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Grizzlies GM on firing Fizdale: “We needed to have a change to try to save the season”


Yes, he was very frustrated after being benched in the fourth quarter Sunday night, but after that Marc Gasol did not go to Grizzlies management and demand coach David Fizdale be fired.

This wasn’t entirely about Gasol, this is about a management team that wants to win now and thinks they have put together a team good enough to do just that. Check out these the quotes from Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace at the press conference introducing interim (for the season, at least) coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

“We are the Memphis Grizzlies. We always get through adversity, and emerge on the other side of adversity and have success… We needed to have a change to try to save the season.”

“Unfortunately, we are underperforming even the lowest of preseason expectations, and we’re an organization that has high expectations for our team, so a change had to be made… Going back to last year, we’re just 14-26 over our last 40 regular-season games. So, the trends were not positive, and we had to make a change in course at this time, early in the season.

“…But this is a production, bottom-line business, and a change was warranted, and it had to be made.”

What were the expectations for the Grizzlies entering this season? They had two borderline All-Star level players in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, surrounded by a few potentially solid role players — JaMychal Green once he got healthy, Chandler Parsons if he could stay healthy, James Ennis, Tyreke Evans — but not a lot of depth. If things broke right and this team stayed primarily healthy, even Grizzlies fans predicted a top end of 45ish wins and a 7-8 playoff seed. But healthy was a big “if” with the history of these players, and if guys were not healthy.

Well, we’re seeing what they look like when the team is not healthy. This is not out of the realm of expectations.

At the press conference, Wallace pounded on that “we are the Memphis Grizzlies” theme and turning this team back into the kind of team the Memphis fans love and have come to expect. This season. He didn’t say “grit n’ grind” but he might as well have.

That just leads to a lot of questions:

• Does Wallace really think this team is as good as years past, such as the teams that reached the conference Finals? Does he really think the supporting cast is that strong?

• Does management think a nearly 33-year-old Gasol and Conley, who is out resting his Achilles right now and has had a chronic issue there, can lead this team in the same way?

• Wasn’t Fizdale brought in to help this team evolve into a more modern NBA style? Wasn’t that part of the reason the franchise moved on from Zach Randolph and Tony Allen? Fizdale didn’t have the players to do everything he wanted, but he tried (the tempo was up, they shot more threes).

Wallace made it clear this was a team that should win more now, and in a West with a lot of teams stumbling due to injury issues — the Jazz, Clippers — and others just stumbling (Oklahoma City), the Grizzlies are not out of the playoff mix by any means this season. They have been to the postseason six seasons is a row, Wallace wants it to be seven.

But what is the long-term plan in Memphis? Just to keep holding on? Grizzlies fans appreciate a team that works hard and defends, but that culture can be maintained and built upon during a rebuild, too.

Until Conley returns the Grizzlies are not going to make much of a run at anything, and even when he returns how much of a run they can make is up for debate. But that’s what management wants.

If this team is out of the playoff mix as we get into early 2018, Wallace may need to alter his plans and think about what could be gained in a Gasol trade (Conley, with four years left on his deal and his injury history, would be very hard to move). It is time to seriously consider what is next in Memphis, and if a Gasol or other trade can jump start it (although a mid-first-round pick may be as good as it gets for Gasol at this point). Even if the Grizzlies are in the playoff mix, those discussions should be happening in a serious way.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.


Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.