#IMHO: Wither the Wizards, Pop vs. Kawhi, and the surprising Kings, Raptors

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.


From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2018 9:27 AM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: #IMHO

Hey Mike,

So, everyone in Philadelphia should be happy, right? They trusted the process, even when it wasn’t easy to trust, and were patient through injury recovery and burner Twitter accounts. And now everything seems to be coming together – the Sixers are in third place in the East and they’ve still got five first round picks coming up in the next three years. Things are looking great!

But what in the world is going on with Markelle Fultz? We hear that his shoulder is a problem, or maybe it’s a mental thing where he has the yips, or… well, frankly, I don’t know if anyone knows exactly what is the real deal. So let’s say you’re Sixers GM Elton Brand: What do you do? Keep Fultz, who you traded up to get with the number one overall pick just a year ago? Trade him for whatever you can get and keep building?

Markelle Fultz


From: Michael Wallace


Sent: November 27, 2018 10:29 AM


To: Lang Whitaker


Subject: RE: #IMHO

I’m still skeptical of so-called ‘Process’ in Philly. That ‘Process’ also produced Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams. Remember them? I don’t blame you if you don’t. The Sixers are in the solid position they are today just as much because of some prudent and shrewd moves made by the post-Process regime as they are due to the administration that spent years gutting the franchise. Fast-forward to now, Fultz clearly was a mistake. Not only was it a bad pick, but the Sixers also gave up assets to land him. Even in a best-case scenario, his potential skillset doesn’t fit alongside Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler. He’s not worth all the fuss he’s causing right now. If our guy Elton Brand can move him for a late first – San Antonio and New Orleans come to mind as potential great spots – then, I’d do it immediately.

Speaking of the Spurs, Lang, we know Gregg Popovich gets plenty of passes from the media, largely for two reasons. He’s respected for all the winning. He’s also feared by many because of his at times publicly abrasive nature. That said, was it cool for Pop to take that not-so-subtle jab at ex-Spur Kawhi Leonard’s leadership – or lack thereof – the other day with reporters?

Gregg Popovich


From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2018 2:39 PM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: #IMHO

Pop doesn’t seem to be able to do any wrong, Mike, even when he’s being salty along the sidelines. (Fun story: The first time I met him years ago, I was introduced as being from SLAM magazine, and Pop responded, with a grin, “Oh SLAM…that’s kind of like US News and World Reports, right?”) The thing is, I think we’re mostly ok with him acting like his heart is two sizes too small because we know it’s an act. (Well, for the most part.) We know he can be thoughtful and caring, and he and Steve Kerr are arguably the most woke coaches in the NBA. So if he wants to be Mr. Grinch from time to time, I’m cool with it. And if he wants to speak on things most coaches wouldn’t touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole, I’m all for letting him speak out.

And speaking of speaking out, last week in Washington a simmering situation seemed to boil over. The Wizards have always walked a fine line as they tried to construct a dynasty around John Wall and Bradley Beal, but even with a win over Houston earlier this week, I’m not sure that this time there’s any way to salvage the mess in DC. Should they stick with the plan? Or is it time to drain the swamp in Washington?

John Wall argues with ref


From: Michael Wallace


Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2018 8:42 PM


To: Lang Whitaker


Subject: #IMHO

The Wizards probably have no choice other than to let this play out a bit longer. Have you seen their salary sheet? They’ve basically got three max guys, including Wall’s supermax kicking in. I know we can sometimes be prisoners of the moment and blow things out of proportion these days. Remember when the Rockets were supposed to be imploding last month? How about the other week, when that beef between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green supposedly had the Warriors’ dynasty at the point of no return? In hindsight, only the Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota HAD to be dealt with in relative short order. I’m not saying the Wizards are Eastern Conference finals fixable. But last I checked, they were one spot out of playoff position. A trade or two may be ultimately inevitable in Washington. Just not necessarily imminent. I’d give it another 10-15 games before pushing the panic button.

We’ll wrap on this, Lang. All three games on the NBA Thursday slate are absolutely intriguing (Warriors-Raptors, Pacers-Lakers, Clippers-Kings). All things considered, good and bad, which of the six teams is having the most surprising season? I’m tempted to take the Warriors (relative struggles) or Clippers (stunningly stable). But I’ve gotta go with the Kings. They landed the least productive of the top-five picks so far. They’ve benched nearly all their vets in favor of a youth movement. There was reportedly an internal coup attempt to run out coach Dave Joerger. Yet, they’re still off to one of their best starts in years at 10-10 through 20 games and in playoff position. Who are these Kings, yo!

DeAaron Fox and OG Anunoby


From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Wednesday, November 28, 2018 11:02 AM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: #IMHO

The Kings have been surprisingly good to start this season. We’ve seen them play our Grizz twice already this season, and I have to say that watching the Kings play just makes me feel nervous. They fly up the court as soon as they get the ball and take contested shots with 15 seconds left on the shot clock and basically do a whole lot of stuff that winning teams generally don’t do, but they do it with such consistency and pace that it seems to be working.

My vote for most surprising season thus far would go to the Toronto Raptors, who fired a popular coach and replaced him with a guy with no NBA head coaching experience, then traded away the most beloved player on their team in exchange for a dude who seemed to be staging a boycott of his previous team, yet the Raptors have still managed to come flying out of the gates with an 18-4 record. I know they’ve had an easy early-season schedule, but they are a really good defensive team (anchored by Kawhi Leonard) and have a lot of flexibility on the offensive end. I also appreciate how they seem to be able to adapt on the fly, figuring out what works during games and then relying on those things. It also speaks to their organizational strength that they’ve been able to fill so many of their needs from within by developing their own young talents. The Raptors are for real.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. Their sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and they have no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

#IMHO: Draymond vs KD, Melo‘s next stop, and surprises in Memphis

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.


From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2018 11:24 AM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: #IMHO

Last week we talked about the Jimmy Butler trade saga, which finally came to an end over the weekend, and I mentioned how it reminded me of the Carmelo Anthony trade saga from way back in 2010. Welp, time is a flat circle, because now it looks as though Carmelo is back on the trade block, or at least on his way out of Houston. But where do you think he should go? Finding the perfect fit is tricky, because Melo’s game is so singular. It clearly hasn’t been a great fit in Houston (although I wouldn’t necessarily blame him for their slow start), but which situation around the NBA do you think would be the best fit for Melo? Philly? Golden State? Or what about back in Denver where it all started?

Carmelo Anthony


From: Michael Wallace


Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2018 1:11:19 PM


To: Lang Whitaker


Subject: RE: #IMHO

To me, another comp comes to mind. Considering how all has played out – as well as the trajectory of their careers – Melo and Dwight Howard have basically been on the same path. Both had early success and pushed deep into the playoffs (in Dwight’s case, all the way to the NBA Finals). Both got burned chasing bigger markets and brighter lights. And now, they’re just disgruntled journeymen shuffling from team to team chasing fame and impact that diminished long ago. Considering Philly had to part with Dario Saric to acquire Butler, the Sixers would be the most ideal place to squeeze whatever is left out of Melo. I wouldn’t be shocked if Miami made another play for him as well, because there’s nothing Pat Riley targets more than an unhappy fading superstar on his last act with a chip on his shoulder.

Lang, there’s been so much talk from so-called know-it-alls like us around the league about how superior the West would be and how completely inferior the East was, especially in LeBron’s departure to the Lakers. But at last check, Philly was one of the last unbeaten at home, the Bucks and the Greek Freak won at Golden State and Toronto just might be the best team in the league right now. Were we all trippin’ or is the East still pretty much fool’s gold at the top?

Toronto Raptors


From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2018 5:05 PM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: #IMHO

Mike, I feel like we may have reached critical mass in the West. It’s always been a pendulum — one Conference being better than the other, and I’m sure there are plenty of examples of each Conference having their time on top. But the thing about a pendulum is it goes both ways. Yes, the West is better and it has been for a while, but I was always certain things would eventually even out and, I believe at some point down the road the East may be the beasts again. It’s early but things certainly seem to be trending in that direction.

Hey, since we always talk about the NBA writ large, how about we keep this one close to home: Which player on the Grizzlies has provided the most pleasant surprise for you this season? I’ll nominate one to start: Wayne Selden. I know last season was tough for Selden, missing the first few weeks with an injury and then basically having to play his way into shape and figure out his place in the rotation on a team that was in flux. But this season, with the benefit of full health and full training camp, Selden has been valuable off the bench, both as a defender and an offensive player able to drive or knock down threes. Who has caught your eye?

Garrett Temple


From: Michael Wallace


Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2018 8:33:56 PM


To: Lang Whitaker


Subject: #IMHO

Huh? Wait, what? Lang, did you say something? My bad, man. I was distracted by the madness in Golden State. I couldn’t hear your question because Draymond Green was still yapping at Kevin Durant about free agency and cussin’ out everyone within earshot over being suspended and fined. Didn’t I tell you two #IMHOs ago the Warriors biggest challenge would be from within? Strange thing is, Draymond was also the loudest and biggest proponent of bringing Durant onboard when Golden State’s so-called Hamptons 5 recruited him in free agency. Seems like the Warriors are waaaay overreacting to this.

The NBA is far too sensitive these days. If the 3-Peat Lakers responded like the Warriors to a little friction among stars, Shaq or Kobe would have been suspended half the season. The second 3-Peat Bulls with Rodman would have fallen apart in training camp. The Bad Boys Pistons wouldn’t have made it off the bus for games.

I digress. Oh yeah, you asked for my most surprising Grizzlies’ player. Easy. Garrett Temple. At age 32, off to the most productive start of his career. The Grizz pulled a fast one on Sacramento in that trade, considering what they got for what they gave up.

So Lang, will the Warriors regret doing this to Draymond? Does it seem like splintering factions are forming in the Bay? What’s going through Boogie Cousins’ head right now?

Kevin Durant and Draymond Green


From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2018 10:14:43 AM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: #IMHO

Agreed on Temple – as someone said to me the other day, the Kings were going young and the Grizz were the team at the “right time, right place,” when Sacto was ready to move him.

I’m not sure what’s happening in the Bay right now. I watched their game against the Hawks last night, playing without Draymond and Steph Curry, and there didn’t seem to be any other outward signs of fissure. Part of me is tempted to chalk this up as an example of the stuff that happens with any team when they’re racking up Ws and spending so much time with each other. Every dynasty eventually falls apart, and we know things in Golden State won’t be golden forever. It’s up to Bob Myers and the Warriors to figure out how to keep this going as long as possible, and as long as you have a healthy Steph Curry in the center of everything, it seems like keeping those pieces around him shouldn’t be impossible.

That said, I also thought about David West’s quote following last season, that there was “a lot going on behind that scenes that people will be shocked about when it comes out.” And I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this drama between KD and Draymond is setting up for the Warriors to be forced to make a Sophie’s Choice between Draymond or KD. KD can test free agency this summer, and Draymond will be a free agent next summer. Draymond was certainly there first and has provided the fire for a sometimes placid group, but if you’re choosing between the two only as basketball players, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice.

Look at me, driving way on down this road that hasn’t even been built. I’ll pump the brakes and remind myself that dynasties have withstood much worse things. Still, for all those teams looking for any sliver of hope to have a way to beat this Warriors team? A tiny crack is showing…

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Lang’s World: College football mascots and nicknames provide unique window into a program’s competitive soul

MEMPHIS – This past weekend, the University of Kentucky followed up their big upset of Florida with a game against Murray State. That would be the Murray State Racers, a small school in western Kentucky.

Murray State lost the game 48-10, but that was really beside the point. Because moreover, Murray State lost a perception battle when this tweet went viral:

Yep, that’s a Wildcat in the front, a Kentucky Wildcat, a feline so ferocious that, according to Wikipedia, it will “pursue prey atop trees, even jumping from one branch to another.”

And in the back, there is the Murray State mascot, which is apparently two people in a costume that looks like I made it.

Now as it turns out, after I did about 2 seconds of investigative work on the internet, I found out that this is not actually the Murray State mascot – they have a mascot that actually looks like a mascot.

But social media has spoken, and for an entire generation of people, including myself, I will also associate two folks in a horsey costume as being the Murray State mascot. Heck, if anything, Murray State should lean into this and make two people in a horsey costume an official mascot. They lost to Kentucky by 40, they aren’t getting on SportsCenter anytime soon for anything else.

The lesson here is that we don’t choose our mascots; they choose us. Which is how I, a grown man, am now rooting for a baseball team with a mascot named Blooper.

Our teams select their nicknames and mascots, we’re just here for the ride. And hopefully it’s a ride we don’t mind taking.

At the risk of generalizing, I feel like we can break college mascots down into a couple of simple categories. Let’s sift through and find out what they tell us about ourselves.

1. Fierce Animals

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! This is probably the broadest and most popular category of mascot, and to be honest it probably makes the most sense. If you are going to have your program embodied by an animal, why shouldn’t you choose an animal that ostensibly could defeat a human in a man vs. beast situation?

For example, LSU has a real friggin’ tiger in a cage, which is terrifying. Florida is represented by a male and female alligator duo, and we all know that alligators regularly eat Floridians alive. Colorado has a live buffalo on the sideline; I once saw a buffalo try to headbutt a car at Yosemite National Park, which was awesome.

Auburn claims not only a tiger but also an eagle, and not just any eagle but a war eagle, whatever that is. I dislike Auburn, but I have to allow that putting the word “war” in front of any animal makes that animal sound at least three times more badass. The Memphis Tigers sound relatively menacing, but you can’t tell me the Memphis War Tigers isn’t even scarier. Preceding eagle with “war” almost makes up for Gus Malzahn’s short-sleeve mock turtlenecks. Almost.

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You are here to be on top. If your school has an animal of prey as their mascot, you are there to destroy your opponent and win big.


2. Not-Fierce Animals

There are many colleges that decided to select an animal for their mascot, then immediately chose to not pick an animal that would actually do any damage if tested. My Georgia Bulldogs, for instance, have a live mascot named Uga who looks mildly mean, but mostly just sits on a bag of ice in an air conditioned dog house during games. Georgia Tech’s mascot is an insect. Alabama chose an elephant, which is big but lumbering.

Texas has a live steer on the field, which I’m pretty sure is just a cow with comically large horns taped to his head. Maryland uses a jacked terrapin named Testudo.

According to Google, a terrapin is “a small edible turtle with lozenge-shaped markings on its shell, found in coastal marshes of the eastern US.” Oooh, please don’t attack me Mr. Edible Turtle!

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You are here to compete, but when push comes to shove you might be beaten. Unless you are an Alabama fan, because y’all are crazy.

3. Weird Animals

Now we’re just messing around. These are colleges that chose animals, but basically just decided to pick an animal that is comically unknown. The University of California at Santa Cruz, for instance, held a school-wide vote in the 1980s to make the “Banana Slug” the school’s official mascot. Which is, you know, humorous, but doesn’t exactly strike fear in anyone’s heart. (At least not anyone armed with a salt shaker.) Cal-Irvine went with an anteater, while Texas Christian University is represented by a Horned Frog named Super Frog.

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You may just be here mainly for the participation trophies.

4. Nature

If you can’t be an animal, I guess something else in nature is an interesting way to go? As a result, many schools choose other naturally occurring phenomena as a mascot.

(Worth noting: We are delving into a gray area here, where a school’s mascot doesn’t necessarily match their nickname. This will happen frequently for here on. Just stick with us. We’re talking about fuzzy suits.)

At Stanford, for instance, their nickname is The Cardinal, but their mascot is a tree. Which would seem to discourage much interaction with fans. The Miami Hurricanes are represented by an Ibis, and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane have a superhero-ish dude with the power to summon weather. St. John’s recently pivoted to a Red Storm, whatever that is. And Delta State University’s mascot is the Fighting Okra. If anything, the okra should be a Slimy Okra, because what any good chef knows is the toughest part of conquering okra is the slime.

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You love the outdoors in all its various shapes and forms. You swear your team will get it together one of these days, when the sun gets into the right moon, or however that astrology stuff works.


5. Jobs/Hobbies

Now we get to the part of the list where we move into the human world, with a bunch of mascots and nicknames that are basically just based on stuff people do. Here in Tennessee, people Volunteer, while in West Virginia they Mountaineer.

In Western Kentucky they top hills, and in Lafayette, Louisiana, the Cajuns rage. These nicknames are not, however, always represented literally by the team’s respective mascots. The Vols, for instance, have a hound dog named Smokey patrol their sideline, while the Ragin’ Cajuns have a red thing (a pepper?) named Cayenne.

I prefer the more clear-cut jobs in this category, such as the Navy Midshipmen, the Vanderbilt Commodores, and even the East Carolina Pirates.

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You value hard work and realism. Maybe not so much winning titles.


6. Occult Figures

Hey covered most of the natural world, I suppose it only makes sense that some schools have turned to the supernatural. Wake Forest, for instance, has claimed a Demon Deacons as their mascot. Not so far away at Duke, they’ve selected the Blue Devils, while in Arizona they’ve chosen a Sun Devil.

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You’ve used the Ouija board at least once in your life, and maybe not ironically.


7. Straight-Up Weird Stuff

Hey Michigan State, I like that you’ve chosen the Spartan as your mascot, but what the heck is a Sparty?

Wichita State’s mascot is something called WuShock, which I believe delivered the third verse on “C.R.E.A.M.” At St. Louis, the mascot is the Billiken, which is something that doesn’t even exist. According to one website, a Billiken is a mythical good-luck figure who represents “things as they ought to be.” What does that even mean? Yeah, I don’t know either. But to me, perhaps the most troubling mascot of them all is the Syracuse Orangemen, a strange cross-breeding between an orange and a human. No thanks!

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You are not bound by the laws of nature nor reality.

8. Nuts

THE Ohio State has chosen to align with a buckeye. I’m sorry, THE buckeye.

WHAT THIS MEANS ABOUT YOU:

You find Mr. Peanut too edgy.


The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Pete’s Perspective: Grizzlies’ 2018 Summer League

Las Vegas, NV – After playing lights out in their first two games in Utah, the Memphis Grizzlies have lost three of their last four games, including a 1-2 mark here in Las Vegas. Not coincidentally, the offensive slide has included the return to earth of Jaren Jackson, Jr. who burst onto the scene with one of the most impressive Summer League debuts in recent years.

Jackson was held out of Tuesday’s Sacramento loss. I’m not hearing that there’s any injury to report, only that the Grizzlies staff doesn’t want to overtax the 4th overall pick in the draft. Jackson, as is the case with the rest of the rookie class, isn’t used to playing this quantity of high-level games in such a short period of time. Welcome to the NBA fellas!

Here’s hoping that the Grizzlies can discover some offense before they take on Oklahoma City in the first tournament game Thursday at 3 pm PT/5 pm CT on NBA-TV. The offense dried up in a big way in the third quarter Tuesday against Sacramento. With the Kings up just three at the break, they rolled the Grizzlies in the third quarter by a 27-12 count before going on to win 94-80.

In that third frame, Sacramento shot 58% while the Grizzlies mustered a meager 29%. Ivan Rabb hit three of six tries while the rest of the team shot 3 for 15. Meanwhile, the Kings had eight different players score in the third quarter alone.

Grizzlies were also hurt at the line: the foul-prone Grizzlies sent the Kings to the line 23 times while attempting just eight freebies themselves.

Jevon Carter

I like what I’m seeing from Jevon Carter. He’s got a certain toughness about him which is something that you really want in your point guard. Obviously he’s got the defensive chops and will only get better with the tutoring of Nick Van Exel, Greg Buckner and Jerry Stackhouse. The pleasant surprise has been a good shooting stroke as well. The Grizzlies drafted Carter for his defensive acumen, so the scoring is a bonus.

Grind City Media mic’d up his mother on Tuesday for the Sacramento game. Afterwards, she wanted to make sure that any “bad stuff” would get edited out. Consider it done and keep an eye out for the next superlative edition of Beyond Grit, coming to a device near you.

Kobi Simmons has made good use of the off-season. On a Grizzlies team that has struggled to get buckets, he’s been able to create his own shot and is a willing and capable driver. As a one-and-done at Arizona, it might take a few years for Simmons to reach his peak, but I think it’ll be worth the wait.

Kyle Anderson

I introduced myself to Chad Forcier, one of the new assistants on the Grizzlies staff. First order of business: “How do you pronounce your name? Is it “fore-sear” or “fore-see-a?” The affable Forcier told me to use whichever I want. Why? “Well, my parents go with ‘fore-sear’ and when I was with the Spurs, Pop always went with ‘fore-see-a.’”

That settles it. I’m a big fan of Gregg Popovich, so on our telecasts, it’s going to be “fore-see-a.” Also sounds a bit more elegant.

Speaking of former Spurs, of new Grizz Kyle Anderson. “You’re going to LOVE this guy,” Verno gushed after the Sacramento game. He went on to opine that Anderson will be a great locker room guy. Anderson also has a high basketball IQ (which seems to be a prerequisite if you’re going to play for JB Bickerstaff) and is a capable distributor of the basketball. If you want to get Mike Conley off the ball for a few possessions, Anderson is more than capable of initiating the offense. If you haven’t dialed up Verno’s interview with Anderson, I strongly recommend it.

Had a chance meeting with Utah’s Grayson Allen in the hotel elevator Tuesday afternoon. I introduced myself and wished him well. I asked him about the biggest adjustment from Duke to the NBA (albeit at the Summer League level). He said the amount of detail that needs to be digested is much greater in the NBA and praised the Jazz organization as a whole. He also spoke of the volume of media demands, but allowed that he was used to that coming from a high-visibility Duke program. In a one-on-one setting he seems like a good guy, but I can see that his competitive spirit and chippiness on the floor will get under the skin of opponents. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares on this level.

Eric Hasseltine, Brevin Knight and I were honored to be asked by the NBA to do an alternate feed of Summer League games. Eric teamed with former Warrior Kelenna Azubuike on the Miami-Utah contest while BK and I did the Grizzlies game against the Kings. Seems that, particularly in Asia, there is a preference to watch games on mobile phones in portrait orientation instead of landscape. The NBA discovered this during their global fan research and wanted to experiment with what they call “vertical view.”

The actual call of the game didn’t vary from normal and we didn’t get much of a look at the finished feed; our monitors were set up normally in the 16:9 HD ratio. The feed was routed to a distributor (tencent) in Asia. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get it also routed to the Grizzlies website. Preliminary feedback from the NBA broadcast office was that they were pleased with the work we did. Vertical view is just one of the new viewing experiences the NBA is testing here in Las Vegas.

Follow Grizzlies TV Play-By-Play Announcer, Pete Pranica on Twitter @petepranica and on Instagram @petepranica. Stay tuned as Pete shares his perspective on the Grizzlies’ performance at 2016 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas right here on Grizzlies.com.

MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Three Takeaways From J.B. Bickerstaff’s Opening Day As (Full-time) Coach

MEMPHIS – Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace and newly-minted fulltime head coach J.B. Bickerstaff didn’t mince words about their joint expectations heading into next season.

“Our identity won’t change either way,” Bickerstaff said Wednesday as he was formally promoted from the interim role to a three-year contract as the 13th head coach in franchise history. “We’re planning on success. We’re planning on a playoff run.”

Wednesday represented the start of a clean slate for Bickerstaff and the Grizzlies, who are regrouping from a 22-60 finish that left the team out of the NBA playoffs for the first time in eight years. Bickerstaff and Wallace covered plenty of ground during Wednesday’s hour-long press conference inside the Grand Lobby at FedExForum. Let’s highlight three key takeaways as the Grizzlies move forward.

TAKE ONE: GRIZZLIES DIDN’T SEARCH FAR

Wallace made it clear from the outset of Wednesday’s media session. The front office prioritized continuity, clear communication, experience and an established connection with catalysts Marc Gasol and Mike Conley in the franchise’s search for its next coach.

That search didn’t take them too far or too long to reach the conclusion that the coach they wanted was the coach they already had in the fold. Bickerstaff and Wallace opened negotiations toward the end of the season, and those talks intensified in the days after the April 11 season finale. All indications are that Memphis didn’t seriously consider any of the various available coaching options on the crowded market.

He’s a young coach who’s also very experienced. He either has it or he doesn’t. You could tell right away, he has it. He’s the guy. We had a 63-game interview process. And he passed with flying colors.

General Manager Chris Wallace

“We think he’s a rare commodity,” Wallace said of Bickerstaff, 39. “He’s a young coach who’s also very experienced. He either has it or he doesn’t. You could tell right away, he has it. He’s the guy. We had a 63-game interview process. And he passed with flying colors.”

Ultimately, it was far more about relationships than record. Under Bickerstaff, the Grizzlies finished 15-48 after he replaced David Fizdale in November. Conley and Gasol expressed strong support for Bickerstaff during exit interviews last month, and their voices clearly resonated.

“It was obvious that Mike and the rest of the team wanted him,” Wallace said. “That’s very positive. (Bickerstaff) knows better than anybody the strengths and weaknesses of our team.”

TAKE TWO: INITIAL DRAFT OUTLOOK

In addition to staffing decisions, the next agenda item for Bickerstaff and the Grizzlies is to further evaluate needs and options heading into the May 15 draft lottery and ensuing draft combine in Chicago.

The Grizzlies finished with the second-worst record in the league this season and are assured of a top-five pick in the June 21 NBA Draft. They also own the No. 32 overall pick in the second round. Bickerstaff joked that he’d be joined at the hip with Wallace and the front office staff as they dig deeper into the offseason evaluation process.

J.B. Bickerstaff

Wallace declined to speak specifically about the draft process or prospects, but did confirm he recently returned from a scouting trip in Europe. The Grizzlies were among several NBA lottery teams to send executives to watch Slovenian guard Luka Doncic, a projected top-three pick, in the EuroLeague playoffs.

Both Wallace and Bickerstaff spoke as if the plan for the Grizzlies moving forward is to continue to build around 33-year-old Gasol and 30-year-old Conley, while also trying to land a transcendent talent who can eventually bridge the franchise into the next era.

Along with Doncic, American college players DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Michael Porter are widely considered among the best prospects in the draft.

“If you look at it, (picks) one through five, maybe six, there are some game changers in there,” Bickerstaff said in general of the potential talent atop the draft board. “We’re in a good position.”

Wallace agreed.

“We’ve got a lot of tools to work with,” Wallace said of the returning roster and offseason options, which will include the full midlevel exception in free agency. “A lot of the heavy lifting is already done.”

TAKE THREE: BICKERSTAFF’S STAFF IN TRANSITION?

Although the Grizzlies’ staff of assistant coaches had been working on contracts that carry them through the end of next season, Bickerstaff was non-committal when asked which members would be retained.

“We’re going through that process now,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s still too early.”

Bickerstaff kept the staff largely intact when he took over as interim coach, but also brought in Greg Buckner from the Houston Rockets midway through the season. Buckner, who had a previous working relationship with Bickerstaff in their stops in Houston and Minnesota, is likely to be retained.

The remaining assistants – Keith Smart, Bob Bender, Nick Van Exel and Adam Mazarei – either all had separate, individual relationships with Fizdale or, in Mazarei’s case, was inherited from Dave Joerger’s staff. Van Exel was among the staff members who publicly congratulated Bickerstaff for the promotion, although none were in attendance for Wednesday’s press conference.

Bickerstaff thanked the coaching staff during his comments and indicated some assistants may be candidates for jobs with other teams. The Knicks, Suns, Bucks, Hornets, Hawks and Magic all have head coaching vacancies and will need to fill out their respective coaching staffs. Fizdale has interviewed for many of those openings and could recruit some of his Grizzlies’ assistants to join him should he land another head job.

So we’ll see how the process goes (over the next few weeks), and make some decisions from there.

J.B. Bickerstaff

“I expect some of the guys on our staff to take the next step up,” Bickerstaff said. “So we’ll see how the process goes (over the next few weeks), and make some decisions from there.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Lang’s World: How the Whitakers body-slammed WrestleMania 34 into a family event 4.12.18

“Can we watch RAW?” my wife asked me Monday night, just minutes after we’d put our son to bed.

She quickly followed her question with a statement: “I never thought I would say those words.”

I never thought she would say those words, either, and it was all I could do not to break into a Daniel Bryan, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” celebration. My wife and I have known each other going on two decades now, and she had always regarded my own interest in wrestling with her own, at best, disinterest. But as The Rock might have said, finally, my wife had come to wrestling.

To be honest, I understood her reluctance, because wrestling can be an acquired taste. I’ve been all-in since I was a kid. I stayed up late on Saturday nights so I could watch “Saturday Night’s Main Event” on NBC; I spent weeks successfully convincing my parents to allow me to order Wrestlemania 3 on Pay Per View. I bought wrestling magazines, came home each afternoon and watched AWA matches on ESPN. I even did my seventh-grade challenge class research project (complete with a tri-folding foam core board visual presentation) on the various cabals and factions within the WWF and WCW.

Perhaps it was understandable that my love for wrestling would wax and wane over the years, particularly as my life accumulated certain responsibilities that required massive amounts of time, such as, you know, having a job and a child. But for me, there still remains a great pleasure in watching a man get angry and toss another man into a steel ring post, even if I know it’s scripted and the post probably isn’t even steel and it was all fake.

My son got interested in wrestling thanks to the Memphis Grizzlies, where the rich wrestling history of Memphis is regularly reflected in the game night presentation. A few months back, when Jerry “The King” Lawler was attacked at halftime of a Memphis Hustle game and had his Grizz Championship Wrestling belt stolen by a dastardly villain, my son was furious. He fell asleep in the car on the way home, and when he woke the next morning his first words were, “I can’t believe that bad man stole Jerry Lawler’s belt.”

After we got him off to school, my wife asked me if we had some sort of obligation to explain to our boy that it was all a show. Precisely the opposite, I explained. This is the time in his life when he’s supposed to believe that it’s all real, that the bad guys are mean and the good guys are friendly and at the end of the day, the good guys will somehow surmount the odds and figure out a way to win. I let him start watching bits of “RAW” and “Smackdown,” and he immediately fell in love with The New Day, or as he refers to them, “The Pancake Guys

What I’ve realized during my most recent wrestling resurgence is that, as my friend Jason recently put it, wrestling “meets you where you are.” If you allow it to, wrestling works on multiple levels, all at the same time. My son doesn’t know that wrestling isn’t real, but that is irrelevant — he can sit down and watch a match and be enthralled. I know that wrestling isn’t real, but I can tune in and marvel at the athleticism and the storylines and the presentation.

So when Jason recently mentioned that he had a lead on some tickets for WrestleMania 34 down in New Orleans, I told him my family was in. I knew The New Day would be taking part, so my son would be interested. And my wife went to Tulane and loves the Big Easy, so I knew she’d be up for it. As for me, I’ve been to a Super Bowl, a World Series, a Final Four and to more NBA Finals games than I can remember. One of the last events remaining on my sports bucket list was a Wrestlemania. It was time to check that box.

We rolled into N’awlins last Saturday afternoon. New Orleans is a magical place, a town that seems like it was designed by Disney Imagineers and then, left to its own devices, turned sentient. Walking the streets of New Orleans, which is currently celebrating its 300th anniversary, you feel a history unlike almost anywhere else in the United States. There are buildings in New Orleans older than entire American cities. New Orleans feels grimy and worn-in and special in all of the best ways.

As my wife and son and I waited patiently in line for hot beignets at Cafe du Monde on Sunday morning, the group of people in front of us turned and asked if we were in town for Wrestlemania. (That my son was holding a plastic heavyweight championship belt probably gave us away.) They were also on a family vacation in town for the event, as were dozens of other families we met along the way. The word “Wrestlemania” may invoke thoughts of he-men and hormones for some, but on the whole, the Wrestlemania crowds we met all over New Orleans seemed much more diverse and inclusive than I anticipated them being.

And for a family activity, Wrestlemania makes a lot of sense, particularly financially. We bought three tickets to the event and had two nights in a nice hotel room for less than the face value of my one upper-level ticket at Super Bowl LI.

Finally, the time came. As our Uber inched toward the drop-off spot outside the Superdome, we saw hordes of people in costume making their way toward the gates. Some folks carried championship belt replicas that probably cost more than my nicest headphones. Two men in front of me in the security line were dressed like members of The Shield, although it was unclear which two. My personal favorite costume was the dude I saw wearing a red graduation cap and gown, in what I assumed was a tribute to the great “The Genius” phase of Lanny Poffo.

Perhaps the grandest thing about Wrestlemania is just the sheer scale of everything. The set that the wrestlers entered through was about the width of a football field, with a runway to the ring that was probably 40 yards long.

A post shared by Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker) on

From our spot in the club level, the ring looked like a toy, so we mainly studied the high definition TVs hanging overhead.

WrestleMania 34

Some parts of the spectacle translated even from a mile away. The entrance of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who rode in on motorcycles and illuminated by green lasers, was stunning. And as far as the wrestling, there were many memorable moments. Charlotte Flair and Asuka turned in what was probably the best overall match of the night. The moment AJ Styles beat Shinsuke Nakamura, our entire section started rooting for a heel turn from Nakamura; when he went below the belt we all erupted. And the funniest moment of the night was probably when Braun Strowman chose a 10-year-old named Nicholas from the crowd to be his tag-team partner, and then they actually won the Raw Tag Team belts.

Everyone was thrilled when The Undertaker finally answered John Cena’s requests to come forth. The dome went dark, lightning flashed, and when the lights briefly went up, Taker’s hat and coat were in the middle of the ring. Moments later, they had disappeared. It was simple and obvious, but my son was so amazed by this bit of trickery that he wasn’t even scared by Undertaker’s incredible entrance

, which for a lifelong wrestling fan like myself was worth the cost of the entire weekend.

As the bell tolled and Taker ambled down the runway through thick swirls of fog, my wife whispered, “So what’s his story?”

“Well,” I explained, “I think he’s actually dead? I know his brother burned down the family funeral home a few decades ago, and killed their parents. They call him the Dead Man. He also used to have a manager who carried around an urn filled with ashes who was named Paul Bearer.”

It was as Nakamura entered the ring to his signature theme song that I realized how cheering for wrestlers is more like rooting for musical artists than athletes. Wrestlers go through phases and identities, each distinct and carefully crafted, almost like artists position each album release. We cheer them as they step onto the stage, then sit patiently as they bang out the songs nobody’s heard before, just waiting until they finish each performance with their greatest hits. And if we get some entertaining talk on the mic in between songs, it’s an added bonus.

By the time the final match between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar came around, roughly seven hours after we had arrived, we were all exhausted. My son was snoring in my lap, and the crowd was way more into a beach ball methodically working its way around the lower bowl than they were into watching Lesnar throw a series of sloppy suplexes around the ring. The match wasn’t very engaging, and after Reigns’ head got slit open, the fight wrapped up quickly, and we all filed out into the dark, drizzly bayou night.

The following morning while driving back to Memphis, my wife peppered me with questions about the storylines she’d stumbled upon the night before. I chuckled as I explained half of the stuff, but expressed appropriate amazement when my son once again marveled at how The Undertaker’s hat and duster had somehow magically appeared in the ring.

I had successfully made my family a wrestling family. If you don’t want to watch, that’s fine. But my crew has found our connections on the levels where it works for each of us.

Wrestling may not be all things to all people. But if you give it a chance, it sure is close, brother.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Two takeaways from Minnesota and a look ahead to Wednesday’s season finale at OKC

MEMPHIS – Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff may not be quite ready to evaluate the job he’s done under tough circumstances, but he’s certain about the progress made by several of the team’s younger prospects this season.

“To be honest with you, there’s been a bunch of them,” Bickerstaff said of players he believes have made the biggest strides this season. “If you look at every single one of our young guys, they’ve improved in some form or fashion. And that’s difficult when you’re playing a lot of guys, and they overlap at some positions.”

The Grizzlies will conduct season-ending exit interviews on Thursday to close out a frustrating, injury-riddled season. But as the team shifted its focus from Monday’s 113-94 loss in Minnesota to Wednesday’s finale at Oklahoma City, Bickerstaff pointed to the gradual improvement he’s seen from many who have developed their games throughout a difficult season.

Dillon Brooks

It starts with rookie Dillon Brooks, who’s averaging a season-high 17.8 points a game in April after his scoring average had increased from 10.1 points a game in February to 14.8 in March. Over that same stretch, his fouls per game have decreased from 3.4 in February and 2.1 in March to 1.2 this month.

Another example has been rookie Ivan Rabb, who has benefited from increased playing time over the past month and enters the final game of the season averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds on 57.5-percent shooting from the field in five April games. Rabb and Brooks, both picked in the second round of last June’s draft, combined for 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists at the starting forward spots in Minnesota on Monday after contributing a total of 30 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and two blocks in Sunday’s home win over Detroit.

Ivan Rabb

While more playing time has led to increased production, Bickerstaff has seen specific improvement in certain aspects of their games. Brooks has struggled with his shooting touch recently, but Bickerstaff has been encouraged by the 6-6 swingman’s conditioning, durability and attention to detail on defense, particularly when assigned to defend some of the league’s elite wing players. Brooks will become the first Grizzlies’ rookie in a decade to play all 82 games when he lines up against the Thunder.

“It just shows everyone around the league that I’m a grit player, that I can play all 82 games and I’m reliable,” Brooks said. “I’m going to be there throughout my whole career.”

Meanwhile, Rabb has shown a competitive edge against top NBA power forwards and a versatile offensive repertoire that includes athleticism around the basket and a shooting stroke with range. A top priority for the 6-10 Rabb this offseason is adding bulk to his wiry, 220-pound frame.

When you look at Dillon, Wayne Selden, Kobi Simmons, Ivan and (Deyonta Davis) – you can go down the list and they’ve made huge steps. They’ve been committed to the process and put in a ton of work.

J.B. Bickerstaff

“We really feel we’ve got two guys who have proved and will continue to prove to be steals in that draft,” Bickerstaff said of Rabb and Brooks, who were selected at No. 35 and No. 45, respectively. “When you look at Dillon, Wayne Selden, Kobi Simmons, Ivan and (Deyonta Davis) – you can go down the list and they’ve made huge steps. They’ve been committed to the process and put in a ton of work.”

The Grizzlies (22-59) are in position to potentially build on last year’s developing draft class. Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s game in OKC, Memphis is locked into the league’s second-worst record and the second-highest odds behind Phoenix to land the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery. Under the current lottery format, the Grizzlies will pick no worse than fifth overall in the June 21 NBA draft.

GRIND CITY STABILITY

Arguably the biggest question hanging over the franchise entering the offseason was whether controlling ownership of the Grizzlies would change hands as part of a “buy-sell” process executed earlier this season.

That question was answered Monday afternoon, when Robert Pera informed the league and Grizzlies’ season-ticket holders that he was committed to not only maintaining controlling interest in the franchise but also to ensuring the team would remain in Memphis.

That (decision) serves to reinforce our dedication to continue building a successful NBA franchise. We have made significant investment in our organization in recent years and considerable strides towards our goal of sustained success. We will continue to do so and are confident that you will see the results of those investments in coming seasons.

Robert Pera

“We recognize that this has been a trying season for you as fans,” Pera wrote in an email to fans. “That (decision) serves to reinforce our dedication to continue building a successful NBA franchise. We have made significant investment in our organization in recent years and considerable strides towards our goal of sustained success. We will continue to do so and are confident that you will see the results of those investments in coming seasons.”

The Grizzlies will miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Pera purchased a controlling interest in the Grizzlies in 2012. Since then, the franchise and FedExForum have undergone massive upgrades and the team has signed franchise anchors Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to long-term deals.

Top team executives believe the ownership decision maintains stability for both the franchise and the city of Memphis. The Grizzlies are expected to go through their normal offseason evaluation process with the front office and player roster. A decision also looms with Bickerstaff’s status after the season.

KEEP AN EYE ON …

Russell Westbrook. The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player needs 16 rebounds in Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Memphis to become the first player in league history to average a triple-double in consecutive seasons.

Westbrook enters the game averaging 25.6 points, 10.1 assists and 9.9 rebounds. He’s grabbed at least 16 rebounds in six games this season, including Monday’s win over Miami that allowed the Thunder to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Grind City Media Update: Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace locks up Brooks on multi-year deal heading into free agency

MEMPHIS – As the Grizzlies endured a season marred by numerous injuries, the shuffling of players through the roster has produced at least one silver lining: The play of recent 10-day contract signee MarShon Brooks, who has averaged 23.3 points in his three games.

The Grizzlies have apparently seen enough to keep the 29-year-old Brooks around for a while, having agreed to a multi-year deal with the 6-5 shooting guard that keeps him in Memphis for the final four games – and beyond.

We are excited to solidify a needed perimeter roster spot, prior to free agency this summer, with such a talented offensive player who can score and shoot the three.

Chris Wallace

“MarShon is a proven NBA scorer dating back to his rookie season, and after four years overseas we have seen firsthand, once a scorer, always a score,” Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace said. “We are excited to solidify a needed perimeter roster spot, prior to free agency this summer, with such a talented offensive player who can score and shoot the three.”

The 25th overall selection of the 2011 Draft, Brooks spent his first two NBA seasons with the Nets before playing for three teams during the 2013-14 season.

After a year in Italy playing for Milan, Brooks signed with the Jiangsu Dragons in China in 2015.

Playing for the Dragons, Brooks averaged at least 35 points per game each of his seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association.

With the Grizzlies in need of backcourt depth, Brooks came in and made an impact immediately when he was initially signed late last month.

His 70 total points with Memphis are the most ever scored by a Grizzlies’ player through his first three games with the franchise.

Lang’s World: A solemn farewell to sensational ‘Starbury’ 3.29.18

MEMPHIS – At the beginning, we never really considered the end. We just wanted to get a dog. When we first met, her name was Star. We eyed each other through the wire grate on her cage, on what was basically death row of the dog shelter in East Harlem.

From looking at her, it was clear that Star was a grab bag of breeds. Her hair was too long and she didn’t smell great. She had a pronounced underbite and she was just a bit larger than the type of dog we were looking to adopt. Eventually, we took her outside to a play area, and when I sat down on the ground, she immediately hopped into my lap. She knew exactly what she was doing, because that sealed the deal.

A few days later, that shaggy dog and I walked out of the pound (although not before she stopped to poop in the lobby), slid into the backseat of a yellow taxi and rode across town to our fourth floor walk-up on the Upper West Side. Star bounded up the stairs so quickly that I had to run to keep up.

And so we had a dog.

She was ostensibly a birthday present for my fiancé, although getting a dog was something we both wanted to happen. We have always been dog people, and had lived together in New York for a few years without any pets or kids. We needed something to fill that void.

First, we needed to address the name. At the time, I worked at SLAM magazine as the online editor, and I was writing what were essentially daily blog posts (although the word ‘blog’ had not yet made its way into the lexicon). We wanted to give our dog a new name that was fun and unique, so I asked my readers, and a few people seized upon the obvious hoops angle and suggested Starbury. I had recently written my first SLAM cover story on Stephon Marbury and appreciated his style of play, so Starbury was the name we selected. (I had crowd-sourced my dog’s name before I knew what crowd-sourcing was, via a blog, before I knew what a blog was.)

Naming a female dog after a male NBA player led to occasional confusion when meeting strangers, but we didn’t mind. Starbury may not have been perfect, but she was perfect for us. She was fun and funny and full of energy, but she also loved dozing next to me on the couch while I watched Atlanta Braves games. She also loved snuggling in bed with us on cold winter nights. Like I do with pretty much everything else in my life, I flipped the experience into content, writing about her often. Despite the expenses and logistical headaches, she traveled with us all over the country—my go-to joke at airport check-in counters was that Starbury had Silver Medallion status.

In many ways, Starbury was our child before we knew what it was like to have a child, even if I didn’t really realize it until after we had an actual child. Growing up in Atlanta, my sister successfully petitioned my parents to allow us to get a dog, although my dad quickly assumed all of the duties commensurate with pet ownership: feeding; walking; cleaning up. My sister and I loved that dog, but neither of us ever really had full responsibility.

With Starbury, she was fully our responsibility. And if you’ve never owned a dog, oh man is there a ton of responsibility involved. Just walking Starbury twice a day required navigating 16 flights of stairs. We were constantly buying food, feeding her and cleaning up “accidents,” even the ones we knew weren’t accidents. Over the years, we probably spent more money on caring for Starbury than we did on visiting our parents.

I recall one time when Starbury and I were sitting on the couch and she started making a noise that I knew meant she was about to vomit. I looked around and didn’t see a towel or a rag, so I instinctively picked her up and held her over my chest so that my t-shirt would catch the mess. I realized later that making that sacrifice was basically what being a parent is all about.

I don’t know if there’s any experience that can fully prepare a person for parenthood, but owning a dog sure comes close. Starbury’s complete reliance upon us required our complete attention. We loved her fully, and she loved us back, in her own way. It didn’t matter how my day had gone, but every night when I came home, Starbury was there at the door begging to be picked up so that she could deliver some stinky licks to my face.

We loved Starbury even though we basically knew nothing about her. The paperwork when we picked her up had a birth date listed – we don’t know how accurate it was – which would have made her around a year old when we received her in 2002. The only hints we had to her previous life were that we discovered she had been trained to use the bathroom indoors on a pad, and whenever I played music with a lot of bass, she would hide under the couch. People constantly stopped us on the street to ask what breed she was, but we had no idea. One year for Christmas, my sister gave us a doggie DNA test, where you swab the dog’s cheek and send it away for testing. According to Starbury’s test, there was no primary DNA match, and the secondary matches were for a Chihuahua and a Golden Retriever.

Eventually, we moved to a first-floor apartment closer to the Hudson River that provided more space for Starbury to run. She loved to stalk pigeons she never actually caught, until one day when she jumped at one and it didn’t move, and she actually caught it. Starbury sat there atop the startled bird and looked around, unsure of what she was supposed to do next. As life moved along and family members passed away, Starbury provided us comfort and constancy. When my wife got pregnant, some sort of maternal instinct in Starbury seemed to kick in, and she would get in bed for hours next to my wife’s stomach.

And then, five years ago, we had a son. Even though I’d read plenty online about the ways to carefully integrate a baby into a home that already had a dog, Starbury was mostly nonplussed by our boy’s arrival. A peaceful detente existed for a few years, and then two years ago, just as our son got old enough to hug and play with a dog, Starbury started going downhill.

It was obvious something was wrong. She was throwing up and pooping more than usual, and after running some tests, the vet determined we needed to feed her special food to help her kidneys, which were beginning to fail. Despite my wife brushing Starbury’s teeth night after night, she would eventually need to have some teeth pulled, as well as a procedure to remove some cysts. It was like all the things you don’t like to associate with pet ownership started happening at once. Before long, her legs stopped working, which necessitated carrying her up and down even one step. I wondered if my son understood that having a pet could be fun.

Occasionally, she would summon a burst of energy and take off on a hobbled jog, or get frisky and want to fight over a toy with our son. She was a shell of the dog she used to be, but that shell still held many memories we savored.

We had a vague hope that our move last fall from New York City to Memphis would reinvigorate Starbury. We were going from a small apartment to a house with a yard. And when we moved in, I opened the back door and set her out in the grass. She tried to walk a bit, but her back legs wouldn’t cooperate, and she ended up kind of stuck sideways. She plopped down and sat there in the sunshine. And for a little while at least, she was perfectly fine with that station in her life.

A few days ago, my wife came home one afternoon and found Starbury sitting in a pile of her own poop and vomit, unable to extricate herself. And we knew it was time to make the appointment we did not want to make.

On Saturday morning, when it came time to take Starbury to the vet, my wife volunteered to make the trip. I would stay home with our five-year-old son, and I wasn’t sure exactly how to explain what was happening.

Starbury

Before they left, everyone gave Starbury a big hug. My hand lingered on her back where her spine had become pointy, and I petted her once-soft hair, which had now turned wiry. As my wife drove away, and because I couldn’t bring myself to be completely forthcoming, I told my son that Starbury might not be returning from the vet.

“Why?” he asked.

Well, I explained, because she was very old and very sick, and the vet might need to keep her there for a long time to keep an eye on her.

I hoped this would give me cover to at least figure out how to talk about death with him. And heck, technically my statement was true — after all, we didn’t know for certain that the vet would recommend Starbury be put down. Perhaps they could administer some miracle drug that would make everything better.

About an hour later, my wife texted me that the vet felt it was time to put her down. Her kidneys had basically failed. Her back was a mess. This time, there was no getting better. And the family we had built over the last 16 years would now be forever different.

I called my son over and figured it was best to be direct.

“So listen,” I said. “Mommy just sent me a note to let me know that Starbury is not going to come home from the vet.”

“Why?”

I blinked back a tear. “Starbury died at the vet.” It felt so weird to say those words out loud.

“Why?”

“Well, Starbury was very, very, very old.”

“As old as Grammy?”

“Starbury was lots older than Grammy.”

My son paused for a moment, then brightened.

“Well, we could always get A NEW PUPPY!”

So he seemed ready to move on. For me, it wasn’t as easy. A few times later that day and in the days that followed, I found myself crying. Dozens of people sent condolences on social media and talked about remembering my Starbury stories from the SLAM days. Friends texted and left Facebook messages. Starbury had made an impact on many lives, not just ours.

Two days after Starbury died, my wife and son went out of town for a few days, leaving me home alone. Starbury’s presence may have diminished over the years, but having no presence from her at all was jarring. It was weird to cook dinner without having to step over Starbury, who spent her last few years skulking around the kitchen sniffing for any dropped proteins while I fixed dinner. At night, I looked around for her to carry her up to bed. But she wasn’t there.

At the end, it’s hard to remember the beginning. Because of the immediacy of her passing, it’s easy to think about what she became in her later years, and how those last few years were tough on all of us. But I’ll always remember Starbury as that shaggy, stinky, snaggletooth puppy who hopped into my lap and made her way into our hearts forever, even with all of her perfect imperfections.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Two takeaways from the win over Portland and a look-ahead to Friday’s game against Utah

MEMPHIS – As MarShon Brooks moves forward on his 10-day contact with the Grizzlies, don’t expect the veteran guard and 2011 first-round NBA draft pick to lack confidence or motivation.

His first taste of NBA action in four years alone is enough to maintain his hunger for more. But there’s also the group texts that keep him going. As Brooks set out on an 18-hour travel day that took him from China to Detroit several days ago before he ultimately arrived in Memphis, he received a series of texts from a close-knit group of American players on rosters this season in the Chinese Basketball Association.

“They were like, ‘You have a chance to make it again – make the most of it,’” Brooks said of the group that keeps in contact almost daily. “And they were like, ‘Show them that we play good ball over here (in China), that we’ve got some really good players over here.’ So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

I just want to seize the opportunity. I understand exactly what’s going on now. At 25, I took it seriously, but maybe not as seriously as I should have. But like I said, it’s a testament to hard work. With me playing in China, one thing I can say is that I had the ball and I shot it a lot. So, the reps work.

MarShon Brooks

More than anything, Brooks is trying to stick around this time in his NBA comeback. It’ll be tough to top his Memphis debut when the Grizzlies (21-54) open a three-game trip with Friday’s visit to face the Jazz (42-33). Brooks, who wrapped up his third straight CBA season in China earlier this month, scored 14 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 108-103 win over Portland.

It was Brooks’ first action in an NBA regular-season game since he knocked down three of four shots to finish with seven points in nine minutes off the bench for the Lakers in a 113-100 win over San Antonio on April 16, 2014. Brooks spent time with four teams in his first three NBA seasons after he was selected late in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Providence College.

And the past four years have included stops along the global pro basketball circuit in Italy and China in addition to stints in the NBA G League. So, it almost goes without saying that Brooks is savoring the opportunity he has in Memphis. The Grizzlies have signed four different players to 10-day contracts in the past month as they close the season evaluating prospects for their summer conditioning and development program, and for potential spots in next season’s training camp.

“I’m 29 years old (and my) last NBA game, I was 25,” Brooks said. “You look at things differently, and I just want to seize the opportunity. I understand exactly what’s going on now. At 25, I took it seriously, but maybe not as seriously as I should have. But like I said, it’s a testament to hard work. With me playing in China, one thing I can say is that I had the ball and I shot it a lot. So, the reps work.”

MarShon Brooks

The Grizzlies could definitely use the scoring punch.

Memphis has been without leading scorer Tyreke Evans for more than a week as he’s been excused to deal with a family matter, and guard Andrew Harrison has been in and out of the lineup the past month while managing a wrist injury. Brooks is on board to provide instant offense.

In China, he averaged 36.6 points a game and scored at least 50 in three contests this season. So it wasn’t too surprising when he started firing up shots as soon as he entered his first game with the Grizzlies. Brooks shot 7-of-12 from the field, including makes on all five three-point attempts, while scoring at a point-a-minute pace. It mattered little that Brooks had only one day of practice with the team before he suited up for the game.

“I was able to create some shots for myself,” Brooks said. “I think I left some (shots) out there, honestly. I left some floaters out there, but that will come with me getting more comfortable as well.”

The challenge is to grow comfortable and settled despite being on the go. Brooks said he’s still dealing with jetlag from the long flight and has yet to get on a solid sleeping pattern as he readjusts from the 12-hour time difference in China. He came to Memphis a few days before he signed his contract after a brief stopover in Detroit to visit with his young son.

Now with the Grizzlies, Brooks was on the move again Thursday as the team departed for games against Utah, Portland and New Orleans.

“To be honest, I have a hard time sleeping at night because of the time difference from the city I was staying in,” Brooks said. “I kind of get a lot of energy around 1 a.m., and I’m tired in the daytime. But these last couple of days, I’ve been coming along.”

KANSAS CONNECTION

Having won consecutive games for the first time since mid-January, the Grizzlies are experiencing a bit of their own madness in March. To some in the locker room, they’re every bit as hot as Kansas.

Anytime anyone wants to place a friendly dinner bet, we’re taking them all. We take on all comers.

Mario Chalmers

Well, at least according to former Jayhawks Mario Chalmers, Ben McLemore and Wayne Selden.

“People have been counting them out all year, but look at where they are now,” Chalmers said of Kansas, which is headed to the NCAA Final Four this weekend. “Me, Wayne and Ben got their backs.”

This weekend marks the 10-year anniversary of the Jayhawks’ 2008 National Championship team led by Chalmers, who made one of the biggest shots in Final Four history when he nailed a three-pointer against the University of Memphis to force overtime on the way to Kansas’ eventual victory. That makes it even a more sentimental run for Chalmers as he pulls for his alma mater this weekend.

Mario Chalmers

“Anytime you get to be the man on a team and are one of the reasons why we went into overtime and why we won that championship – to leave a lasting legacy like that means a lot to me and my family,” said Chalmers, who also went on to win two NBA titles with the Miami Heat. “It’s in the top three of my favorite (basketball experiences). It feels like 10 years for me, because I’ve got a 10-year-old son. He was born during that time around (the 2008 Final Four).”

The Grizzlies’ Kansas connection won’t just own bragging rights from a distance. If the Jayhawks beat Villanova on Saturday, Chalmers has arranged a trip with Selden and McLemore to San Antonio to watch the national championship game in person. Monday’s NCAA final matchup comes on an off day for the Grizzlies, who play in Portland on Sunday and don’t play again until Wednesday in New Orleans.

“We’ll be ready to get down there for the championship game on Monday when they make it,” Chalmers said before the Grizzlies departed Thursday from Memphis. “So hopefully, it works out. We need them to take care of business, and we’ll be there.”

Kansas talk has permeated the Grizzlies locker room recently.

“Every day,” Chalmers insisted with a laugh. “Anytime anyone wants to place a friendly dinner bet, we’re taking them all. We take on all comers.”

KEEP AN EYE ON …

Rudy Gobert – Friday’s game will pit the 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol against the Utah Jazz center who is likely among the frontrunners to win the same award this season.

The Jazz boast by far the NBA’s most dominant and efficient defense with Gobert on the floor, allowing 97.9 points per 100 possessions during those stretches. Gobert is also third in the league at 2.4 blocks per game and eighth in rebounding at 10.8 a night. The only problem is that he’s missed 26 games this season with knee issues and is scrambling to make up for lost time as the Jazz push for a playoff spot.

The Grizzlies are 2-0 so far in the midst of facing five consecutive opponents desperately jockeying for playoff position. The Jazz currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the West and have already won two of the three meetings with Memphis this season, including a 95-78 victory on March 9 when Gobert finished with a game-high, plus-22 rating.

“He’s always been a big battle for me,” Gobert said of his most recent matchup against Gasol. “I mean, he’s the offense. They play through him a lot. I think we did a good job stopping him.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.