer, was traded to Toronto.

In Oklahoma City, the Thunder were coming off a loss to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals when, days before this season began, Thunder general manager Sam Presti dealt former No. 3 pick James Harden, just 23 and an integral part of the team’s success, to Houston.

In a postseason marked by a surprising domination of small-market teams — all four teams remaining in the playoffs are in the bottom half of the league in market size — the second-round showdown between the Grizzlies and Thunder (won by the Grizzlies in five games) demonstrated just what many teams have to do to thrive in the era of the still-new CBA.

“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” said Jason Levien, the first-year CEO of the Grizzlies under a new ownership group led by one of the world’s youngest tech billionaires, Robert Pera. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team, how you build a roster, and you’ve got to keep the cap and the tax in mind.”

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Avoiding the taxes

Cap and tax are at the forefront of the strategy the Oklahoma City management team is using under the ownership of billionaire energy mogul Clay Bennett. Presti, who has managed to re-sign superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, plus emerging power forward Serge Ibaka, to long-term deals that fit within the team’s cap structure, chose to hold firm to a policy of not commenting on matters related to the CBA.

In Memphis, where the Grizzlies will look to start digging out of a 2-0 hole against the San Antonio Spurs in Saturday’s Game 3 of the West finals (9 p.m., ESPN), Levien has defended the trade of Gay (for veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and youngsters Ed Davis and Austin Daye) as being made to improve the team.

While that might be true — Memphis won a franchise-best 56 games after a strong start with Gay — the Grizzlies also got out of the $37.2 million owed to Gay over the next two seasons. Memphis will pay Prince, Davis and Daye a combined $26 million over that span ($22 million if Daye is not retained beyond next season). With Zach RandolphMarc Gasol and Mike Conley owed a combined $40.9 million next season, keeping Gay and a payroll under the tax line (this season it was $70.3 million) would have been a near-impossibility. (more…)

Q & A With Grizzlies VP John Hollinger

BOSTON – The seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is being held Friday and Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

The conference brings together folks from several different sports and continues to grow every year. This year’s panelists and speakers include R.C. Buford, Mark Cuban, Michael Lewis, Adam Silver, Nate Silver and Stan Van Gundy.

Co-chaired by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, the Sloan Conference has a huge NBA presence. This year, 29 of the 30 teams (the Los Angeles Lakers being the only exception) were in attendance.

Like the conference, the role of analytics in the NBA continues to grow. And when owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien took over the Grizzlies in the fall, they knew they needed an analytical mind to help them make their basketball decisions.

They turned to ESPN writer John Hollinger, naming him vice president of basketball operations in early December.

Hollinger was thrown right into the fire, as the team looked to restructure it’s payroll and regain some flexibility under the parameters of the new collective bargaining agreement. In late January, the Grizzlies made two trades involving three other teams and nine total players. At the trade deadline, they made one more minor deal.

Most notably, the Grizzlies traded leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto, breaking up a starting lineup that had enjoyed a decent amount of success over the last few seasons. They replaced Gay with Tayshaun Prince and also added Ed Davis to a bench that had taken a hit when they traded three players (and a first round pick) to Cleveland for Jon Leuer.

The Grizzlies are 9-4 since the Gay trade and had won eight straight games before falling in Miami on Friday. They continue to be an excellent defensive team, but are still looking for some answers offensively.

NBA.com exchanged e-mails with Hollinger this week to discuss his new job and how the Grizzlies are moving forward…

NBA.com: How does your approach to analytics as a team executive differ from your approach as a writer?

John Hollinger: The biggest change is that I’m looking at everything through this more narrow lens of “how does this impact the Memphis Grizzlies?” That means I’m probably looking at certain players much more closely and all but ignoring some national stories that I’d be discussing nearly every day in my former gig (like one that rhymes with “Spakers,” for instance), and it means I’m paying a lot more attention to non-NBA stuff (college, Europe, etc.) because that’s the pipeline for incoming players. As a writer I had the luxury of waiting until those guys got to the league if I so chose.

NBA.com: How has your team changed with the trades you made?

Hollinger: Well, hopefully we’re better. More seriously, I think we’ve diversified our offense a little, not just in terms of Tayshaun’s versatility, but also with adding guys like Austin and Ed that come off the bench and give you a major boost.

Rudy was a very good player but Tayshaun’s ability to pass and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers hopefully replaces some of the athleticism and shot-creating ability we gave up in this deal. Defensively we probably get even better, because we still have that 6-9 small forward who can guard, but now we also have an athletic big who plays above the rim in Ed, which is something we really didn’t have before.

And finally, we’re pretty deep in the front line now, because we also have bigs like Jon Leuer and Dexter Pittman waiting in the wings from our other deals.

NBA.com: I think we all understand the basic reasoning for the Rudy Gay trade and that you have more flexibility going forward. But can you explain the reasoning behind the Cleveland trade in the context of the trade that followed?

Hollinger: One thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that we still were facing a potential luxury tax hit even with the Rudy trade we made, because of certain incentive deals in our player contracts. So even though all those little charts on the Web had us $4 million and change into the tax, in reality our potential liability was about $6 million. Because of that, it was inevitable that another deal also had to be made in addition to a Rudy deal.

Also, there was a fairly important chess element to this — we were able to improve our leverage in the second deal by being under the tax, because beforehand people were demanding a premium for all the money they’d be saving us. The basketball offers for Rudy got better once we’d done this.

As for the particular deal we chose, it was clear given the frontcourt depth we had that moving off that [Marreese] Speights deal for both this year and next was the way to achieve the greatest savings at the least basketball cost. I suppose it’s possible he opts out of his deal now that he’s in Cleveland and getting minutes and playing well, but if he had stayed here and been our fifth big I’d say those odds were pretty minimal.

And going forward, if we’d had him on our books it would have been almost impossible to keep Tony Allen and stay under the tax. Obviously this isn’t the kind of move you’d prefer to make, but we came into a situation where our hands were really tied financially, and now we have options again.

While I have the floor, I’ll also point out two other things: First, that the Speights trade exception was parlayed into an even larger exception in the Rudy deal, because we took Daye into it, so we now have a $7.5 million chip that could prove valuable in the offseason. And second, that our breathing room allowed us to take in Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick at the trade deadline.

NBA.com: How much interaction have you had with players and coaches about numbers that can make you a better team? Does Tayshaun Prince understand the value of a mid-range shot vs. a three?

Hollinger: This is where coming in partway through a season probably limited what we could accomplish somewhat. We’ve had some discussions about it, but we’ll probably be able to have a lot more impact once we’ve had a full offseason together. And obviously time is a factor here two, just in terms of getting to know each other and develop a trust and rapport.

As for Tayshaun, you’re right that it’s probably not ideal to have just 11 percent of his shots come from beyond the arc, given that he shoots it fairly well from out there. We’ve talked about it some internally and with the coaches, but this is another example of an area where we’d be more likely to have an impact in the offseason.

NBA.com: Where are NBA analytics most valuable? (Coaching strategies, lineup combinations, evaluating your own personnel, opponent personnel, draft, etc.)

Hollinger: I think the greatest value is still in personnel, and especially in the personnel that you don’t see everyday. The whole thing about numbers and analytics is that they summarize all the games you can’t see, which is great because you can’t possibly watch every team play every game.

With the Grizzlies obviously analytics helps too, but because we’re seeing all the games there’s a lot of times where we already know the answers and the data just confirms it — not all the time, but a lot. As you might expect, the analytics are probably most valuable at the NBA level, because there is a lot less to translate than there is when players are jumping from college, Europe or the D-League.

That said, the answer to this question may be in flux, especially as the use of video explodes. I wouldn’t be shocked if in five years the answer to this question is “coaching.” And I’ll also contradict myself by saying that the translation of going from lower levels to the pros, while harder, also potentially offers more advantages for those who can break the code.

Gay’s Gone, But Hollins Should Stay

HANG TIME, Texas – Yes, it was about the money.

The Grizzlies had given far too much of it to Rudy Gay, a guy who was sitting on the sidelines nursing a bad shoulder when they scratched out the only playoff series win in franchise history.

That’s not to say that Gay hasn’t been a nice player during his six-plus seasons in the NBA; the kind who could often fill up the basket and make it look easy.

But that was the trouble. The Grizzlies have carved out their place, if tenuous, in the upper half of the Western Conference. Like Tina Turner and her band: they never, ever do anything nice and easy.

Gay has been barely shooting 40 percent from the field this season, checking it at a myopic 31 percent from 3-point range. For a player taking such a big bite out of the payroll, Gay too often seemed to drift, which was the rap as far back as 2006 when he was drafted eighth overall out of UConn.

Now the Grizzlies get veteran Tayshaun Prince, who can knock down the 3s, play solid defense and do all of the dirty work/little things, if he’s still so inclined at 32. They also get Ed Davis’ ability to finish at the rim and a couple of contracts that are far more palatable.

In short, the Grizzlies saved themselves a bundle and in a roll-of-the-dice way may have gotten some answers for a team whose chances to reach the NBA Finals this season were probably closer to a scratch-off lottery ticket than money in the bank.

Now the question is whether they’ll do the right thing by coach Lionel Hollins, who’s been allowed to quack like a lame duck without a new contract all season.

While the new ownership group (which is led by Robert Pera and celebrity pals Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning) and the management team (which includes stat guru John Hollinger) are clearly making their mark on the operation, it is Hollins who has already placed his stamp on the Grizzlies.

Yes, he’s often cranky and challenging. But those are the same attributes that describe the Grizzlies when they’re at their best. A lot of coaches talk about professionalism and accountability, Hollins demands it. He learned during his playing career from championship teams in Portland and Philadelphia that sacrifice and teamwork are not just to be valued, but expected.

Much was made of Hollins recent statement when he said: “We get hung up on statistics a little too much, and I think that’s a bad trait all over the league.”

Was it a shot at Hollinger and the new regime? Or simply Hollins being Hollins? Likely a little bit of both.

In the four years since Hollins has been on the Grizzlies bench, he has pushed, prodded, cajoled, driven and turned the quaint little franchise in the league’s smallest market that had never won a single playoff game into a “Grind House” team which Memphis could support. He did it by making the Grizzlies a reflection of his own personality, often flinty and contrarian.

This is Hollins’ team, even if they change pieces, because they share his DNA. You can’t have the “Grind House” without the head grinder.

At Last, Grizzlies Not Waiting To Roar

 

If NBA teams were condiments, the Grizzlies have stood on the shelf like a freshly opened bottle of ketchup for the past several years. It’s taken a whole lot of shaking and banging on the bottle to get anything out of them.

But here are the Grizzlies, six weeks into the season, flowing right along. Watch the ball move from Mike Conley at the top of the key to Rudy Gay on the wing to Zach Randolph down low for a bucket. Watch Randolph find his path to the hoop blocked and he’ll slip a neat little pass to Marc Gasol. Or Z-Bo will kick it back out to Gay without hesitation.

“I think,” said Conley, “a lot of guys who’ve been in this locker room for a while now just got tired of wasting years.”

It’s happened before in Memphis, most notably in the 2011 playoffs when the Grizzlies shocked the basketball world as a No. 8 seed, eliminating the No. 1-seeded Spurs and pushing a second round series with the Thunder to Game 7.

It usually happens in Memphis sometime well into the thick of the schedule, after the Grizzlies have laid down the shovels when they’ve tired from digging a hole.

Two seasons ago, the Grizzlies were fortunate just to make the playoffs. They were stumbling along with a 19-23 record on Jan. 19 until closing with a 27-13 kick to grab that No. 8 spot.

Last season, after they’d been picked by many to be a legitimate contender. Again they staggered at the beginning, sitting at just 12-13 on Feb. 6 until finishing 29-12 to claim the No. 4 seed, but were upset by the Clippers in the first round.

“We’ve grown mentally,” Conley said. “We understand what it takes to beat good teams and we’re applying that now and not waiting until February to start rolling. We just got our minds ready for the first game, the first part of the season, as opposed to working ourselves up to that.”

It’s easy to say that the Grizzlies have been able to pull it together this season simply because they’re all healthy. Two seasons ago, Gay missed the final 1 1/2 months of the regular season and playoffs with a dislocated shoulder. Last season, they lost Randolph to torn ligaments in the first week of the abbreviated post-lockout season and he missed 38 games.

However, it’s been more than just the good fortune of good health that has these Grizzlies looking and playing different. There’s almost a barbershop quartet’s harmony that has replaced the usual Memphis blues.

“I tell everybody it’s been a different camaraderie, a different spirit among the team in the locker room that has helped us,” said coach Lionel Hollins.

“The communication is good. The help is good. I just think it’s a conscious decision by players to embrace each other and play for each other.”

Nobody talks about it openly, but the departure of guard O.J. Mayo has made the Grizzlies’ offense and locker room happier places. For four seasons, Mayo could never find a comfortable or effective place as a starter or reserve. He also made the locker room a cliquish place that often froze out Gay and made it tougher for Conley to be the unifying quarterback and leader.

When the Grizzlies finally just let Mayo walk as a free agent last summer, it was addition by subtraction, even if one of the weak links in their attack is still the lack of reliable outside shooter.

Randolph is showing few effects from his knee surgery and is once more a ferocious inside force, rebounding (13.3 per game) at a higher clip than ever. Gasol’s scoring (15.8 ppg) and assists (4.4 apg) are both career highs. Though his shooting percentage is down, Gay (18.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) keeps buzzing around the numbers that have had him on the verge of an All-Star berth.

It is Conley who has taken the biggest step up, not just in stats but attitude. He is clearly running things on offense and the muscle he’s packed on is making him less apt to get pushed around on defense.

“Mike’s had this in him,” Hollins said. “That’s why he was the No. 4 pick in the draft (2007). He’s been working and building toward this for several years.”

Of course, the entire construction project has taken place under Hollins, who returned for his third stint as coach in January 2009 and has lifted the Grizzlies to unseen playoff heights, including that inaugural series win over San Antonio. The loss to L.A. notwithstanding, he has forced them into the elite level conversation in the Western Conference, which makes the fact that he has not been offered a contract extension both puzzling and foolish.

It is safe to say that Hollins is not happy with the situation and it’s odd coming at a time when there is so much comity around the team. Outgoing owner Michael Heisley said he didn’t want to burden the new buyer with more debt and Robert Pera, head of the new ownership group, has indicated he wants to see how things play out.

At their current pace, things could play out quite well for the Grizzlies. They’ve beaten the Thunder in OKC, whipped the defending NBA champion Heat, handed the previously unbeaten Knicks their first loss of the season and took the Spurs to overtime in San Antonio on the second game of a back-to-back.

At 13-3 heading into a back-to-back weekend set at New Orleans and home against Atlanta, this is the latest point in franchise history that Grizzlies have held the best record in the league.

“We’re another year older and we’re putting all the experience we have to good use,” Gay said. “It’s not about feeling our way along anymore and getting together later. We know what it takes. So our attitude has been, well, why wait?”

Memphis Bid, Jersey Ads Get BOG Review

 

A star-studded group of investors — including NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and his wife Ashley, entertainer Justin Timberlake and former NBA players Penny Hardaway and Elliot Perry — could be approved to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies at the NBA’s Board of Governors two-day meeting today and Thursday in Manhattan.

And with the league’s other 29 owners, they could find themselves with a new revenue stream in the form of jersey-patch ads.

The Memphis sale and a report from the NBA’s planning committee on the pros and cons of placing ads on jerseys are two of the items believed to be on the BOG agenda. Though the actual list of topics isn’t made public, other items may include:

  • Reports on revenue sharing and collective bargaining.
  • Arena news, including the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn and improvements to Madison Square Garden in New York.
  • Discussion of rule changes via the competition committee, including flopping and other referee points-of-emphasis.
  • Updates on ticket sales, network contracts and sponsorships.
  • Review of the NBA China program and preseason games played internationally this fall.

The status of the Sacramento Kings’ arena deal and possible relocation is not believed to be among the scheduled topics, nor is any formal discussion of efforts in Seattle to gain an existing or expansion franchise.

A Los Angeles investor, Steve Kaplan, has joined the Grizzlies purchase group headed by Robert Pera, according to a story Tuesday in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. Kaplan was involved with current Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley’s unsuccessful attempt to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, the paper reported.

Any move to put ads on players’ jerseys -– common practice in international play and even in the WNBA -– would not come at NBA commissioner David Stern’s urging. Neither would it happen, though, over his objections.

Stern told reporters during the Boston Celtics’ stop in Milan earlier this month that he would rather not see the sponsors’ patches on uniforms. “As a personal matter, I am not in favor of it, but I’m not standing in the way of it,” Stern said. “If my board wants to do it, we’ll do it.”

Grizzlies Put A Lock On Memphis

HANG TIME, Texas — Let’s get back to talking about whether the Grizzlies should have let O.J. Mayo get away. Or talk about blowing that 27-point lead to the Clippers in the playoffs. Or Z-Bo’s post game or Lionel Hollins’ trademark grumpiness or anything else that happens on the court at the FedEx Forum.

As our good buddy and wonderful Commercial-Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins says, the one thing we shouldn’t have to do anymore is talk about the Grizzlies leaving Memphis:

Never again will you have to listen to those who would tell you the team will be out of here in five years or ten. Never again will you have to wonder if a particularly thin Tuesday crowd is the beginning of the end.

Robert Pera is not moving the Grizzlies. Nobody is moving the Grizzlies.

“The team is not going anywhere,” said Staley Cates. “That’s the whole point.”

Cates is one of a group of Memphians — others include Pitt Hyde, Duncan Williams, Ed Dobbs and Billy Orgel — who have reached a deal with Pera to buy between 30-35 percent of the team. (more…)