Associated Press

Rebuild? What’s that? Grizzlies bring in veterans, dream of playoffs

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the focus on Grizzlies.

When the NBA zigged, the Memphis Grizzlies… zigged.

The biggest factor in the Grizzlies offseason direction came last April when primary owner Robert Pera bought out two minority owners of the franchise, keeping control of the team. At the time there was a lot of buzz around the league about this being the right spot for Memphis to rebuild — trade 33-year-old Marc Gasol, trade 31-year-old Mike Conley, explore the trade market for the other veterans, and since they were already tanking to end last season have that draft pick (which turned out to be Jaren Jackson Jr.) as the first step along rebuild road.

Pera didn’t want a rebuild. End of story.

Instead, Pera had the team re-load and aim for the playoffs — and making it is not out of the question, if a lot of things go right. We’ll get back to that.

With ownership having set a direction, Memphis’ front office had a quality summer, prying Kyle Anderson out of San Antonio as a restricted free agent, plus adding solid veterans who can help like Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, and Shelvin Mack. Last season, when the injury bug hit the Grizzlies hard — Conley only played 12 games — the lack of quality depth they could trust became the team’s downfall. This season, they have veterans who coach J.B. Bickerstaff can trust in a pinch.

In trying to predict this season’s Grizzlies, you learn little from last year’s team — they were 7-5 when both Conley and Gasol played, but that’s such a small sample size it’s near meaningless. However, the record in those dozen games fits with the previous 43-win season where Conley and Gasol played 63 games together. This season, 43 wins is not going to be enough to make the postseason in the West, but with a better bench they believe they will beat that number. Pera said there is no reason this can’t be a 50-win team.

Um… the rest of us see those reasons. But the Grizzlies can make the playoffs…

• If Conley and Gasol are both healthy and can play at least 65 games together, ideally more. They did that in 2014-15 (70 games) but in the three years since have averaged 40.3 together per season. While the talent around them is better, these are still the two best players on the team and they need both of them together to be a threat in the deep West.

• If they get some depth and help out of Chandler Parsons, who played 36 games last season, and that was better than the one before. Parsons wasn’t bad when he was on the court last season, he could contribute in the rotation, but he has to be healthy enough to do that.

• If the Grizzlies can get back to being an above average defensive team. The era of Gasol as Defensive Player of the Year is long gone but he can still be — and needs to be — a quality presence in the paint (with Jackson blocking shots). Mike Conley needs to return to form as one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. With Gasol, Jackson, Anderson, and JaMychal Green the Grizzlies have the length inside to be a problem. The pieces are there to be good, but can this group execute in the halfcourt?

• If rookie Jaren Jackson can contribute, particularly defensively, starting this season. Jackson was one of the best players I saw at Summer League this year (particularly in Salt Lake City, by the time he got to Vegas and had played five games in seven days he was looking a little tired). He can be a defensive/shot blocking force right away, and his offensive game shows promise.

• If Kyle Anderson can work as a secondary shot creator. The question isn’t “can Anderson make some plays” because we know he can, we saw him as a good ball handler in San Antonio, a guy who averaged 1.01 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball handler once you include passes (stat via Synergy Sports). While he has a nice enough spot-up jumper, he needs the ball in his hands, playing his slo-mo game, to be effective. Bickerstaff has to fit that into the offense.

• If Dillon Brooks can take a step forward and rookie Jevon Carter can bring the defense off the bench (once he gets healthy from his thumb injury, he could see some early season time in the G-League).

That’s a lot of “ifs.”

Probably too many “ifs” to make the playoffs in the deep and brutal West. Too many things need to go right. And if things start to go wrong… will they regret not going the rebuild direction?

Doesn’t matter now, the call has been made. Memphis is making another run at it.

Anthony Davis will play in All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Everyone wants to read entirely too much into everything Anthony Davis has done and said this weekend, from saying Boston was “never not on my list” of destinations to a photo of him daping LeBron James (“They bumped fists, clearly he is going to be a Laker!”).

Among all the drama was “will he or won’t he play in the All-Star Game?” He was injured on the play before halftime of the final game before the break, left the arena to get an MRI (which found a shoulder bruise), and then up through Saturday said he “planned” to play but the call would be made game time.

He’s in.

Davis will come off the bench for Team LeBron. How many minutes he plays will be something to watch (under 10?), but he will be on the court.

Kevin Garnett didn’t like how Anthony Davis trade request was handled (VIDEO)

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Kevin Garnett was famously a franchise player for the Minnesota Timberwolves who requested a trade. He is perhaps one of just a handful of people on the planet uniquely positioned to understand exactly what Anthony Davis is going through with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Garnett has even spoken about Davis before, mentioning in December that Davis should request a trade from New Orleans.

Davis of course did that very thing, and word got out in January that Davis wanted out of Louisiana.

Despite all of this context, Garnett isn’t sold on the way things went down between Davis and the Pelicans. Speaking on TNT on Saturday night, Garnett said he wasn’t too hot how Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, handled things.

Via Twitter and NBC Sports Boston:

“It’s not my taking,” Garnett said. ” … I don’t like the way the process has come out.

“I don’t like the fact that the agents are dictating the whole move of this. Shout-out to Rich Paul, shout-out to Klutch and what they do, but this was a bit unprofessional, to be honest.”

“To call for a trade that you probably couldn’t get in the long run and probably know that it was a long shot to get done during a season like this? Not only cause hiccups in your own program, but think about the Lakers and the hiccups this caused over there.

“Those kids was playing totally different basketball than they were after the trade deadline. Y’all saw that. The energy was different.”

That’s and interesting turn of events in how Garnett said he approached Davis not so long ago. For reference, here’s what Garnett said he told Davis to his face back in December:

“I told Anthony Davis this to his face,” Garnett told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone conversation this week. ” ‘You are not playing against the guys you are squaring up against every night. You are playing against history, man.’

“Anthony Davis playing in New Orleans, I don’t want to say they are wasted days, but they are non-days. He needs to be somewhere where he can be with another guy and they can have a run at a championship. He has been in New Orleans long enough. It is time for a change now. This is it. No better time to do this.”

It’s interesting that Garnett though Davis should request a trade, but apparently not to a specific location. Then again, don’t think Davis’ trade request was very artfully handled. To Garnett’s credit, how Klutch went about things was pretty ham-fisted, and they seem to have overplayed their hand.

Short of things getting resolved between ownership of the two teams, it doesn’t appear that a Davis-to-the-Lakers trade is on the table. LA definitely seemed to annoy former GM Dell Demps, and even with Demps gone, that doesn’t change the fact that other teams will be able to offer a better package for Davis this summer, namely the Boston Celtics.

Who knows where Davis is going to end up? LA could still be on the table. At this juncture, they seem like they’re at the bottom of the list.

People are really reading too much into Kawhi Leonard’s comments about Toronto

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Kawhi Leonard might not stay with the Toronto Raptors past this season, and so fans are trying as hard as they can to ascertain which way the star is leaning on a daily basis. Leonard doesn’t say much to media, and has a propensity to project a rather flat demeanor.

All-Star Weekend is upon us, and Leonard has naturally been asked about how he feels about Toronto halfway through the season.

Leonard, a native Californian, told reporters this week that Canada has some good food and that it’s good to bring a jacket.

Via Twitter:

Not surprising was the context in which fans on Twitter read into Leonard’s comments. These, in my view, are rather innocuous things to say about Toronto. However, many felt that Leonard’s remark about how cold it is in Canada means he’s leaning toward leaving the Raptors come July.

I think it’s probably time to cool it on projections about what Leonard wants. He’s difficult to read, and after the saga with the San Antonio Spurs, seems a bit tempestuous. If the Raptors end up being a Finals team, it seems like Leonard might stay. Anything short of that, and Toronto is in for some real questions.

If it’s any consolation, at least Leonard thinks the Raptors have a shot at making the final series of the year.

LeBron James on Colin Kaepernick: ‘I stand with Kap. I kneel with Kap.’

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LeBron James is no stranger to standing up for social justice issues, and he’s a leader in American sports when it comes to his sphere of influence.

James and his teammates wore “I can’t breathe” shirts back in 2014 to raise awareness of the treatment of the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police. Before a game in 2012, LeBron and his Miami Heat teammates stood in a photo in hoodies, heads bowed, to raise awareness of the death of Trayvon Martin.

So it made sense that James had an opinion about Colin Kaepernick when The King was asked about the former NFL quarterback at All-Star Weekend.

Kaepernick and former San Francisco 49ers teammate Eric Reid recently reached a settlement with the NFL with regard to their collusion case. James said that he didn’t feel as though anyone was ever really trying to understand what Kaepernick was trying to call attention to — police brutality — by kneeling during the national anthem.

Via Twitter:

“I think it’s important to stick up for what you believe in, you what I’m saying?” James said. “I think with Kap, I stand with Kap, I kneel with Kap. I just feel what he was talking about no one wanted to listen to. Nobody ever really wanted to understand where he was actually coming from. I think that anybody that would sacrifice their livelihood for the betterment of all of us, I can respect that and he’s done that. I mean, you got a guy who basically lost his job because he wanted to stand for something that was more than just him.”

That’s a pretty resounding endorsement by James for Kaep.

I think some are disappointed that Kaepernick is likely bound by some kind of NDA as part of his settlement, but it seems likely that he’s going to use whatever cash the NFL paid him for good. Kaepernick has already made significant charitable donations, a list of which you can see here.

Nice to see LeBron being vocal about being on the right side of history yet again.