Vince Carter joins Grizzlies, sparks childhood memories

The early stages of a sports franchise are bound to be brutal. Either a league is expanding, birthing a new team into competition, or an existing franchise is unable to draw requisite support in its current market and must relocate.

Obviously, the latter of these two was the case when the Grizzlies came to Memphis. What kept fans coming back during these maturing years, other than the hope for improvement, was a chance to see superstars.

During the inaugural ’01-’02 season, thousands of Memphians paid good money to come see their new team. And other players too. Kobe and Shaq were marching towards what would eventually become a three peat. Jordan was back…with the Wizards. But a new star had been born. Someone who brought the dunk contest back into style. Someone who attacked the rim with such malice that it was worth the price of admission, even if it only happened once.

So there I found myself, a Grizzlies fan, wearing a purple Vince Carter jersey inside the Pyramid. Going for the Grizzlies, but going for Vince Carter. I was probably getting jeered left and right, but I was 9, I didn’t care.

It was getting late, and the Grizzlies were winning, which was good. But I had not seen what I came see. Vince Carter dunking the bejesus out of the ball. Not good. Then it happened, a breakaway one on none. He elevated like he rarely does nowadays, and the crowd held its collective breath. Then, as if he new what the people wanted, Carter deprived a new NBA fan base of a signature “I was there” moment.  He simply placed the ball above the rim with two hands and delicately dropped it through the basket.

What the hell was that? Boos rained down. The city’s team had the game in hand, but they too wanted the rim’s durability to be tested.

Now, some thirteen odd years later, Carter will don Beale Street Blue as a Grizzly himself. Although he is no longer the league’s top dunker, it is a dream come true for me. It’s rare that your favorite player of all time ends up playing for your favorite team. Especially as Carter was established before the Grizzlies called Memphis home.

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Not only is it special that he will be playing for the Grizz, he will be a key factor in determining how the team performs this year. Mike Miller’s exit left a need for a veteran leader who can score, especially from three. Carter, the league’s 7th leading three point shooter of all time, will fill that void nicely. Furthermore, he can attack off the dribble and play more than capable defense. At times last year, Miller had to be hidden against a weaker offensive opponent, creating a mismatch for another player. Additionally, Coach Joerger praised Carter as “a top 5 pick and roll player in the NBA”.

I’ll leave you with some of the glorious images that made Vince Carter into Vinsanity, Half-Man Half-Amazing, and Air Canada:

Every kind of dunk imaginable from his days in high school, to college, in Toronto, New Jersey, for Team USA and even charity events and All Star Games. Windmills, Alley-Oops, Alley-Oop windmills, out of bounds alley-oops, 1 handed 360’s, 2 handed 360’s, tomahawks, baseline drives, fast breaks, drive-by’s, facials, posterizations, 1 handed put backs, 2 handed put backs, off the back board to himself, reverses, and 1’s. Seriously, every kind.

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Between the legs off the bounce

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Honey dip

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360 windmill

 

le dunk de la mort

le dunk de la mort

 

-Travis Nauert

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OKC Eliminate Grizz

Game 7

In the end, the league’s MVP rose to the occasion. Faced twice with a game deficit, once at 2-1 and again at 3-2, Kevin Durant willed his team into the Western Conference semifinals.

For the Grizzlies, a season filled with nausea and injury, ecstasy and myocardial infarction has ended. No shame, no regrets. A first round series worthy of the Western Conference Finals concluded after seven games, 4 overtimes, 3 4-point plays, a nationally broadcast Tony Allen defensive clinic, a Nick Calathes suspension, a subsequent Beno Udrih emergence, a Joey Crawford spaz-attack, the least efficient triple double in history courtesy of Russell Westbrook, a wooden hat worn by Mike Conley, a Zach Randolph punch, a subsequent Zach Randolph suspension (not without controversy), and an untimely Mike Conley hamstring injury. Surely I missed something.

photo by Nikki Boertman

photo by Nikki Boertman

Many (outside Memphis) predicted the Thunder in 6 or 7, and the latter was the result. For Grizzlies players and fans, countless what ifs come to mind, specifically regarding games 4 and 6. But as the great philosopher Tony Allen said “if ifs were fifths, we’d all be drunk”.

Today, Kevin Durant was dubbed Most Valuable Player, and in games 6 and 7 he showed why. In games 1-5, however, he was effectively shut down regardless of point totals. He was relegated to a corner decoy, as Westbrook and Reggie Jackson did their best to shoulder the load of creation and instigation.

It’s over, in the past, and time to move on.

Looking to 2014-15

With a full season including an epic playoff series under his belt, Dave Joerger will look to build on a positive first campaign at the helm. When chosen to replace Lionel Hollins, mixed feelings were abound. In truth, much of the protest was not directed towards him, his philosophy, lack of professional head coaching experience, or willingness to embrace analytics. Rather, it was the failure to renew Hollins’ contract after a decade of service to the franchise (dating back to Vancouver), a resume of improving success, and an attitude of I don’t give a damn where you’re from, what you’ve done before, what you’re up against now, finish the job. His mantra goes, “Everyday life throws a knife at you, how do you respond?”

It’s safe to say that mentality was engrained in the heads of Allen, Conley, Gasol, and Randolph, and now lives on through the new regime. Faced with countless obstacles this year, no excuses were made. Even in the face of overwhelming adversity (suspension, injury), the team jumped out to lead the Thunder in game 7. There was simply no gas left in the tank, and not enough fire power in the arsenal.

The outlook is positive for the Grizz, but major questions loom.

Contracts and Personnel

Clearly the biggest question is what will become of Zach Randolph. A player option is on the table for $16.5 million in the upcoming season. He could also opt out of the current contract for a multi-year deal in Memphis or elsewhere. Should he opt out and renegotiate with Memphis at a lower rate, there will be a lot more flexibility to sign a wing scorer which the team desperately lacks as the offense is still prone to snoozing.

Names have been thrown around like Thaddeus Young, Gordon Hayward, Trevor Ariza and others. Ariza and Hayward could demand higher level money, which would eliminate the Grizz as they need to remain below the luxury tax. A player like Hayward, however, fits the mentality of the team, has played well in a small market, and could accept less for a chance at title contention. Thaddeus Young is an interesting option. A New Orleans born turned Memphian (he played high school ball at Mitchell), Young is long and atheltic. He can attack the basket and play above the rim. He would also add to our stable of lefties. Ariza would be best in terms of outside shooting, but has played so well for the Wiz in the playoffs that he may no longer be in reach.

For one of these pieces to be added, of course, someone will have to go. Tayshaun Prince is a likely candidate, if a package/trade partner can be found. Quincy Pondexter could be on the chopping block as well. Despite his heart filled Conference Finals performance two years ago, a season ending injury in addition to a series of exchanges with Dave Joerger during an early season game against Brooklyn could see him voted off the island. James Johnson brought good energy, but was only on a season long contract, and received little to no playing time down the stretch due to his Tony Allen trick or treatish nature.

Beyond wing players, momentum is mounting for the return of Pau Gasol. The chance at redemption (not unlike Battier and Mike Miller) plus an opportunity to play with his brother in a familiar setting is well documented as a logical and attractive outcome for Gasol the elder.

There will be much more written in the coming days, and weeks, especially building towards the lottery and draft. The front office will have new avenues open, and others close depending on how the ping pong balls fall and the conclusion of the playoffs.

Until, then stay cool. It’s heating up outside.

-Travis Nauert

Fear and Loathing in OKC

He chuckled. “As your attorney,” he said, “I advise you not worry.” He nodded toward the bathroom. “Take a hit out of that little brown bottle in my shaving kit.”

   “What is it?” 

   “Adrenochrome,” he said. “You won’t need much. Just a little tinytaste.”

   I got the bottle and dipped the head of a paper match into it.

   “That’s about right,” he said. “That stuff makes pure mescaline seem like ginger beer. You’ll go completely crazy if you take too much.”

…My body felt like I’d just been wired into a 220 volt socket.


   It was after midnight when I finally was able to talk and move around . . . but I was still not free of the drug; the voltage had merely been cranked down from 220 to 110. I was a babbling nervous wreck, flapping around the room like a wild animal, pouring sweat and unable to concentrate on any one thought for more than two or three seconds at a time.

-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 

Hopefully, you’ve read that book, or at least seen the movie. But even if you haven’t, I’ll take it that you can sympathize with why these lines came to mind after Monday night’s game 2 between the Grizz and Thunder. As midnight passed, I struggled to hit my REM cycle with an exam approaching in just over 12 hours. I was jacked up on adrenochrome. Ok, it was just regular naturally secreted adrenaline, but a deluge had flooded my bloodstream.

It’s likely that some residual pain from the 3 OT loss will always linger, but for now, most of it has dissipated. Just as Mike Conley and Greivis Vasquez connected on desperation heaves forcing extra time in that classic three years ago, last night Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins added to the archive of highlights which exemplify the ongoing roshambo that is the Grizzlies-Thunder rivalry. The unfortunate nature of those specific highlights, for Memphis fans in 2011 and now Oklahoma City fans in 2014, is that they came in losing efforts.

Up 5 with under 30 seconds remaining, a glimpse of light shone on the Grizzlies as they had seemingly done enough to split on the road and head home with the series tied 1-1. Then Kevin Durant happened.  A near Tony Allen steal turned into a freak 4 point play as Marc Gasol hip checked KD, who simultaneously saved a dangerous Westbrook pass (Westbrook out of control, no way?) and launched a shot from the corner as he fell into court-side seating. It was the only thing, aside from choking at the foul line, which Memphians know too much about, that could have kept OKC alive. And it did.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

On the last play of regulation, after a split pair of Conley free throws, Westbrook bombed a potential game winning three, but it hit the front iron and bounced far side into the hands of the bumbling Kendrick Perkins. K-Perk put the ball off the glass for his first and only shot attempt of the game. The ball travelled the circumference of the rim as if by habit, confused by the accuracy of his placement and expecting to finagle its way out of the basket. Eventually, it dropped through the net and on the game went to extra time, tied at 99.

Not to worry. Zach went ham, as in hamburglar, taking what was rightfully his in overtime and outscoring the Thunder by himself 8-6. The Grizz went up for good with 26 seconds remaining as TA dropped a sly dish to ZBo on the left post that he finished calmly.

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

There were many noteworthy contributions. Mike Miller’s three late in regulation off a Conley assist regained a briefly squandered lead. Beno Udrih’s 14 points came on 6-8 shooting. The latter sparked a series of puns including Geoff Calkins’ claim that Beno gave Memphis “a shot of Udrihnaline”, especially appropriate for this post. Courtney Lee had a quiet 16 points, if there ever were such a thing for this frequently offensively challenged team. Despite feeling the force of Serge Ibaka’s league leading shot blocking ability, Ed Davis provided a quick burst of energy with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 9 minutes.

And then there was The Grindfather. 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 steals fail to measure his effect on the game and importance to the team. Throughout, and especially down the stretch, TA made OKC players and fans wildly uncomfortable. Whether through face guarding, fronting, or denying the passing lane, Tony did it all. He would even switch off Durant and onto Westbrook in the same possession, effectively blowing the Thunder’s mind and dropping a TA bomb on their offensive sets. It was vintage Tony Allen. Enjoy:

Ok, so his poise and decisiveness on the fast break and offensive end wasn’t necessarily vintage, but it was brilliant.

The emotion that followed the final buzzer was one part relief, one part elation, and two parts I need new underwear. The win shifts home court advantage in Memphis’ favor as the series moves to the Grindhouse for games 3 & 4. The Grizz look to extend a franchise record 14 game home win streak.

Last night saw some milestones reached as well, with Memphis donning Beale Street Blue for the first time in playoff history. Also, Coach Joerger earned his first playoff victory. Congrats, Coach. Joerger-bombs for everyone!

 

-Travis Nauert

10 Games

That’s all we’ve got left, and its going to be a doozy.

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(ESPN.com)

Despite the away game-heavy season ending, I have more than enough confidence in this Grizzlies team’s ability to get it done and secure a spot in the playoffs.

We’re not the same team we were last season. We’re multidimensional now.

We are no longer trapped with boasting just our unique, grind-it-out style. That’s right. We do that big offense thing just fine too. The Grizz are regularly racking up 100+ PPG. Mike Miller is playing some of the best basketball of his career at 34, and I’d say much of the credit goes to Coach Joerger for fashioning plays around his superior shooting. Miller’s 70% FG percentage since the All Star Break is a weapon we haven’t had in years.

Since Marc’s glorious return on January 14, we’ve added a notable amount of wins to our resume.

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(ESPN.com)

We have a real chance of reaching 50 wins on the season, which would likely put us in the 7th spot in the West, maybe 6th or even 5th.

Big questions on the bench:

Ed Davis – Davis has played 3 games in the last 11- logging 18, 20 and 4.

Jon Leuer – He’s had inconsistent minutes as well. He’s gotten PT in all but one of   the last 10 games, but he’s only broken the 10-minute mark in two of those games. Leuer has proven his worth plenty of times this season, so I’m interested to see what impact (if any) he’ll have in these final 10 games.

James Johnson – I’m a big JJ fan. He brings a level of excitement that is incredibly valuable coming off the bench, but he’s been the most puzzling. Johnson has either been playing a key role off the bench, coming in for “scrub” minutes or not entering the gam at all. My thought is that he is another wing player unable to hit outside shots, so he needs to be paired with an outside shooter or play as an undersized 4. His FG% is unpredictable, but his energy and stellar defense make him worth a risk in my opinion.

The tricky part lies ahead as we are one of five teams battling to stay in the top eight.                                               Here comes another screenshot.

(ESPN.com)

(ESPN.com)

As always, more thoughts will follow shortly. For now, I’ll leave you with the enthusiastic Twitter stylings of Beno Udrih- aka, the most eager new guy ever and my new favorite Twitter account.

 

 

 

LOL, Beno. Do what you gotta do.

 

-Casey Black