When Tony Allen said, “It’s just all heart. Grit. Grind.” it was so emblematic of the striving in this city it became our core mantra. As Allen recently put it, “...that’s the way I live, that’s the way I carry myself. You know, I grind for my family, I grind for the people I love. It’s a way of life.” And in our largely blue collar city this resonates, it is our way of life.
But, in the off season the Grizzlies organization did not noticeably contend for the Grindfather Tony Allen and the toughest power-forward in the game Zach Randolph. The public embodiments of grit and grind, foundational to Memphis’ connection to its franchise, are gone.
Any Memphian knows that for the city, the grit and grind that preceded growl towels ain’t going anywhere, no matter who says it’s dead. But, the question looms: can the Grizzlies keep up?
I believe Tony was right when he said, “It’s a movement that the Grizzlies gonna have to, you know, keep going forward with.” To win, it will be essential for this Grizzlies squad to maintain that character. Pace of play may change, but only grit and grind are going to take us into another playoff run--and I think we may have hope for that yet.
We know well Mike Conley continues this season in his perennial fight to break through the ever elusive threshold of recognition. We know the grit of Conley and Marc Gasol will persist: their defensive prowess, continual drive, even playing through injury. We know we can count on that even if less blatantly than Tony or Z-bo.
But what about the others?
Consider JaMychal Green. This is a guy who went undrafted in 2012 after four years of college ball, and then fought his way through the D-league until finally landing an NBA roster spot in 2015. Green plays with the tenacity of someone who had to fight every game of his career to be where he is. After still not getting the offers many argued he deserved this summer it’s obvious J-Myke has a lot left to prove this season.
Mario Chalmers may be most known for living in Lebron James’ shadow in Miami. Then, after a sensational beginning with the Grizzlies in 2015 he incurred a season ending injury leading to 17 months of rehab and a full season completely out of the NBA. He rejoins on a one-year contract including only $25,000 guaranteed. His preseason play made it clear he is ready to leave it all on the floor to regain a substantial role back in the NBA.
Tyreke Evans returned to Memphis on a one year $3.3 million deal to prove himself. After regressing from being a #4 draft pick and then 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year he is out to prove that he warrants a major payday come next season. Already known for being able to fight through defenders to get to the basket and finish I expect to see him grinding every minute of play he gets.
Wayne Selden Jr. is currently out there fighting for a starting spot on the Grizzlies after going undrafted in 2016 and bouncing around the D-league throughout last season. In the playoffs last season Selden earned his current 2-year contract by grinding out an assignment to contain the Spurs’ MVP contender Kawhi Leonard, and not doing half bad at it (all things Kawhi considered).
Look, I get it. I understand why some pundits are not even including us in the playoff race. While I know no one is going to take Tony Allen and Z-Bo’s spots in our hearts--nor would we look for anyone to. I want to remember that few expected Tony or Z-Bo to be what they were in Memphis as few expect to see Grit and Grind live on this season. But maybe, just maybe, we will be waving our growl towels come April as we witness the Grit and Grind movement embodied in unexpected ways through unexpected players, continuing to strive for a level of success in Memphis that shatters expectations.
Austin Crowder is a GBB Guest Poster. You can follow him on Twitter @acrowder73.