After one of the worst losses not just in team history, but in the entire existence of the National Basketball Association, you’d expect some rage.
Yet, aside from a quote from Tyreke Evans and J.B. Bickerstaff here or a stare into the abyss there, you didn’t see much of that in the aftermath of the Memphis Grizzlies becoming the punchline of the NBA. There were, in fact, reports of laughter.
Frankly, the amount of laughter and lack of hurt displayed by several Grizzlies players in the locker room was just as embarrassing as the loss.— Ronald Tillery (@CAGrizBeat) March 23, 2018
Whoever was (reportedly) laughing, and happy in the wake of that horrific performance, needs to know something simple and true-
The joke is on you.
Because you see, you, as J.B. Bickerstaff put it after the game, lack the mental toughness necessary to compete on a nightly basis. It is you who has shown through your play that you lack professional pride. Forget the “tank”, the desire to lose - that comes from the front office through the quality of player that is available to Bickerstaff to play. The players play as best they can, in theory, but their best is just not good enough.
When that doesn’t happen? You lose by 61 points in the 6th worst loss in NBA history. And yet, you’re laughing.
Just remember, the joke is on you.
Because Tyreke Evans will have a spot in the NBA next season and beyond. J.B. Bickerstaff, while it may not be in Memphis or may not be as a head coach, will be somewhere on a coaching staff in the NBA. They have shown in the past their ability to play and/or coach at a high level. They’ve earned some benefit of the doubt with regard to being NBA-worthy.
Tell me, Deyonta Davis, what have you shown as an NBA player to earn your next contract? The ability to post a 4 point, 2 rebound stat line in 25 minutes of play in a game where Dwight Howard was suspended?
How about you, Brice Johnson? You’re a free agent in three months. What have you proven in your time in Memphis, aside from an impressive ability to get lost on the court defensively and miss midrange jumpers?
If you wondered why Brice Johnson's career hasn't taken off pic.twitter.com/i2CJW35sD0— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) March 22, 2018
These are just two examples that stand out from their play on the court. There is no indication who the “laughers” are. It would have been just as easy to point at the efforts of any of the young players on the Grizzlies at some point the past two games, and the point would be the same. Dillon Brooks missing a pass, Kobi Simmons looking lost, Ben McLemore...being Ben McLemore.
Now of course you don’t get to the NBA without some level of pride. It takes work to get your skills to the place necessary to be at this level. But as you move up the ranks, from high school to college to the NBA, you have to grow. You can’t stay the same. Everyone in the NBA is Deyonta Davis, or Brice Johnson, or Kobi Simmons, or Wayne Selden Jr. In fact, they’re actually better talent-wise more often than not. Remember, this is a roster full of 2nd round and undrafted players. They’re “not as good”, by that measure.
Again, the joke’s on you...but in this case, it is only if you allow it to be.
Because there are plenty of examples of late 1st/2nd round and undrafted players achieving at high levels. You just must outwork your opponent. And outhustle them. You must develop your game, and while some of the lineups currently being deployed aren’t very helpful with that (see Jarell Martin still playing the 3 for some reason), what you can control as a player is effort and attitude.
This young group of players, at least some of them, seem to struggle with both of those.
How much of this is a reflection of leadership? J.B. Bickerstaff is in an impossible situation, taking over a train that was already on fire speeding down the tracks but now is fully engulfed in flames. Yet surely winning one game in a month and a half has to fall back on him in some fashion, right? The players on the floor the past two games have embarrassed themselves and the organization. Does the way this season is ending, tank or no tank, elicit feelings of confidence in him as the head man?
What about the veterans that are on this team? Marc Gasol, Mario Chalmers, JaMychal Green, Tyreke Evans, Chandler Parsons...all of them have had success in some form or fashion in the NBA. Mario Chalmers is a world champion! How is this allowed to stand? How is there not a massive blowup, reports of veterans shutting crap like laughter after a 61-point loss down? Are the veterans broken to the point where they don’t want to speak up and are simply counting down the days to April 12th, where they can go home and lick their wounds?
If that is indeed the case, then the joke is on them as well
But it doesn’t stop there. It is us who are still watching these games, us who still take in the content and view the videos. We continue to care, apparently in some cases more than some of the players. Fandom is a fickle and tricky thing - it can feel like you are on the highest top of the mountain when things are good, and it can feel like the third circle of hell when things are bad. This season has tested all fans of the Grizzlies, but where the real punch line is, is in the fact that this probably won’t be an one-season blip on the radar.
Marc Gasol will be back. Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, Ivan Rabb, Deyonta Davis, Wayne Selden Jr., Ben McLemore, Jarell Martin, Dillon Brooks, Kobi Simmons, Andrew Harrison...eleven players on this terrible team return, or at least have the potential to be under contract next season. Trades and opt outs on team options can happen, and sure Mike Conley is hopefully back in the fold. The front office of Memphis seems to truly believe Tyreke Evans will be back on the Mid-Level Exception. Maybe they, plus the top-5 pick Memphis makes in the upcoming NBA Draft, can turn things around in an offseason. You’d need a lot to go right, though, in a place and time where not much has.
It was Evans who was defending Kemba Walker a majority of the time as he outscored the Grizzlies 17-14 by himself. It was Chandler Parsons and Marc Gasol on the floor during the previous night’s drumming by the Philadelphia 76ers. All the players listed above, aside from Conley of course, have played direct roles in the disaster of the past few days and this season overall. They all may well be back next season. We have seen nothing of late to suggest that this group of players can make the leap back to competitiveness next season.
Yet we will still talk ourselves in to it. A conductor’s return, a new franchise cornerstone, a returning Reke ready for more offensive havoc. Maybe THIS will be the year that Chandler can be healthy! Maybe THIS will be the year the young guys grow up and show a level of manhood they’ve yet to display and they won’t stand by and get embarrassed!
“Maybe it all can still happen”, we will surely say as fall approaches...
Then, the joke will be on us.