Kevin C. Cox
Forget the front office, new ownership, and coaching. At some point, the players have to take responsibility for playing heartless.
Over the last few weeks, the Grizzlies new ownership and front office have taken a huge hit from the media and fan base for how they are running things. Lionel Hollins has taken shot after shot for pouting about having his star taken away and his poor player management. It’s high time that someone call out that other group responsible for the recent slide, the guys in Beale Street blue that are actually suiting up and losing the games; the players.
The recent play from the Grizzlies has been atrocious, and inexcusable. I get it, they feel like the front office is playing the money game and making all their decisions from a financial stand point, but that does not give them the right to play with their heads down and their lips out. These are grown men getting paid handsomely to play a game, the very least they can do is act like it. The team mantra for the last few seasons has been "All Heart: Grit and Grind." The last week though, there has been no heart, no grit, and no grind. There’s been pouting, laziness, lethargy. Its one thing to get beat; it’s another thing entirely to be beaten. Right now, the Grizzlies look beaten, defeated, and lifeless.
Tony Allen reiterated last night that this is the same core that was within a quarter of advancing to the Western Conference Finals, he just didn’t know, "why we aren’t fighting like it." The problem is, it’s not that they just aren’t fighting like the team who stole all our hearts two years ago, these guys just flat out aren’t fighting.
Last night, there were multiple occasions where the Hawks scored with 10 seconds or less coming off the shot clock, and the Grizzlies took a full five seconds standing around pointing, complaining, and casually walking with their heads down before inbounding the ball. That is heartless, gutless basketball. Worse than that, if it gets worse than that, they have been giving up fast-break points off of made baskets! They are failing to set up their half court defense because they don’t care enough to get back in time to do so. A team built around their defensive identity currently can not stop a group of wheel chair grannies from driving to the basket on them. Their body language screams that they are right smack dab in the middle of an "all is lost!" moment. I couldn't help but Kanye last night as I wondered outloud, "How could you be so heartless?" It needs to stop, now.
Zach Randolph, you wanted to be the man, you got it, time to step up and get it done. You are the clear leader of this team. You’re the most dominate offensive player left, there is not denying that. Being the team leader means more than just going out and getting 20 and 10 every night though, a lesson you claimed to have learned after coming to Memphis. That means stop taking shots at teammates and the coaching staff after the game when you feel like you didn’t get the ball enough. That’s not what leaders do, that’s not what grown men do, that’s what spoiled children and Lakers do. "Attitude reflect leadership," and right now, everyone’s attitude stinks.
Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are the longest tenured Grizzlies now that Rudy is gone. The younger guys are looking to them, how they act and carry themselves goes a long way toward what the other guys do. So when they hang their heads on the bench and have to be taken out for long stretches because they are not covering their man or are not playing with any sort of effort, it creates a trickle down affect. The last two nights, Marc Gasol has been flat out embarrassed by Marcin Gortat and Al Horford. Marc Gasol, an all world defender who several experts feel should be in the Defensive Player of the Year running, and while these guys are no slouches, he shouldn’t be letting them run a train on him. He’s stopped better offensive players before; the only difference is a lack of effort.
The front office has made their trades, what’s done is done, get over it and do your jobs. Number 22 ain’t walking through that door. There is no Calvary coming. It’s you guys against the world. Isn’t that how you liked it? Didn’t this same core relish the role of the 8th seeded underdog going up against the mighty Spurs? Is this not the same team who came together and said "We don’t care what the rest of the league thinks we can’t accomplish?" Guess what, you’re right back in that very same boat. Most analysts are beginning to write you guys off. Who cares what they think, the belief has to come from within. The fans, for the most part, still believe in this team. The front office, to their credit, has defended the trade and says they still believe in this team. All of that matters not if the guys who actually step out on the court don’t believe they have what it takes.
So lay the blame on the ownership, tell me all about how the front office is running things wrong, point the crooked finger at Lionel Hollins; bottom line is, if the players don’t start fighting, don’t starting putting forth effort, don’t start believing (please let me know if you got Journey stuck in your head right here) then games are still going to be lost, in embarrassing fashion, to weak and inferior opponents. All is not lost. The boys just have to lace up their sneakers, pick themselves up, get out on the court, and start believing again. Everyone, from Zach Randolph, to the last player off the bench, all the way down to Austin Daye; they’ve all got to believe. Still a lot of season left, and we still control our own destiny, play like it. If ever there were a time to show heart, start being gritty, and grinding it out, it would be right now.