NEWS OF THE MORNING
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.