Thursday, January 25, 2018

Memphis has your Tyreke Evans solution


Everyone on the Grizzlies wants to be there, which is something we’re going to have to get used to. Outsiders can’t help but dig in, an encouragement that seems to run through the spine of Memphis.

The spirit will cross over, even in this interim year. The Grizzlies don’t lie down for full seasons, status demands they won’t settle even settle in on a few quarters. If J.B. Bickerstaff can’t make eye contact, Marc Gasol will.

Four wins in the seven most recent tries, a full Mickey Mantle jersey out of the Western playoff bracket with never enough to games to play. Nobody’s watching, but nobody ever has: Memphis is used to getting over.

The league the Grizzlies play in works a part in all this, it seems to need constant reminding of why the game is (this) close. Memphis is still the same place that got the pinched nose treatment from too many NBA-types in 2001, when it came time to tour and eventually debut the city as major degree and sound.

Pau had to be sent to the new team in Tennessee because he didn’t know any better, the kid probably couldn’t even handle the Hawks. Jason Williams was only traded into town as cosmic punishment, his Sacramento ways stirring Hank Iba to reach for a spare roll of Tums in the hereafter. And Hubie must have said something, to someone, to end up here after such a long time.

The league couldn’t turn it into an outpost, though, and Memphis wouldn’t allow for slumming.

The minute Pau got nervy, he was out. Allen Iverson’s attempts to use the team as his own, personal 24-hour fitness outpost were rewarded with a one-way Lionel Trains ticket in return – this place has been dealing with his booth-to-booth crap since the laws changed in 1969.

Tony Allen had no choice but to leave his associations up north. Zach Randolph was informed, almost immediately upon arrival, that the bush league crap he pulled in the Double-A stops in New York and Los Angeles was not gonna fly in Tennessee. Go buy a Charger, maybe even a Challenger, but get ready for work on Monday.

Everyone digs in, or it stands out. Memphis stands astride the part of the country where everything meets, where everyone shares, and it’s kindly requested of every visitor that they shouldn’t dare upset the balance. With bad vibes, or weak rotations.

The problem is that the great Grizzlies were capped even before things started. A top-ten payroll churned heavy in Grit and Grind’s first playoff season in 2010-11, and salaries in the max bracket tend to have rather high growth and sustainability. Everything always had to break right, for these Grizz, and the franchise decided that 2017-18 needed to be broken down into compartments.

You can tell. The hustle is familiar, but the punters need a scorecard, Randolph and Allen are gone, Mike Conley out for all but a dozen games with a bum Achilles. Chandler Parsons wears pre-torn jeans just so everyone can have a look at where the doctor has been.

Something or other cost David Fizdale his job earlier in 2017-18, J.B. Bickerstaff runs the team in comparatively anonymous fashion, and at half the league’s minimum salary, finally, Tyreke Evans has become the team’s most important player.

This recognition is hardly a dismissal of Marc Gasol – even at the age of 32, nobody fills nearly as many mop threads. In times of storm and stress, though, even the most overarching between-note contributions can pale in comparison to cold, hard, usage. Someone’s got to count this shit off.

Mike Conley grins in civvies, but he recently told David Aldridge that it’s proven tough to find joy in a basketball-less winter. The NBA isn’t as much fun when you don’t get to play in it anymore, and Mike sounds like a man who misses doing his job.

“If I’m not out there,” the point guard told Aldridge, “I’m just completely unhappy about everything else.” He turned 30 in October, and he’s aware that his life has curves now.

“I’ve lost something from this.”


Memphis hasn’t. Memphis has not. The team has won 10 games under Bickerstaff.

Sometimes guys are interims until something clicks and they shed the tag, and it wasn’t that long ago that the Grizzlies’ interim head coach was the NBA’s next great coaching prospect. Every job is available in this league if you stay on the job, and J.B. Bickerstaff is perhaps better suited to realize this than anyone else in this league’s history.

His father ran a team, Bernie straight up ran the top-to-bottom Nuggets for years, and for his troubles he was made the first coach in Charlotte Bobcats history – J.B. was his assistant. Nobody outruns an expansion gig, Bickerstaff and Son probably knew it the minute they showed up to Charlotte and saw Jahidi White trying to touch his toes.

Bickerstaff is aware of how much time is left in the season, how he’s got a culture to continue and a fuller Wikipedia page to develop.

After the half-there Spurs whupped the Grizz on Wednesday for San Antonio’s second win in as many nights, J.B. excitedly praised the Spurs for the team’s ability to “play for a higher purpose,” lamenting delicately the concept that “playing the right way” is at times “unique to the NBA.”

It isn’t, but the Spurs tend to stick out, and J.B. Bickerstaff has a lot of points to make in just two-thirds of an interim season. He’s got a culture that preceded him to steer, with Mario Chalmers as vicar.

Monday’s enveloping comeback win over Philadelphia allowed the coach a little projecting as reward:

“What you see happening now is a group of guys with one goal who feel as if their back is up against the wall. They’re a group of guys who feel like they’ve been counted out and they’ve been slighted. They’re a prideful group of tough-minded guys.”

Monday’s Sixer win was a borderline farce, a poorly-refereed run that spared no side. Philly hit its head on an exposed drain about midway through a 15-point lead – needless turnovers and actual NBA minutes lost to playing junk defense.

The Grizzlies cared thismuch. The club could have let the sneering Sixers and the shitty referee work get to them, prior to two and a half quarters of trying to get shots up, but instead the workers looked ahead.

Toward not letting anyone down. Tyreke Evans kept the game at a pro level, Marc Gasol was rousted late to help settle the stew, the lid was too big but nothing stuck to the bottom.


You’ve seen Tyreke before, back in Sacramento when he was gifted with all the looks he can handle, but this turn isn’t as craven. Bad habits remain but only briefly: Evans can’t stick and call for the ball in Memphis, Grizzlies won’t let him.

The 28-year old isn’t fully suited for the Gasol style, but that’s of no concern to anyone involved – his $3.2 million deal expires this summer. Evans has been trade bait all season, and surely some other team needs a Sprewell to sop up minutes off the bench, to take possessions away from reserve point guards on their seventh team.

Why not Evans?

He’s at 19.4 points in 31 minutes, cranking out an assist rate at Goran Dragic’s eyebrow level, shooting more three-pointers than ever and splashing at 38.8 percent. His turnovers have dipped sharply, marvelous considering the increased workload and unfamiliar movement. You try looking sprightly after a career spent on the Kings and Pelicans.

It’s a genuine rebirth, one that can’t be explained away by the preponderance of shots available. Tyreke Evans looks like an ex-Grizzly, already.


Nick Anderson was strong in 1997-98, piling on for 15.3 points in 29.3 minutes on an Orlando Magic team that averaged eighty-seven point one possessions per game under coach Chuck Daly. This year’s Grizzlies, ranked dead last in the NBA, average six and a half more.

It was a comeback season for player and team. The Magic’s legs had been deadened by Shaquille O’Neal’s departure, Anfernee Hardaway’s crumbling cartilage, and those four passes that Rony Seikaly endeavored in 1996-97.

Nick Anderson played 2163 minutes that season, Shaq’s first in Los Angeles, and he made 38 free throws in 93 attempts. This wasn’t just a case of the yips, left over from his goner turn from the charity stripe in the 1995 Finals: Nick knew that his stroke was difficult to begin with, Chicago from start to finish.  

Mindful of his range, Anderson started leaning left and firing long two-pointers. He used his butt and a bit of hang-time and, famously, dropped 30 on Shaq’s new team on a national network with just seven Seinfeld episodes left:

Those fin de siècle Magic weren’t rebuilding, they even won a pointless division title in 1999 with Anderson and Daly around. Nick played through his prime in Orlando before pairing up with buddy Jason Williams in Sacramento, following him to the end in Memphis. He never asked out of anywhere.

Tyreke Evans has the flu, now, and his team has a factor to figure out for someone else. A trading partner has to pair its own isolation instincts with Evans’ burgeoning insistence on playing like a Grizzly, because his next hit won’t come on a team that leaves him alone out there. Evans can’t help but hit the open man, not all his instincts sing Sacramento.

Is that worth the first rounder? No general manager wants to be on the wrong side of a deal for 30 games of Tyreke Evans, that joke is always going to dangle, but sometimes these springs are very much worth it. Especially if your culture isn’t confounding, Evans will respond well to a clubhouse’s sense of self.

The Grizzlies don’t figure to be in blow-up mode anytime soon. There’s too much to straighten out, so many voices involved that have been waiting too long, and two cornerstones that don’t figure to be easily transplantable.

The challenge is really for Tyreke, he’s warmed to the scrutiny as Memphis’ season dipped down the rankings, he doesn’t fit in seamlessly among this group of movers, but he looks to.

This would seem to bode well for a new address, a condo that you can rent through spring. With a new team, though, come marks that tick back to zero, Evans would be starting over with a game that needs some warming up.

The postseason moves those marks back to nil all over again, and for a player that was encouraged to lean into numbers from an early age, pick a level, the insistence on doing it all in one possession might get to him. All eyes on one shot, Tyreke, don’t drift too far.

Until anyone moves, though, understand that Memphis has settled him. The eye-contact works a possession at a time, the movement suits his progression.

Memphis keeps doing that to people.

DON’T EXPLAIN

The words, which Billie Holiday wrote, don’t matter. Listen to how she presents each of her notes, dexterous in ways that typically require ten fingers.

Each breath gives just enough to knock the ball in the pocket, and leave an angle for two more (that just the table can see).

The hits are so dry, and I don’t mean parched – free of reverberation, vibrato, nonsense, reflex. So helplessly lyrical.

Maybe that’s where the words come back in. Nobody knows how to handle any of this, better than her.