If I looked you in the eye on Wednesday, October 28, 2015, on opening night against the Cleveland Cavaliers and told you that you would be devastated to learn that Mario Chalmers has a ruptured Achilles and was waived, you would have scoffed.
Why would you care? It's Mario FREAKING Chalmers. Nobody likes that guy. Not around here, anyways.
That's because Chalmers was public enemy number one in Memphis. He was the guy who prevented the city's beloved Tigers from capturing the 2008 National Championship by driving a stake through the heart's of Memphis fans when he drilled a fall-away three over then-freshman-phenom Derrick Rose to send the game into overtime, and subsequently, capturing a title for his Kansas Jayhawks.
Well that's where Memphians found themselves last Thursday evening when the news officially broke that Chalmers had suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, and he was being waived to give the Grizzlies, who have juggled a full roster all season, a spot to replace him.
And, on top of all the built of vitriol from 2008, it didn't help Chalmers' case when the trade to bring him from Miami to Memphis went down that he was traded for arguably the team's most popular bench player, Beno Udrih.
Memphians as whole were beside themselves. Why trade one of the most popular players on the roster, and a productive one at that, for a player who is widely disliked - no hated - and not an obvious upgrade from a talent standpoint?
One-by-one, however, Chalmers converted those who once rooted against him into fans.
He made big three after big three, something that Memphians were glad to not be on the business end of anymore.
He dove on the floor for lose balls, whipped passes to open teammates and was the floor general of the second unit.
There was no noticeable defensive drop-off when Chalmers subbed in for Mike Conley, which was an issue with Udrih.
In his third game wearing a Grizzlies uniform, he lit up Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder for 29 points in a 122-114 home victory.
He went for 25-8-4 steals in a 103-101 January victory over the Pistons.
He scored in double figures in 35 of the 55 games he played in Memphis, despite only starting seven times.
Chalmers' per-36-minutes stats were far-and-away the best of his career, and he posted career highs in PER and Box Plus-Minus.
Essentially, Mario Chalmers was better than the best case scenario you could have envisioned for the Grizzlies. His role in ensuring this team secures a playoff spot cannot be understated. The Grizzlies would not be currently slated in the fifth spot in the West (and they might be fighting for the eighth spot), if it weren't for Chalmers playing at the level he played at all season long.
So, thanks for everything, Mario. You're an honorary lifelong Memphian, as far as I'm concerned.
As if losing Chalmers wasn't enough, news broke within the last few days that Conley is going to be out for several weeks, leaving the Grizzlies roster sans a healthy point guard.
Oh, and Brandan Wright, Birdman Anderson and Zach Randolph are hurt, on top of Marc Gasol being done for the season, leaving the Grizzlies with Ryan Hollins, JaMychal Green and rookie Jarell Martin as their only healthy bigs.
At the this point, Dave Joerger is lucky if he can field an eight-man rotation.
In response to the slew of injuries, the Grizzlies signed point guards Briante Weber and Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.
Let's take a look at just exactly who the Grizzlies are getting in these three, but first, I would be remiss if I didn't give proper credit to the Grizzlies front office, GM Chris Wallace, VP of Player Personnel Ed Stefanski and VP of Basketball Ops John Hollinger for the job they've done in finding productive players on the fly. But I also want to give a special shout-out to Director of Scouting David Mincberg and Iowa Energy GM Chris Makris. It's a team effort to find these guys in the D-League, and they've done a great job.
Briante Weber (6'2", 165 lbs.), Point Guard
Simply put, Briante Weber has the potential to be a superstar on the defensive end of the court. The 23-year-old former VCU star won three-consecutive A-10 defensive player of the year awards and finished his injury-shortened career just 12 steals shy of breaking the all-time NCAA record.
Weber possesses a unique defensive skill-set. He's long and slender with tremendous quickness, and he has no fear when it comes to taking the ball from an opposing ball-handler. But he's not a gambler. Weber has found the perfect balance of staying in front of his man and picking his spots when to reach for steals.
The second you throw in Weber's tape, his passion and energy jump right off the screen at you. He's constantly diving on the floor for loose balls and doing all of the little hustle plays that make so often are difference makers in games - an attribute that has made JaMychal Green a fan-favorite in Memphis. You'll often see him being very vocal on the floor, an energy that the crowd feeds off of.
Weber can throw off an opposing offenses flow by simply not allowing point guards to get in position to run offensive sets. He consistently beats his man to spots on the floor and is constantly harassing his man when on the ball using his great length and quickness.
He finished as the A-10's all-time leader and eighth all-time in NCAA history in defensive rating.
When Weber was at VCU, he broke the program record with a 45.5-inch vertical leap.
Weber's incredible athleticism often make up for his overall lack of an offensive skill-set when it comes to scoring. He's able to find creases in the defense and exploit them with his shiftiness and quickness to then either have a look near the rim or create for a teammate - which Weber does well.
Weber has always been a very good rebounder for a point guard, averaging 5.7 rebounds per-40 minutes in college.
Shooting wise, Weber generally lacks touch. He's not a great finisher around the rim, nor is he a very good jump-shooter. But, he did shoot nearly 77 percent from the free throw line during his college career, and that usually suggests his shot is fixable.
In January 2015, Briante Weber suffered a season-ending knee injury that ended his career at VCU. As a result, he went un-drafted in 2015.
Weber failed a training camp physical with the Miami Heat back in September from lingering knee issues, forcing him to the D-League.
Now, nearly 15 months post-op, Weber is getting his NBA chance with the Memphis Grizzlies, and they will rely on him to play meaningful minutes.
Through his first two games with the Grizzlies, Weber has posted 12 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals on five of 11 shooting.
Ray McCallum (6'2", 190 lbs.) Point Guard.
Ray McCallum is not your typical overlooked high school player who played at a mid-major college (Detroit) and later turned himself into an NBA player. In fact, McCallum was a 2010 McDonald's All-American with the likes of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Tobias Harris and Harrison Barnes.
McCallum chose to play college ball at Detroit because his father, Ray McCallum, Sr., is the head coach, turning down scholarship offers from UCLA, Arizona and Florida.
As a basketball player, Ray McCallum, Jr. does not do one thing at an elite level like Weber with defensive, but he does a lot of different things at a very high level.
The 24-year-old is a very solid athlete who moves very well and did tremendous work on his body throughout his time at Detroit.
Offensively, McCallum has a vast array of skills. He is an excellent ball-handler, and does a good job running an offense in the half court - making it fairly obvious that he grew up a coach's son. He is a capable but not great play-maker, and has a fairly impressive 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the over 2,600 NBA minutes he's played.
McCallum has never been a great pick-and-roll ball-handler, but it should not be seen as something that can't improve based on the other things he's able to do with the ball in his hands.
However, one of McCallum's most impressive skills as a ball handler is when he's creating his own shot with the different advanced dribble moves he possesses that gets the defender on his heels - providing McCallum the sliver of room he needs to get his shot off.
McCallum has a bit of an awkward release that seems to momentarily pause at its apex, causing a slow release sometimes.
But where McCallum is most impressive is when he's able to get out in transition and get to the basket where he's a very good finisher, even through contact.
On the negative side, McCallum is really not a very good standstill catch-and-shoot player, or a very good three-point shooter, period. He shot 29 percent in college and has shot 33.7 percent thus far in the NBA, though he did knock down three of his four threes in his Grizzlies debut in which he scored 13 points to go along with four rebounds, two assists and two steals in 27 minutes.
Defensively, McCallum has always been slightly above average, hindered somewhat by not being an elite athlete, but he is scrappy. He does give effort, and he's generally aware as a team defender, and that's more than can be said about some.
Weber and McCallum are very different players, and that will give Joerger the opportunity to use a variety of different lineup combinations (provided he still has healthy bodies left).
While neither are Conley or Chalmers (and it still remains to be seen if either will truly ever have any type of substantial NBA career), they should do a decent enough job keeping the ship afloat until Conley returns. And if either, or both, of them flop, the Grizzlies are only tied to them for 10 days, and there are plenty of D-League point guards in the sea.
Alex Stepheson (6'10", 270 lbs.) Power Forward/Center.
Looking at Alex Stepheson's height and weight, you can tell he's a big guy, and if you look at him on the court, he looks even bigger. My aunt, a huge Grizzlies fan who's always calling me to talk about the team, called me the next day after seeing Stepheson play 19 minutes against the Hawks on Saturday and said, "He looks like a bigger Jarnell (Stokes)!" My aunt is the world's biggest Jarnell Stokes fan, so her comparing anyone to him is about all you need to know.
But it's true. Stepheson is built like a 6-foot-10 tank, and he's been one of the most productive bigs in the D-League this season, averaging nearly 16 points and 14 rebounds per game while shooting 57.9 percent from the floor and posting 26 double-doubles in 31 games played.
Coming out of high school, Stepheson was a consensus top-50 recruit and decided to attend UNC, enrolling with current Grizz teammate Brandan Wright as well as Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington.
After just two underwhelming seasons in Chapel Hill, Stepheson transferred to USC for his final two seasons where he averaged 9.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
Stepheson went un-drafted in 2011 NBA Draft, forcing him to play four seasons in Greece, Slovenia and Turkey.
The Grizzlies invited Stepheson to training camp this season, and he spent the preseason with the team before being waived and sent to the Iowa Energy.
Stepheson got a 10-day contract with the Clippers on March 2, appearing in four games but playing just a total of 12 minutes. After his 10-day expired with the Clippers, Stepheson was almost instantly scooped up by the Grizzlies, who are in desperate need of big bodies with the aforementioned front-court injuries.
The best way to describe Stepheson is a bully. He uses his size, weight and strength to get position on his opponents on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, Stepheson has fairly good footwork in the post, but he's not a guy that's going to wow you with his vast arsenal of post moves. He has a decent hook shot, but the majority of his buckets come from dunks and layups - and many of those come from the absurd five (FIVE!) offensive rebounds he was grabbing per game in the D-League.
Stepheson is not a player you would classify as a 'shot-blocker,' but he does block shots at a pretty good clip (1.4 blocks per 36 minutes in the D-League this season), and he is an imposing defender on the low block because of his size and strength.
He possess good lateral quickness for his size which is very useful when he is forced to defend pick and rolls or smaller stretch-fours.
Stepheson should get at least some meaningful minutes until Zach Randolph or Birdman Anderson returns, and he should be able to provide them with a solid inside presence, especially defensively, that was so blatantly lacking when Ryan Hollins was subbed out.