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Memphis and the sounds of failure

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The end of the Wallace era was a personification of the current state of the Grizzlies

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Press Conference Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

What does failure sound like?

Is it the curse word you let out after failing to walk by tripping on the rug after moving a table? Or perhaps failing to say “please” or “thank you” to someone, and the awkward silence that follows it. Maybe it’s the resounding noise of car horns after not using a turn signal to get across multiple lanes of traffic, or the argument that happens after not giving an good apology when you have truly wronged someone. Perhaps it is larger than sport - the song “The Sound of Failure” by The Flaming Lips focuses on health that fails you, and how kind words can also fall short of their desired effect.

Across life, we as humans fail over and over again. That’s part of the human experience. How it echoes in our minds and reverberates through our collective consciousness often depends on how we perceive it...how much weight it carries in our day to day life.

If an NBA front office and coaching staff in the league’s smallest market fails...does it make a sound? Nationally, perhaps the answer is no. In Memphis, the answer is clearly yes. And the noise became so deafening that something had to be done about it.

What does failure sound like?

It sounds like the miscommunication of front offices in a basic trade negotiation. Three teams enter in to talks, with the goal of acquiring talent and assets. Chris Wallace and his Memphis Grizzlies, having two players with the last name Brooks, negotiate with the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns regarding a trade that involves Trevor Ariza and Kelly Oubre Jr. Memphis potentially could acquire Oubre Jr. in the deal, while Washington gets Ariza and the Suns acquire Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden Jr., and some 2nd round picks.

Or is it MarShon Brooks?

The Grizzlies say it was always MarShon. The Suns say it was always Dillon. Regardless of whether you felt both were worthy of the deal, Memphis decides Dillon is too steep of a price and talks fall apart. Washington and Phoenix eventually find a way to cut out Memphis and do a deal - Kelly Oubre Jr. has success with the Suns, and is now viewed as a possibly key piece for them moving forward.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Press Conference Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

What does failure sound like?

It sounds like the reading of a name on draft night about 10 months ago. Not Jaren Jackson Jr. - while that move was criticized by fans in the moment (including this writer), that is actually a highlight of this past year for Wallace and his front office. No, this name is Jevon Carter. Was Carter a bad pick in general? No - he is one of the best defensive guards in some time coming out of college, and the Grizzlies at this point were trying to sell a renewed focus on defensive energy and scheme.

Was he a bad pick at #32 overall? Yes. He was.

Trade back if he is your man. He likely would have been there at #40 overall, or even #45 or #50. But using what is almost a 1st round pick on a player with offensive concerns (which has come to fruition early in his career) while names like Jalen Brunson, Khyri Thomas, Mitchell Robinson and others that had more value in terms of complete games and potential skill sets were on the board was a mistake.

What does failure sound like?

It is the sound of silence as phones across the country of NBA coaching candidates did not ring. We were told they didn’t have to - the Grizzlies had their man. J.B. Bickerstaff had apparently done enough to warrant selection as the Head Coach of the Memphis Grizzlies without a complete and thorough coaching search. Despite a losing record as the interim man, despite the reality that he in previous interim positions had struggled to implement hall of fame level talent like James Harden, a good soldier was given his due and a job that he did not have to earn against others in an interview process.

What did that give the Grizzlies? Poor coaching rotations. Inconsistent scheme. The decision to start JaMychal Green over Jaren Jackson Jr. and, perhaps even more egregious, Chandler Parsons over Kyle Anderson to start the 2018-2019 season. The lack of evidence suggesting that Bickerstaff would be a good head coach should have been concerning enough to at least have an open coaching inquiry to begin with. After an entire season at the helm of the on the court product, the same amount of evidence now exists. Bickerstaff succeeded at times defensively, but it was always known J.B. was a good defensive mind. He also saw some good offensive growth in spots as the team moved on from Marc Gasol...but by then, the damage had been done.

These are just a few examples across coaching and management of ineptitude and incompetence that have permeated the Grizzlies not just this season, but the last two to three years. You could hear the anger from the fan base, and in cases the apathy for the product that is the Memphis Grizzlies, growing, as if it were an oncoming train hurtling toward a car stopped on the railroad tracks.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What does failure sound like?

It sounds like two men, Bickerstaff and Wallace, whose futures were called in to question (especially Wallace) by many as the regular season ended, being trotted out to do end of season interviews in front of the media mere hours before their jobs were changed (Wallace is technically still with the organization, just demoted) or terminated in the case of Bickerstaff. They answered questions about the future of each other, themselves, and their players, all before meeting with management to discuss their own fates. While the ends can justify the means at times, there is no denying that these two men deserved better in terms of information from the organization. Wallace helped build Grit and Grind, the greatest era in Grizzlies history. Bickerstaff had to deal with the fallout of Fizdale, the Mike Conley injury, the Marc Gasol trade, and all the other fiascoes of the last year and a half while trying to be competitive for much of the time he was at the helm of the Grizzlies.

The fact they held on too long to a bygone era, or made a choice to reward instead of research, is irrelevant when it comes to how you treat people.

What does failure sound like?

Failure sounds like the almost unanimous sighs toward an organization that, from top to bottom, has lost the faith of many of its supporters. It transmits across the airwaves of the psyche of Grizzlies fans and media that have watched this once proud franchise fall in to the abyss of NBA irrelevance. This noise of mismanagement, of discord, of secrecy in plain sight can distract both from a proud history and a future centered around Jaren Jackson Jr. The loudest point of this racket, this clanging in the ears and minds of those that follow this franchise, is the horrific thought that Wallace and (especially) Bickerstaff may not have been the disease, but merely symptoms of a larger plague that cannot simply be removed via press release.

Robert Pera, and more specifically Jason Wexler and Zachary Kleiman, have a long way to go to show that the problems of the last season or so are not systemic. That things can, and will get better. Early in their tenure they have made decisions lauded by some, and questioned by others. Time heals...and corrective measures will gain back what has been lost. But make no mistake...a whole new generation of Grizzlies fans now knows the sound of failure all too well.

The silence that will follow if it doesn’t stop will be deafening.

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