Grizzlies fill out coaching staff, front office

It’s early August, the MLB is going, happening, occurring…I guess. Or as Hank Stram would say, matriculating down field, or the calendar. The NFL preseason has begun and College Football starts at the end of the month. Yet, the Grizzlies keep surfacing in sports news.

Through a series of additions and promotions, the front office and coaching staff are set moving forward. A press conference last week announced the following:

Coaching/Development


Jeff Bzdelik is now an assistant coach. He has 17 years of NBA coaching experience, including seven seasons under Pat Riley in both New York and Miami.

Trevor Moawad has been brought on as mental endurance coach. In a Chip Kelly like move, Robert Pera is tapping into a relatively untouched area of the game…Dieting aside, because let’s be honest, Tony Allen needs his Waffle House.

TA WH

You mean you don’t get your best thinking done around 5 in the morning at the nearest Waffle House? The shower? What?

Pera pointed specifically towards Moawad’s ability to help players through shooting slumps and during tough travel schedules. Moawad was most recently with the Florida State and Alabama football programs, winners of the last three national titles.

John Townsend has been named director of player development. He was previously with the Raptors and Trail Blazers as shooting coach, and will focus on shooting with the Grizzlies as well.

Front Office


Chris Wallace’s interim tag has been removed as he re-assumes his role as General Manager. Wallace is clearly a fan favorite, both in media relations and organization operations. He is responsible for bringing Tony Allen to Memphis among other things…like assembling the team as we know it. This was a big step towards fans placing more trust with the owner. Had Pera screwed that one up, there would have been a shit storm of complaints.

Ed Stefanski has become the Executive Vice President of Player Personnel. What the hell does that mean? Anything from scouting players at the college, d-league, and international levels, to scouting other teams and players for potential trades. Stefanski played under Dream Team coach Chuck Daly in college and has worked with the Nets and 76ers. He will be based out of Philadelphia, giving the front office a deployable on the east coast. While this may sound odd, it can be advantageous for reaching certain college games (specifically ACC competition). 

Realistic words from Robert Pera:


“You look at a place like Memphis, we’re not going to be able to build a championship team by going into free agency and getting super stars…we’re going to have to find pieces, we’re going have to become the best team or one of the best teams in the NBA at player development and developing the pieces.”

jackie-moon

It seems long ago that rumors of Mike Miller assuming the Jackie Moon role of player / coach floated around. Or Dave Joerger acting as a meat puppet with a headset and taking orders from the man upstairs. Robert Pera has slowly but surely gained confidence from the fan base, both through personnel and staff moves, and becoming more transparent. His most recent press conference was one of very few public appearances made in Memphis. You must admit, the Twitter Q&A session was absurd, but pretty cool. Granted, it allowed him to pick and choose which questions to answer, and in at most 140 characters, but it’s still a step in the right direction. 

-Travis Nauert

3rd Quarter, Game 6: When the Wheels Came off and Caron Butler’s Life Nearly Ended

Well, that was painful.

Admittedly, I was spared Kevin Durant’s 14 point first quarter barrage. I was taking a final exam which started at 7PM (yes, that’s a thing), and perhaps it was an omen that gauging my eyes out Oedipus Rex style (maternal incest aside) would have been less excruciating than watching the 30 minutes that I did. After awkwardly speed walking back to my apartment, I proceeded to curse Ed Malloy, Ken Mauer, and Rodney Mott as they abused the Grizzlies with their whistles.

3rd Quarter

9:45- 2 minutes and 15 seconds pass and I’ve thrown around enough expletives to warrant a visit to the nearest parish. 4 quick fouls on the Grizzlies and none on the Thunder, Dave Joerger earns a technical.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

8:26- A fifth team foul for Memphis sentences them to the penalty. Free throws for the Thunder the rest of the quarter, because you know the calls are coming. Westbrook makes both.

6:13- Tayshaun Prince commits the sixth team foul. Durant sinks the first. James Johnson checks in, much to Joerger’s chagrin. Durant sinks the second. A 15 point deficit has increased to 20.

5:50- Gasol is pick pocketed by Westbrook

5:47- Johnson fouls Durant on the shot. He makes both free throws.

5:20- Perkins is whistled for a moving screen. First Thunder foul of the quarter. Perk gives his best mean mug, but really just frowns regretting his pre-game meal.

S**t Gets Real

5:03- Tony Allen attacks the ball, possessed by the plump Caron Butler. Butler fears for the plastic straw on which he religiously chews. He’s rationing it throughout the game as a gluten free snack. His head snaps back, drawing a foul. He almost chokes, and the strategy nearly backfires. A confrontation ensues involving Butler, Tony Allen, and James Johnson.

i-4

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Side Note): James Johnson, a second degree black belt, is the son of two black belts, and the brother of 7 siblings (all black belts). He was 18 when he won his first MMA fight in 97 seconds, is 7-0 all time, and 20-0 in kickboxing fights. Don’t screw with James Johnson. Did I mention Tony Allen is also present. ZBo can’t be far either.

Photo by Nikki Boertman

Photo by Nikki Boertman

For more on dojo master James Johnson: (http://grantland.com/the-triangle/they-call-him-bloodsport-james-johnson-kicks-his-way-into-the-nba/)

A double technical is assessed to Butler and Johnson. Nervously chomping down on his pacifier, I mean straw, Butler misses the first of two free throws. He cleans his britches and makes the second.

1:17- Tempers cool, kind of, as almost 4 minutes pass before another foul is issued. #2 on the Thunder, god forbid. Johnson draws the infraction on New Zealand ogre Steven Adams. “Bloodsport” makes both shots.

0:43- Kevin Durant draws a foul, splits the pair from the line.

0:02- Westbrook is feeling left out, and that simply won’t fly on his watch. He draws a foul on Big Spain to close out the quarter, making both free throws.

0:00- End of 3rd Quarter. Thunder lead 82-61.

Fouls in 3rd Quarter

Grizzlies: 10

Thunder: 2

Granted, the final count was 19-19, but the damage was done.

Overall, very disheartening. Despite the lackluster, nonchalant performance with the usual abundance of missed free throws, the Grizzlies still had opportunities to make a game out of it. After the Johnson-Butler showdown, the energy shifted back in Memphis’ favor, but the Grizz never made up enough ground to threaten the Thunder.

Adding insult to injury, or perhaps the other way around, Mike Conley left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. He tried to return, but was extremely hobbled. In the post game interview, he admitted to feeling pain but remarked “I plan on playing…There’s no chance I miss it.”

The Grizzlies are 0-2 all time in game 7s. In 2011, Memphis lost to OKC in the conference semifinals. A year later, they lost at home to the Clippers in the first round, unable to escape the damage of blowing a 27 point lead in game 1.

Hey, there’s no time like the present right?

Game 7

Saturday, May 3rd

7:00 PM Central

Chesapeake Energy Arena, OKC.

 

-Travis Nauert

Just that Classic Grit n Grind OT

Moments after defeating the Mavs in overtime in that last regular season game, midway through a well-deserved celebration for dodging the Spurs, I realized what situation we had put ourselves in. The Grizzlies would be facing OKC, a true juggernaut- a team with one of the best benches in the league, a team that matched up with use at every position.

Oh, and the team with the best scorer in the league.

And they have Westbrook this time. Westbrook’s injury added an asterisk to the end of our 2013 Playoff victories against OKC, always reminding us that sure we beat them, but we beat them while they were down. Well, it looks like those days might just be behind us.

I knew this time would be entirely different, but I didn’t anticipate this. We’re up 2-1 on the series with two overtime victories and we’ve still got one game at home before heading back to OKC.

IMG_8944

It seems that we’ve kind of figured them out. The keys to defeating a powerful offense like the Thunder sound something like this:

o   Keep them out of the paint

o   Force them to shoot tough, mid-range jumpers

o   Contest their threes

o   Force turnovers and capitalize on them

That’s the only way to beat the Thunder, and after Game 3, you can put a check mark by each one. It was our second overtime game in a row. It’s not the easy way to do it, but no one ever said grit n grind was the easy way.

Tony Allen is doing what he does best. He’s effectively stopping Kevin Durant in a way no other defender can. Sure Durant is still scoring 30+ points as ESPN likes to remind us daily, but he’s taking more shots than ever to get that done. I feel like this series is a waiting game- we’re all just waiting for Durant to go off. As I sit here and write this post, I’ve already seen Durant on two commercials in five minutes. Its like the basketball gods are dangling him in front of me, hinting at the inevitable.

Much of our success is likely due to Joerger’s exquisite coaching. He’s schemed the team perfectly, and the game plan is spot on- force Durant and Westbrook to take the tough jumpshots. Credit should be given to Tony Allen and Courtney Lee for being the ones to contest those jump shots. Tony Allen is the thorn in Durant’s side right now, and simply put, its hilarious. It never gets old.

(Photo Cred: Jason Smith's Twitter)

(Photo Cred: Jason Smith’s Twitter)

Tony has definitely earned those podium interviews.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking forward to Game 4, nothing should change. It will never be easy, but we have a huge advantage in the FedEx Forum. Russell Westbrook may not have been familiar with the Grindhouse, but the boys definitely gave him the full tour on Thursday night. That’s the great thing about the Grizzlies- they don’t expect to be respected. They earn respect by playing hard every night and giving Memphis something to Believe in. And I Believe tonight’s going to be a good night.

IMG_0813OKC @ Memphis

9:30 pm (ET)

ESPN

 

-Casey Black

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

Bound 4

We did it. Grizz Nation hurled constant positive energy in the mix and we did it. The Grizz have made the playoffs for the fourth season in a row (hence the Kanye West play on words in the title). We hit 50 wins on the season, but more importantly, we dodged the Spurs, ladies and gentlemen. But what now?

 

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

You have to admit it’s pretty funny: all of this focus on achieving the 7th spot. We detested sitting in the 8th spot, not because we were at the bottom of the pack; because we were on the fast track to facing the most formidable NBA team in recent memory. The funniest part of the whole thing is that the Western Conference regular season ended as a “Don’t Play the Spurs Bowl” (as my friend Clayton so eloquently put it). While defeating the Mavs and stealing the 7th seed in that last game of the season, I wasn’t thinking about victory. No no. I was laughing and thinking, “Have fun with the Spurs, suckas.” The Spurs haunt my dreams and for good reason.

Maybe the joke’s on us. If this was the Eastern Conference, Grizz Nation would be looking at a 3 seed. The competition in our conference is disgustingly fantastic. The combined regular season wins of all Western Conference teams is the most in history since the 8-team playoff format. 

We did all that work just so we could avoid Pop and his incredibly efficiently yet boring lineup. And look what we’ve got now- one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, The Oklahoma City Thunder. But we play that game better than anyone. We’re exciting and thrilling and, at times, wonderfully horrifying. 

Here’s what we’re working with:

Game 1, April 19, Memphis at Oklahoma City, 9:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Game 2, April 21, Memphis at Oklahoma City, 8:00 p.m. EST (TNT)

Game 3, April 24, Oklahoma City at Memphis, 8:00 p.m. EST (TNT)

Game 4, April 26, Oklahoma City at Memphis, 9:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Game 5, April 29, Memphis at Oklahoma City, TBA (if necessary)

Game 6, May 1, Oklahoma City at Memphis, TBA (if necessary)

Game 7, May 3, Memphis at Oklahoma City, TBA (if necessary)

 

(Photo Cred- Joe Murphy)

(Photo Cred- Joe Murphy)

 

So, I’d like to say congrats to Joerger for his title of Western Conference Coach of the Month. Oh, and he also just wrote himself into the Grizzlies history books with this playoff appearance in his first season as head coach.

Let’s take this post season one game at a time. I’m not going to speculate or make any predictions today. This could really go either way- since our last meeting on February 28, the Thunder haven’t been playing their best and we’ve done relatively well. I do, however, have a hunch that we could split the first two games in OKC. Just a hunch.

Until then, you can find me at Silky’s watching it all unfold with greatest folks on the planet. Yeah, that’s right. I’m in Memphis.

Memphis Grizzlies @ OKC Thunder

ESPN

Tipoff: 8:30 pm (ET)

 

Dragon Slayed

Grizz top Suns, Clinch 4th consecutive playoff birth

The Grizzlies started fast, faltered midway, but finished strong to stave off the desperate Suns, eliminating Phoenix from postseason contention and punching themselves a ticket to the Western Conference Playoffs. ZBo continued his late season dominance, posting a season high 32 points for his first 30+ game since 2012. His final score came with 47 seconds left off a 1 on 2 lumbering “fast break”. ZBo’s bear paw stole a Goran Dragic pass as he set off on a marauding full court rampage. He came to a jump stop, then pulled an up and under move on P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye before kissing the orange off the glass. Memphis led 95-91 at that point.

Mike Conley was his usual clutch self with 8 points, 2 assists, and 2 rebounds in the final five minutes. Mike Miller, who stands as the lone Grizzly to play in all 81 games thus far (who woulda thunk it), recorded his own season high of 21 points, going 5-6 from beyond the arc, including a pivotal bomb from the right wing with just over 3 minutes remaining. A Conley three coming from the same spot as Miller’s gave Memphis the lead for good at 93-91.  The next possession, Zach got his coast to coast bucket which was eerily similar to a sequence that came against the Spurs in round 1 of the 2011 playoffs. Going 1-4 from the foul line in the last 30 seconds, Conley left the window open, but Memphis prevailed anyway by a final score of 97-91.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tony Allen brought his essential, erratic energy as usual. After a strong third quarter by Phoenix saw the Suns take the lead, TA went end to end and gracefully (no, but really) scored a scooping layup (pictured above) as the buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter.  Down the stretch he guarded Dragic, alternating with Mike Conley and forcing others to initiate the Suns’ offense.

The win clinched a franchise record fourth consecutive playoff berth, and an opportunity to seize the 7th seed and a matchup against OKC should the Grizzlies get past Dallas on Wednesday. Beating the Mavericks would also give the Grizz another franchise record in the form of 14 straight home wins. Last Friday’s win over the 76’ers tied the previous mark of 13. A series with OKC would obviously be more desirable than one with the Spurs, who own the best record in the league at 62-19. That also happens to be the best record San Antonio has achieved in the Popovich-Duncan era. For reference, the Spurs are about to embark on their 17th consecutive playoff campaign, tying the Lakers streak from ’77-’93 which saw them win 5 championships.

Just prior to tipoff, Matthew Preston, aka Grizzlam (twitter handle @mattyp90), sent shockwaves through the twitter verse, silencing @sunsaholic’s tiresome all-caps rant.  Additionally, he dropped this masterpiece:

 

image by @mattyp90

image by @mattyp90

All of the Grizzlies pictured above, in addition to Mike Miller, played a critical role in downing the Suns, led by the Dragon.  Admittedly, Dragic had an incredible season pacing Phoenix under first year head coach Jeff Hornacek.  A team predicted to win 20 some odd games grossly overachieved, especially considering Eric Bledsoe missed almost half the season (39 games).

With the Grizzlies failing to clinch a playoff spot until last night, some fans might have wondered if ZBo could possibly be playing his final home game in FedEx Forum Wednesday night should Memphis miss out on the postseason. An impending contract situation plus front office desires to further leave their mark on the team has created doubt in the minds of a couple people. For now, Zach refused to let his time in Memphis get cut short, as he has added at the very least an additional two home games to schedule. In management’s defense, Tony Allen’s new contract is nothing short of a sign to further commitment with the current core. With Memphis etched into this year’s playoffs under first year coach Dave Joerger, it would appear ZBo will be donning Beale Street Blue for the foreseeable future, and that’s how it should be. Plus, can you imagine him in any other uniform now?

(AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

 

-Travis Nauert

Spring break and the living’s easy.

It’s always nice returning home to Memphis.

It’s my last Spring Break of college, and I’ll admit, I’m a little sad I’m not sipping a tropical drink on some beach somewhere. I do, however, get to spend it in the second best vacation spot. I’ll be in Memphis, still sipping that tropical drink, of course.

I’ve got all I need here. Good people, good food and my mom giving the refs a piece of her mind while we crowd on the couch for the Grizzlies game. My erratic fandom didn’t develop recently; I bleed blue (to the dismay to many of my Volunteer comrades).

But you already knew that.

Let’s just say I’m relieved I wasn’t in town to witness the aftermath of the Memphis-U Conn game Thursday night. At my house, its all Memphis basketball all the time. I’m the misfit that “ran off to that orange place.”

But really, it’s lovely to be surrounded by people who are just like you. My mom is that Grizz fan that gets motherly instincts: she’s proud of her boys when things are going well and she gets heart broken  when they aren’t. Lately, my dad truly believes that he jinxes the Grizzlies whenever he’s in the TV room. He’s the most cerebral, rational man I know, and he will literally exit the room if we’re losing. I wish I was kidding. My grandma may be the biggest fan I know. She adores Mike Conley; partially because he’s an elite point guard but mostly because he smiles a lot. I’m being serious. For the past four years, her love hasn’t wained a bit because Conley has just grown more charming.

But I digress. Let’s talk some basketball.

Tonight’s game in Philadelphia was a gimme. It was the 76ers 20th loss in a row, and naturally my thought is “phew, glad we weren’t the ones to break that streak.” They tied their franchise record of 20 consecutive losses, proving that breaking records isn’t always such a good thing. Except tonight it was good for the Grizz, of course. 

We’re sitting precariously in the Western Conference neck-and-neck with Dallas. Now, the goal is to make sure Phoenix can’t catch up. Ideally, we want the Grizz to surpass the Mavericks so we can avoid San Antonio in the first round. If my opinion counts, I think we should give Jon Leuer more PT. Grizzlies_Pistons_Basketball.JPEG-03046_t607Every time he gets a shot on the floor he shines, specifically brighter than Ed Davis. Also, Tayshaun Prince has given me some doubts. I read a post on Rant Sports about the horrendous effects of keeping Prince and Tony Allen on the court at the same time. Both can’t shoot the ball, limiting the Grizzlies’ options on offense. This is just one of the many questionable lineup decisions of Dave Joerger.

Another key: keeping the bench efficient on offense. One of the main components of “grit n’ grind” is spreading the points scored across the lineup. We’re not the team to rely on one guy to get it done. What’s more Memphis than that?

 

 

The Grizzlies have a three day break before taking on the 22- 44 Jazz in the FedEx Forum.

So, I guess the Grizz are kind of on Spring Break too. They are heading to Miami on Friday after all.

-Casey Black