What matter most is the memories.
Trophies lose their luster. Banners fade. Eventually a title becomes only a far off memory, a tall tale told by old hats that saw the glory days and will die believing their eyes took in the very best - and that nothing can ever surpass it. Usually the young roll their eyes and move along, assuming that they’re just talking and that surely it could not have been THAT amazing back then. But to that person that experienced that moment, their recollection of what they experienced - what they felt - means more than any words can say.
Beyond championships, the memory of the journey to get there remains.
Last night will go down as one of those kinds of evenings. It was a mile marker, a landmark on the highway to basketball immortality for this chapter of the Memphis Grizzlies. To generations of basketball fans years from now, it will be a random Tuesday night game where an old LeBron James carried his team to the precipice of an upset, only to come up short against a younger and deeper squad. On to the next one.
But for those that were there, or watched the events of the game unfold, they will know that what happened was a lot more than that.
It was a continued coronation. A realization of greatness both before us and beyond us.
A moment of clarity, in blurry times, that the future of the NBA resides in Memphis, Tennessee. And perhaps that future isn’t interested in waiting its turn.
Ja Morant: 41 points (13-27 shooting, 6-7 from three), 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, +3 in 36 minutes
In the older modern days of professional wrestling, the early years of Wrestlemania, almost every event finished with some sort of feeling of a passing of the torch. Wrestlemania III was Hulk Hogan doing the seemingly impossible, lifting the mythical Andre the Giant to his head an slamming him on his way to giving the iconic big man his first ever “defeat”. The next year’s Wrestlemania IV featured Hogan seemingly trying to do the same for the great Randy “Macho Man” Savage - just without taking the loss due to a tournament that Hogan and Andre both goth disqualified in. In Wrestlemania V, Hogan took back the throne from Savage and carried the proverbial ball for WWF (now WWE) until Wrestlemania VI, where Hogan finally lost his title via pinfall - to the Ultimate Warrior, the supposedly next young star in line to move the business forward.
Did LeBron James do that for Ja Morant last night? No. But there’s no denying the feeling that came with watching the old lion that is LeBron strive valiantly alongside his depleted Lakers teammates (somewhat of his own doing) and fall short as the young lion and king of Memphis Ja Morant rose above and outperformed him when the game was on the line.
One game does not a transfer of power make. But think about it - who is better positioned as a combination of personality and talent to take the crown than Ja Morant as the next generation of the NBA takes over as the likes of LeBron, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant retire?
It may be Ja’s world one day. For now, Memphis will have to do. For Morant, that seems to be enough in the moment.
Tyus Jones: 4 points (2-6 shooting, 0-3 from three), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, +20 in 23 minutes
How many teams would love to have Tyus Jones on their roster right now across the NBA? Memphis is fortunate to have the man affectionately known as “Stones” with them still, especially with so many members of the Grizzlies out due to injury/health and safety protocols. Jones is a steadying force for this team, as is evident in his team best +20 without scoring more than 4 points. On both ends of the floor he impacted winning - he timed passes and attacked lanes of sight, he facilitated offense and created off the dribble as well as through ball movement. The elite ability to get looks for others while not losing possessions for the offense (7 assists, 1 turnover) remains in place, but he can get timely rebounds and find other ways to help the team.
If Memphis wants to maintain its current place as a top-10 or so team in the NBA, trading Tyus Jones doesn’t make much sense. But his value as an expiring contract and a potentially game-changing rotation member for a team that needs a talent like him to cultivate success, especially when it comes to cultivating offensive success for teammates. What is that worth to a true contender?
It may be worth exploring. But it almost certainly won’t be worth following through on, barring some massive offer that probably won’t come. Because while the Grizzlies may not be title contenders, they’re in position to make a run to the second round out west. And at that point...why not see where things go?
- Jaren Jackson Jr. continues to struggle on offense. 6 free throw attempts are still nice and show aggression toward getting to the rim. But 5-14 overall from the field and 1-4 from three are less than ideal. 4 rebounds also are too low - especially considering how small the Lakers were playing at times. 3 steals display Jaren’s continued defensive impact. But consistency on offense would be nice to see. GRADE - C+
- Desmond Bane was cold...in a bad way. 6-18 from the field, 3-10 from three. Not ideal for what Bane has become for this Grizzlies team offensively. But again, free throws (5-5) help the efficiency where the stroke from the field was lacking. Bane’s leg is banged up, and surely that played some role in his issues against the Lakers. But as long as he’s out there playing, he will be graded for what he brings to the floor. In this game, that was a slightly below average effort. That likely won’t remain for long. GRADE - C-
- Kyle Anderson remains important. His defense on LeBron James was admirable at times (LeBron did have a hell of a game otherwise, but Anderson made LeBron’s life more difficult on ball in particular) and despite his lower scoring numbers and lesser rebounding and assist numbers he was second on the team in +/- at +10 behind only the previously mentioned Tyus Jones. Anderson also is an expiring deal that may benefit a “contender” - but does he hold as much value to others as he does to Memphis? GRADE - B-
The Memphis Grizzlies close out 2021 on Friday night at home in FedExForum against the San Antonio Spurs. Tip-off is at 7 PM.