There is a logical, and illogical, process behind the hesitance to accept these Memphis Grizzlies for who they are.
Logically? It’s all happening faster than it was supposed to. Surely this pace can’t continue for a team that may blow past the over, in terms of total wins that was set for them in Las Vegas before the season began, before the All-Star break. The schedule ahead of them is brutal - six of their remaining ten games this month are against current playoff teams, with three of those six being against the mighty L.A. Lakers and Clippers. In March, they take on eight current postseason participants, with an absolutely brutal stretch to close the month- at Utah and San Antonio, home against OKC, then at Milwaukee, a home and home with the New Orleans Pelicans (who have torched the Grizzlies this season), then Boston and a home and home with Marc Gasol’s Toronto Raptors.
Of course the Grizzlies themselves are postseason contenders, but their remaining schedule is one of the toughest out there in the entire NBA. They’ll be fortunate to go 3-6 through those nine games. at the end of March. All it would take is one brief run of three or four losses for a team like the Portland Trail Blazers or San Antonio Spurs - squads that are supposed to be where Memphis is right now - to leap frog them in the standing. If there’s one month time span where the Grizzlies get cold, teams like the Pelicans and Phoenix Suns could get hot and rejoin the race.
Beyond postseason hopes, though, it all just seems too good to be true. A team this young, with this many supposedly fatal roster flaws, cannot realistically compete for the playoff so early in their “process”. The electric Ja Morant, who was getting legitimate praise as a possible All-Star reserve, simply can’t be capable of such productivity night in and night out at the age of 20. Jaren Jackson Jr. can’t really be a 6’11” Klay Thompson. Dillon Brooks can’t really channel the late great Kobe Bryant and be a dominant scorer at times. The list of things going “right” goes on and on, all the way to Taylor Jenkins winning the Western Conference Coach of the Month award for January.
The right draft picks. The right hire for coach. The right front office. It seems too good to be true.
But again, even beyond all of that...it felt far too early to fall in love again.
The departure of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, the last remnants of the greatest era in Grizzlies basketball history - the reason I am writing for this site to begin with - felt like a breakup. A mutual one - one where both sides acknowledged they’d be better off going their separate ways, one where love was still there. But a breakup all the same. When those happen, some times you need an opportunity to heal. Especially with “Grit and Grind”, it all happened so naturally and within the spirit of the city of Memphis that it felt impossible that anything else could ever engage you emotionally like that. In my sports life, nothing ever had as a fan.
Surely it can’t happen twice. To the same team. In the same city.
Well...perhaps we have Andre Iguodala to thank for the truth fully coming to light.
Because you see, Andre never wanted to be a part of the Grizzlies rebuild. Had no desire to ever step foot in FedExForum while rocking the blue of Beale Street. In fairness to him, the Memphis front office allowed for that to even be an option. They took advantage of a desperate Golden State team, who didn’t want to lose Kevin Durant in free agency for nothing, and paid the Grizzlies in a first round pick to take on the last year of Iggy’s over $17 million contract. If he didn’t want to be with the Grizzlies, they weren’t going to force him to be. It wasn’t worth the distraction, or locker room disruption.
They were right. Veterans like Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill have more than made up for the lack of Iguodala in terms of experience and presence. And as the culture of Grizzlies basketball continues to be reestablished, it turns out Andre may well have a hand in that indirectly. After a week or so of rumors - and Iguodala going on television talking about the team and where he hopes to play next - the young Grizzlies likely tore down whatever wall was left between them and the heart of their fans...or at least one of them.
Dillon Books said, of Iguodala, “I cant wait till we can find a way to trade him so we can play him. Show him what Memphis is all about.”— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) February 4, 2020
JA MORANT IS MY CAPTAIN NOW pic.twitter.com/BaaY0Cf1W9— Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax) February 4, 2020
To be taken in by Memphis, you must embrace Memphis. All the warts and wonderful parts of the city, the problems and the possibilities. It is a community that both understands the issues that it has and also thrives in many ways in spite of them. It is very much like a living, breathing person - flawed, but in search of growth...
And love. Memphis desperately is seeking love.
So when young players like Brooks and Morant (and others, like De’Anthony Melton) show the community and fan base a desire to defend their new home, it resonates. The Iguodala trade discussion is tired at this point - he will be gone soon, although it is difficult to leave somewhere you’ve never really been. But the rejection of the notion that it would behoove him to be part of an overachieving young team - or perhaps any other team that isn’t a “desired location” - has players on the Memphis Grizzlies actively calling out a former NBA Finals MVP for not being willing to be with them.
That’s how you break through a barrier. You make it clear that this is your team. Your town. And you’re willing to fight for it. The genuine passion for this team has just been amplified. And it’s not being forced via franchise logos or sayings. It’s real. It’s pure.
Just like it was before. From “All heart” to “what Memphis is about”. This truly feels like the start of something special.
So goodbye, doubts. Go away, reason. Playoffs are icing on the cake this season, and they always have been. Love is once again in the air, right alongside the goals of growth and development. It goes beyond highlight dunks and flashy plays - the real genuine emotion is starting to set in. The wall didn’t just fall - the damn thing got obliterated. These young men are here to burn down anything and everything that stands against them, and they’re going to do it with the words “Memphis” or “Grizzlies” across their chests.
Maybe in the end we will all get hurt - perhaps it isn’t real. The Dillon Brooks experience may end as soon as this summer. Down the road a few years, perhaps Jaren and Ja go the route of Anthony Davis and demand trades out of small market Memphis. Even if they stick around and make their homes and careers with the Grizzlies long-term, it’s possible their careers do not exceed those of Gasol and Conley and extended playoff success is the best they achieve.
What makes sports meaningful, beyond the titles and banners, are the moments and memories made by those you share the teams you care about with. As a fan, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen taught me that. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley made me feel that with the end of their time in Memphis.
And Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and this next generation have made me believe that lightning can indeed strike twice in the exact same bottle.