When you have a child, it brings to light a lot of things that you probably weren't too concerned with before. Your mortality, for one- you cross your T's and dot your I's more with regard to your legal situation to make sure he or she will be OK if you were suddenly gone. Maybe you run an extra five minutes or so on the ol' treadmill, or eat one less meal of BBQ a week. Maybe you get a part-time job to make a little extra money on the side. More than anything, you think about what you are leaving behind more when you see your baby boy or girl than you ever have before.
Legacy. How you will be remembered. When the time comes and you breathe your last, what your kids and their kids will say about you. Did she live with honor? Was he generous with her time and treasure? Were her chocolate chip cookies the best you ever had, or did he tell the best stories?
What will come to mind when people hear your name?
These aren't things you think about at your beginning. These are things you contemplate when you see your end, however close or far off on the horizon it may be, reflected in a new, fresh start.
In new Head Coach David Fizdale's introductory press conference, he made several statements that stood out. There was one, however, that was quite striking-
...our legacy guys, our backbone guys...they have to be the front runners in this deal...
He is right, of course- if you do not have the support of the leadership of the team, the best players on your roster- in this case Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley- you are dead in the water. Thankfully for Coach Fizdale, this is a strength of his. He is a master of relationship development by all accounts, and seems to buy in to the idea that leadership is first and foremost about service.
But again, that word...legacy...it seems to ring louder and clearer than ever before with the hiring of Coach Fizdale. For when Dave Joerger was hired, in a way it was a continuation of the Lionel Hollins era. Joerger was an assistant for years under Hollins and counted him as a key mentor of his...you could see it in the way he ran his teams in Memphis at times. They were of course different with regard to play calling and such, but the move from Hollins to Joerger did not scream "new era". It was, in large part, more of the same.
While Fizdale says he plans on keeping the identity of the team in tact thanks in part to the mentality of the roster and city itself, his arrival brings about real opportunity for a move beyond this "Grit and Grind" time in Memphis. Fizdale will likely be the Head Coach beyond when Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are no longer suiting up in Beale Street Blue, and his experience is outside of the Memphis Grizzlies' organization. Dating all the way back to Tony Barone and Marc Iavaroni in 2006-2007, Head Coaches and Interim Head Coaches have come from within.
Fizdale bring with him real, tangible change from what this organization has done in its recent history. With that comes reason to question what exactly this group of "legacy players", and this era, will be leaving behind them when they go.
Is what they did as a unit enough? Some will say yes- six consecutive playoff appearances, multiple All-NBA defense selections and All-Star nods, a Defensive Player of the Year award and All-NBA selection for arguably the best Grizzlies player of all-time, Marc Gasol. They have been to the Western Conference Finals, and they have won playoff series against the hated Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs. They have united a city that has been quite divided in the past together behind a common pursuit and vision.
They have achieved a level of unprecedented professional success in Memphis and a team to be proud of both on and off the court more often than not. Championship rings be damned- if Fizdale's arrival means the eventual departure of this era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball, this group of guys has left one hell of a mark.
On the other hand, some will argue that they were not nearly successful enough. Missed opportunities in multiple playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder and those same dastardly Clippers, squandered talents who slipped away in one way or another, the continued issues with establishing an offense consistently worthy of the modern NBA...these critiques are fair of a roster that continues to age.
As time trudges on, and especially after the injury-riddled season the team just struggled through, the bad at times feels like it weighs down the good of the past and even the present. These problems, and the
probability possibility that Memphis is declining and not on the rise, are reasons why there are concerned folks out there who worry about Mike Conley's future with the Grizzlies.
And if he were to leave?
The old era would end for sure, potentially for the worse, and a lot sooner than Coach Fizdale and plenty of others in and around the Grizzlies would like. It would end the Grizzlies as so many new and younger fans know them, and would taint, at least for a while, what these guys did together.
Fizdale clearly stated that he does not anticipate that happening. He also spoke of the belief that all players, regardless of age, can improve their games. He pointed to Chris Bosh's three-point shooting, and Dwayne Wade's resurgence this past season in his mid-thirties. Those are two Hall of Fame talents, but the point was clear- these old dogs in Memphis can still learn new tricks, and he is the guy to teach them. Surely that was attractive to General Manager Chris Wallace as he looked at the roster that he had a big hand in assembling- the Grit and Grind era will not go quietly in to the night, if he and Fizdale have anything to say about it.
But whether it is now or later, this particular core's time will end. And with all of the losses and wins, highs and lows, controversies and euphoric moments, there is one undeniable truth- when you hear "Memphis Grizzlies", that name means more now than it did when this era began. This group of players has changed the perception of a perennial loser in to a systemic winner. From coach to coach, the key cogs have remained the same, establishing a culture of success that was not here before. The city of Memphis, and the Memphis Grizzlies organization, is better for having had this core group of players together.
That is a legacy worthy of celebration, is it not?
It is amazing how a new addition to a family can bring up thoughts of your own inevitable end. Contemplations of this sort can take you to a dark place, if you allow it to. It can bring up bad memories, and sour your recollections of all that you did. But taking the bad with the good, and stepping out in to the macro view of your time spent, can bring about a larger appreciation for what has been, and how it has led you to where you are now.
David Fizdale's hiring by the Memphis Grizzlies is a move in the long-term forward and away from the best stretch of NBA basketball that Memphis, Tennessee has ever known. In the short-term, his arrival can lead to reflection and appreciation for what was accomplished by this eclectic group of local icons, as well as one last stand and chance to add to the legend of "Grit and Grind". That legacy is both undeniable and unfinished, unfulfilled and in franchise history unmatched.
They are the Memphis Grizzlies. And in that name there is a lot to build upon and be proud of.