At the Memphis Grizzlies exit interviews there were a number of topics broached, queried, and answered. Some were intriguing, some were funny, and some were tough. But of all the points made at this final media session, three particular themes stuck out from the day.
The players want J.B. Bickerstaff back.
This was the first and foremost of themes from the day. Almost every player if not outright stated they wanted Bickerstaff back at the very least iterated their praise and support for what he did this season. For example,
“He is a player’s coach. Guys respect him. He lets us play,” said Chandler Parsons, who was also with Bickerstaff when he played in Houston. “At the same time, he’s strict and he gets his point across...Everyone in the lockerrom, I think, would approve that we want him as the head coach. I think he deserves it...I think guys love him, and I know personally he’s helped me mightily throughout my career.”
"Everybody respects him and loves him and wants him back" -- Chandler on JB pic.twitter.com/7WxG6WiJKB— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 12, 2018
“J.B. just has that mentality like Coach Fiz,” JaMychal Green said. “They all about playing hard and playing for each other. That’s a coach you want to play for. A coach that would...go down an alley with you and fight with you. He definitely did that this year with us, and I definitely do think he deserve [to be made the permanent head coach].”
“He’s a great coach, great guy,” Andrew Harrison said. “Very personable, knows the game really well, very honest with you. He yells at me all the time. I know it’s coming from a great place, so I definitely hope he can stick around.”
That was just those three. Almost every player backed Bickerstaff in some way or other. The one key guy who didn’t fully endorse him though was Chris Wallace.
"No timetable" on coaching search per Wallace— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 12, 2018
Wallace did speak at length about how he was impressed by Bickerstaff in his interim role, rattling off four or five specific qualities he admired in the coach. But for all that gushing, he did not double down on that rhetoric with a promise to bring back Bickerstaff, who, for his part, seemed pretty relaxed about his future.
“No one wants to be in limbo,” Bickerstaff admitted. “But we understand the nature of the beast... As a coaching staff I think we laid the foundation and we executed the plans we had to execute.”
JB Bickerstaff on hos role going forward pic.twitter.com/8H5MDmJwdF— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 12, 2018
What to do with the draft pick?
No one was able to articulate what the Grizzlies needed in this draft. Of all the players I saw (I missed Myke Henry, Jarell Martin, Wayne Selden and most of Mike Conley [there were dueling interview stations]) Dillon Brooks was the only person to even say a prospect’s name on the record. And when asked what this team needs to succeed next season, most players responded with some version of “health” (more on this later).
"Guys in the front office kept me in the loop" -- JB on upcoming draft pic.twitter.com/Ns7uMAhJtC— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 12, 2018
Coach Bickerstaff did admit he watched more college basketball this year than in season prior, and Wallace mentioned that the front office had already spent many man hours scouting players. But by far the biggest takeaway from this media session about the Grizzlies’ top five draft pick is that the team is willing to trade it for the right price.
“Obviously we’re going to talk to the rest of the league. You never lock yourself into drafting if there’s a trade that could be done,” Wallace said. “You don’t know if a team’s going to call by draft day and knock off your socks.”
Wallace said that any package for the team’s pick would have to be extremely enticing, but also stressed the importance of nailing the pick were the team to keep it.
“We need to make this pick right regardless of whatever past history [of poor draft results].”
There’s a belief that this team will be good next year.
This has been something Wallace and the front office has said since before Conley’s surgery was announced. And of course they are going to say that. They want to sell tickets and the best way to do that is to create a positive narrative going into next season.
Here’s what Wallace had to say about next year.
“The plan on the short term side of it is to get back into the swing of things...I don’t see any reason why we can’t be a very competitive, viable team next year. We get Mike Conley healthy... Marc still has many years in front of him. I thought Chandler played better this year. We’re optimistic about next year. And we’re going to have a top five pick or whatever that brings you on a trade route.”
But what stood out was that the players also believed their team would excel next season. Parsons couldn’t help but compare the Grizzlies situation to the 1997-98 San Antonio Spurs who drafted Tim Duncan after their star player, David Robinson, missed significant time with an injury. Robinson and Duncan won the NBA Finals the very next season.
“That would be awesome if that happened for us,” he said. “You put any two players around me, Mike, and Marc when we’re healthy, and we’re going to have success.”
In addition to Parsons, Green made it clear that he expects big things from the Grizzlies next season.
“I don’t feel like we’re close to having the same season at all next year,” he said. “Once we get Mike back healthy, and Chandler—he’ll be back healthy—we’ll get a few added pieces. I think we’ll be back on track.”
You don’t really get the forcefully expectant tone with which Green expressed himself in that quote by reading it. But he seemed to come alive when explaining his answer, like he really believed it and not like he was parroting some propaganda.
Other noteworthy items that did not call for their own subsection
- The big quotation of the day came from Chris Wallace when he said this:
"Even if Tyreke doesn't come back, I don't regret not doing a deal" -- Wallace— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 12, 2018
This was by far the most newsworthy moment of the day. Wallace gave a good interview. He was buoyant to an extent, loquacious, open, unafraid. But this quote really marred the whole thing.
Speaking of Tyreke...
- Tyreke Evans did not attend the event. Wallace said the team liked him and would make a run at him in free agency. That was the extent, other than the above quote, of all the Evans discussion had.
- Players seem to be happy to go into the offseason to recharge. Omari Johnson, Dillon Brooks, and Harrison all spoke on how it will be nice to have some time to rest. Though it should be pointed out that Harrison also said he didn’t want the season to end, a touch which I thought was a positive takeaway from him.
- I don’t think Marc Gasol will ask for a trade this offseason. He was the happiest person at the media session and made note that Memphis is his home and has been since high school. For the record, he didn’t explicitly say he was 100 percent going to stay. But the sentiment was that he’s happy here and has no real desire to leave.