On any given day, at a playground in Northern Virginia, a little girl will be running around playing with her dad. And on that day, it’s almost a guarantee that she will fall down. Sometimes it’s a basic trip, other times she runs in to another kid and takes a tumble.
But she will fall. And she will get scared, and maybe even shed a tear or two.
The first words out of her dad’s mouth will always be the same.
Of course this father - in this particular case her Grizzlies blogger father who enjoys writing about his kids, surely some day to their horror - would check on the child and make sure nothing serious happened. Yet the words will always remains the same, as well as the moral of the story.
You will fall down daily. We all fall down.
The key is to get up. Always get up - and know I’ll be there to help you, in one way or another.
My oldest daughter has gotten quite good at this lesson. The key is to get in early, instill the understanding that when you fall, you get right back up from the beginning, and allow for it to become part of her world view. My youngest - who turns one this week - is beginning to get the treatment as well as she learns how to walk.
Tonight, in Las Vegas, the Memphis Grizzlies complete their first lesson in their very young process of rebuilding a franchise. And no matter how the game ends, this team has already won.
Through learning how to walk. By establishing what it will mean to be a Grizzly early on...and doing it themselves.
Of course the squad hasn’t fallen often. One loss in the entire Las Vegas Summer League has led them to this final tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team is led by likely (Brandon Clarke had 23 points and 14 rebounds in the semifinal victory against the Pelicans) and unlikely (Tyler Harvey drained a three with seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime) heroes. There are players that run the gauntlet from being locks to be on the team come the season (Clarke, Grayson Allen, Bruno Caboclo) to those that are locks to...well...not be (Harvey, Dusty Hannahs, Keenan Evans). But what do they all have in common, regardless of the fact they have taken different paths to get to Memphis and will almost certainly be going their separate ways after Vegas?
They’re playing their asses off. They’re competing and fighting through mistakes (some would say they’re “popping up”).
Maybe most importantly?
They’re having fun getting to know each other.
There are other levels to this being a successful couple of weeks, win, lose, or draw tonight. They’re learning how to play within the systems of Taylor Jenkins, the new head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies who of course will have a huge hand in the development of these young players. The schemes are fun to watch grow in their own right - different variations of pick and rolls and screening off ball, switching defensively, and other wrinkles that are intriguing to see.
They’re finding players that should be able to contribute on various levels, from Clarke as a likely reserve big early in his career to John Konchar and Yuta Watanabe as two-way contracted players to Hannahs and Harvey potentially returning to the Memphis Hustle, the G-League affiliate of the Grizzlies.
But beyond that, they’re learning how to play in what will be the Grizzlies way from Southaven to FedExForum, establishing a culture that is competitive, and energetic, and passionate...
And uniquely and unquestionably theirs.
Moving on is hard to do. Finally, Memphis has been pulled out of the mud (meant in the best way possible) and from Grit and Grind. Goodbyes had to be said for it to be accomplished, but this is no longer the Grizzlies of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley...of Chris Wallace and the ghosts of Grizzlies past.
This is a new day. And the rebirth of the Grizzlies requires a reboot of what it means to be a member of Memphis’ NBA franchise.
That is starting to happen now, live, before our eyes.
Without playing a minute on the court in Vegas, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant have laid claim to the culture of the Memphis Grizzlies. They are making it theirs through social media, TV appearances, practices in between Summer League showdowns, and their support of their teammates. They are taking up the mantle of those that came before and preparing to put their own unique spin on this franchise. That doesn’t mean they are alone - Jenkins, Zachary Kleiman, Tayshaun Prince, and others will undoubtedly have a say in the process as well. But through these two young stars, and their buddies actually playing the games right now, we are getting a glimpse of what the future holds in Memphis.
Ja, Jaren, Brandon, and the other young pieces of this new Grizzlies roster will get to grow up together. Just as other have done before them, and others will after. But this is their chapter in the history of the Grizzlies - and it’s beginning out in Vegas.
Will that equate to wins this coming season? Probably not. Summer League wins and losses truly are about as meaningless as elite individual summer performances (Josh Selby, anyone?) This Grizzlies team probably won’t be the worst in the NBA...but they will be solidly in the lottery as they take the bumps and bruises most young teams do. They will stumble, they will fail, and they will fall.
The key will be to pop up together.
The campaign ahead won’t be about wins and losses. It will be about the qualities and characteristics instilled in this young, new, exciting core of the Grizzlies. What their work ethic will be? How they will respond to one another through times of adversity? Who they will look to in moments of triumph and tragedy?
The things that make up the human experience - the story of all of us - will directly correlate to what this organization will be when the time comes to win at a high level again.
That started here, in these moments, in mid July in the Las Vegas desert, during a time when most NBA fans aren’t even paying attention and many have already left the Summer League party that this time of year has become.
Will the Grizzlies win the Summer League title? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless of who is on top when the final horn sounds, Memphis has already achieved a more important victory. They are starting to know exactly who will be there to help them up through their youthful falls.
And they’re learning why they need to pop up in the first place.