The Memphis Grizzlies took a day declaring to media members their excitement to grind on Monday while preparing to attempt an NBA Finals run. Grizzlies players praised teammates while Dave Joerger, Robert Pera and Jason Levien extolled the virtues of their version of the "grit 'n' grind."
Media day was a democratic one, with every player and training camp invitee catching an opportunity to speak with the press.
The most interesting remarks were made about reserves. Joerger sounded off on Jamaal Franklin's chance to make an impact. Approval was voiced for Nick Calathes. Mike Miller looks to grind forward with the same heady routine as always.
Mike Conley feels good about his backups
The Grizzlies may have the greatest amount of depth at point guard in a few years. Behind Conley are Jerryd Bayless, Calathes and summer league standout Josh Akognon.
Essentially, Calathes may be considered the backup since Bayless often serves as a co-pilot to Conley. Bayless saw much of his time last season come with Conley on the court, particularly after the Rudy Gay trade. Calathes is closer to being a traditional point guard than Bayless, who handles the ball and shoots often.
As quoted by The Commercial Appeal, Conley expressed optimism that the Florida product could be a reliable reserve.
I think we finally did find that guy. He seems to be the one that’s going to be able to hold it down. I’ve been very impressed with him. He’s willing to work, willing to listen. He really knows the game well, a smart point guard. He can shoot the ball better than what people give him credit for.
Grizzlies president Jason Levien spoke highly of Calathes’ passing skills.
“I think Nick Calathes has a chance to be an exceptional passer at the NBA level, a ball distributor, and a guy who can add value. But he has work to do and he has to prove it first,” he told Grizzlies TV analyst Pete Pranica.
That the Grizzlies feel good about the position beyond Conley is a positive development. Their backups at the position have been as transient and temporary as Cleveland Browns quarterbacks of the last 10 years.
SB Nation’s Kelly Melvina tweeted a list of 12 Grizzlies backup point men from the past four seasons.
Respectable play from Calathes would prevent the Grizz from contemplating a late-season signing, like that of Keyon Dooling in March, so that they would have a steady pass-first player behind Conley.
Moreover, Calathes would assure that they wouldn’t be at a loss if the starter were to miss a few games due to injury.
Franklin starts slow
Fans expecting to see Jamaal Franklin play a great number of minutes should wait a while. Joerger signaled that he’ll give the rookie limited minutes to start the season. He told Pranica:
I think he’s going to make practice better. I think he’s going to compete. I think if I throw him into a game every 10 days, 12 days, he’s going to be, “I’m going to make you trust me.” We’ve worked on his jump shot, which is pretty self-correcting. The less he does, the better. He doesn’t have to go out and make plays—not on this team—just go out, compete, play defense, play off other guys.
This seems similar to the approach Lionel Hollins took. Rookies assumed minor roles and played sparse minutes. Darrell Arthur and Sam Young were the only Grizzlies first-year players who saw more than 15 minutes per game.
Joerger's tone indicates that Franklin will be in the same territory as Josh Selby and Tony Wroten, who appeared in less than half the games and received single-digit minutes. Saying that Franklin would be a practice man who competes appears to set low expectations for him.
Practice takes a lighter tenor in the regular season than beforehand. He likely won't light fires under more than anyone else would.
Franklin appeared low on the depth chart behind Tony Allen and Mike Miller. Joerger's comments on him confirm that the 41st overall pick needs to work his way to playing time.
Slowing down for Miller isn’t slowing down for others
Miller is the prototypical gym rat. He's known to take hundreds of shots in practice as a routine.
This has persisted even after dealing with injuries the past few years.
“It’s slowing down a little bit. I’ll make anywhere between five [hundred] and 700 threes a day. It’s becoming robotic for me. It used to be up there in the thousands,” Miller told Pranica.
Grizz fans may be both excited to see Miller practice as hard as ever and worried that he might wear down if he doesn't tone it down further. The 33-year-old missed 23 or more games in each of the past four seasons.
Memphis needs him to stay healthy and create three-point magic with Quincy Pondexter.
At the very least, he can fasten his body together in time to help the playoff effort, as he did last season by making nine of 10 three-pointers in the first three NBA Finals games.
Conclusion: No satisfaction after best season ever
The Grizzlies return with determination to go deeper after being swept in the Western Conference Finals by the San Antonio Spurs.
Conley told Pranica, “I don’t think we ultimately got over it. I think we used it as fuel to our fire.”
Conley batted down the suggestion that having the best season in franchise history and making the cover of Sports Illustrated satiated their desire. He told Pranica, “That was a crazy season, but it was kind of like it was all for naught at the end of the day. Our goals were much bigger than that."
Still, fans have reason to feel disappointed by a lack of pointed talk of winning a championship.
Conley and Zach Randolph talked in broad terms about winning. Bayless told Pranica about wanting to do better, which seems open-ended.
Robert Pera came the closest when he told Pranica, "With the Grizzlies, the goal is making a great basketball team and winning."
Great teams win championships, although some great ones, like the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers teams that lost in the NBA Finals, fall short.
Grizz fans should want their favorite team to be proud of their goal. Proclaiming their desire to win a title would demonstrate a longing to shake the league. Fortunately, this small-market team has eight months to stamp their ambitions with victories.