Memphian and avid San Antonio Spurs fan praises organization on female coaching hire

DALLAS — At approximately 12:30 p.m. on January 7, Stella Faye Adams walked inside what was an empty FedExForum.

What she witnessed shortly thereafter is something she admittedly will cherish for the rest of her life.

HISTORIC HIRE --- The San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday hired WNBA veteran point guard Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first, full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff. (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

HISTORIC HIRE — The San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday hired WNBA veteran point guard Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, making her the first, full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff. (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

An avid San Antonio Spurs fan, Adams got to meet future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, whom she deems her “favorite athlete of all time.”

As Adams recalls, meeting Duncan, a 14-time All-Star, for the first time following the team’s shootaround is something she had envisioned for quite some time. A native Memphian who has supported the Grizzlies since their move from Vancouver to Memphis, Adams has had a greater admiration for the Spurs, in large because the team has proven to be what she labels the “model organization of the NBA.”

TRADING PLACES --- Once Hammon, a 16-year veteran point guard, retires from the WNBA at season’s end, she is expected to immediately join Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff, working with the longtime San Antonio coach on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day happenings in practice.

TRADING PLACES — Once Hammon, a 16-year veteran point guard, retires from the WNBA at season’s end, she is expected to immediately join Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff, working with the longtime San Antonio coach on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day happenings in practice.

“When I met Tim Duncan, my favorite player of a time and the Spurs, I felt like I was on top of the world,” Adams told MemphiSport on Wednesday. “I couldn’t wait to show off my pictures. I remember saying to him that it was nice meeting you. Tim said to me that it was nice meeting you also and I couldn’t contain myself. He is such a humble person. I will never forget that moment.”

Adams became an even bigger fan of the NBA world champions when the team on Tuesday announced the hiring of 37-year-old Becky Hammon as an assistant. A veteran point guard for the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars, Hammon has become the first, full-time paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff.

The news of Hammon’s hiring was inspiring to Adams, a special education teacher at Kate Bond Elementary and cheerleading coach at the nearby middle school. According to Adams, Hammon’s unprecedented hiring has provided her and other women with lofty hopes of working their way through the ranks in their respective fields.

“This is definitely a sign of things to come,” Adams after learning of Hammon’s hiring. “You will see more females stepping out and trying something different whether it be in sports or something that is not expected of a female. She has inspired me to think outside the box. I will be exploring options whether it be in administration or in the community making a difference. I am going to use my education and experience to make myself even more marketable.”

A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon currently ranks fourth on the league’s all-time assist list. Once the 16-year veteran point guard retires from the WNBA at season’s end, she is expected to immediately join Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s staff, working with the longtime San Antonio coach on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day happenings in practice.

Like many women — whether sports fans or not — Adams, 42, will be among those tracking Hammon’s every move as she becomes acclimated in her new endeavor, one she believes undoubtedly has grasped the attention of other professional franchises.

TEAM SPURS --- Memphian Stella Faye Adams has been a fan of the San Antonio Spurs since Tim Duncan entered the NBA ranks. Adams, a cheerleading coach for Kate Bond Middle School, met Duncan for the first in January.

TEAM SPURS — Memphian Stella Faye Adams has been a fan of the San Antonio Spurs since Tim Duncan entered the NBA ranks. Adams, a cheerleading coach for Kate Bond Middle School, met Duncan for the first in January.

“I think that the Spurs as an organization is a trendsetter,” said Adams, when asked what was her initial reaction to Hammon’s hiring. “The things that they have done throughout the years makes them stand out. Allowing a female to come into the organization and share her expertise to males shows that it’s about the ability, not what you look like.”

As the Spurs, who open training camp in late September, look to defend their world title this upcoming season, Adams said the organization once again has given her and others a reason to support it, let alone some newfound enthusiasm, particularly with regards to the support and equality of women in corporate America.

“I was excited that they chose a female,” Adams said. “I believe she will bring some skills that will make the veteran players even better as a team. It’s makes me feel like I can step out and do something as unique as this.”

Having gone undrafted as a rookie following an All-American career at Colorado State, Hammon is in her 16th season and with her second WNBA team. She was signed by the New York Liberty in May 1999, enjoying a stellar rookie campaign while backing up starting point guard Teresa Witherspoon. Hammon spent seven seasons with the Liberty before being traded to the San Antonio Stars in April 2007.

En route to winning their fifth world championship in franchise history, the Spurs produced an NBA -best 60-20 record during the regular season and clinched the top seed in the postseason. San Antonio defeated the Miami Heat in five games in the NBA Finals.

ADreColumnndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, call him at 901-690-6587 or send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Zach Randolph on his future with the Grizzlies: ‘I’m dedicated to this team’

Zach Randolph has been in the NBA long enough to realize that with the playoffs comes a flurry of distractions.

Among the potential perplexities the Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise player is facing on this, the last day of regular season, is whether he intends on exercising his player option for next season.

DEVOTED VET --- Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to "stay a Grizzly." (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DEVOTED VET — Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to “stay a Grizzly.” (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Randolph, 32, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end, is in the third of a four-year, $71 million deal the former Michigan State star signed in April 2011. If Randolph returns to the Grizzlies for a sixth full season, the two-time All-Star would make around $16 million in 2014-15.

Following Wednesday morning’s shoot around as Memphis prepares to face the Dallas Mavericks in a nationally televised game at 7 p.m. CST in FedExForum, Randolph fielded questions about his future with the organization.

“No, I haven’t thought about that,” Randolph told MemphiSport when asked if he has thought about whether he will exercise his player option next year. “I’m still dedicated to this team, all day, every day.”

Selected with the 19th overall pick in 2001 by Portland, the 6-foot-9 Randolph was traded in July 2009 to the Grizzlies for Quentin Richardson and has since been the catalyst of a Grizzlies team that generated its highest winning percentage last year (.063) and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

And, after having blossomed into an All-Star caliber player with the Grizzlies following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, the 13-year-veteran on Wednesday reiterated that he wants to finish his career with the organization.

“I’m a Grizzly,” Randolph, the team’s leading scorer, said. “I want to stay a Grizzly. I haven’t even thought about (next season). I’m worried about the task at hand and that’s winning in these playoffs.”

Tied with Portland for the NBA’s longest winning streak (four games), the Grizzlies solidified a fourth consecutive playoff berth with 97-91 win Monday night at Phoenix.

Just as he’s done in recent years, Randolph, who averages 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game, has played a pivotal role in Memphis’ surge, particularly after the All-Star break.

Randolph appeared to be in playoff form when he scored a season-high 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting against the Suns, energy Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said his star big man must match if Memphis is to manufacture a deep postseason.

 

GAME CHANGER --- Randolph was a force in Monday's playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

GAME CHANGER — Randolph was a force in Monday’s playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

“That was a heckuva performance against Phoenix the other night,” Joerger said of Randolph. “He’s been such a problem for teams. You know, you have teams that want to take out of the perimeter, stretch him out, and make him play pick and roll. And with him, whether they’re putting two guys on him of whatever it may be, he’s been aggressive.”

What’s even more astounding, Joerger acknowledged, is how Randolph has steadfastly assumed the business-like approach in a year mired by distractions. In mid-December, for instance, Randolph became the subject of trade rumors in a reported deal that would have sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big man Ryan Anderson.

Then after the Suns inquired about Randolph just days before the All-Star break, the Grizzlies reportedly turned down the offer, thus removing Randolph from the trade block.

While Randolph has publicly said he was “hurt” over being rumored to be dealt, Joerger said the Grizzlies managed to play up to their identity during a critical stretch in the season, in large part because Randolph didn’t appear fazed by such talks.

“He’s been professional about it,” Joerger said. “He’s stayed focused. He’s been the consemate teammate. Guys go to him. He’s got a lot of advice, a lot of experience. It’s been more than just what people see on the court.”

Now that Randolph is starting to field questions once again about his future with the playoffs set to start this weekend, he contends his primary focus is the monumental task that awaits the upset-minded Grizzlies.

That is, a first-round date with either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.

“That’s a part of the business man,” Randolph said of the inquiries about his future. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity…injuries, guys going down, missing a lot of games. So that’s a part of the game. You just have to overcome stuff like that, stick together, and keep fighting.”

All day, every day.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Grizz Mike Miller to receive second championship ring in his return to Miami

SOUTH BEACH BOND --- Four-time league and two-time NBA Finals MVP LeBron James was among the players with whom former Miami Heat swingman Mike Miller enjoyed playing. Miller, now in his second stint with Memphis Grizzlies, returns to Miami Friday for the first time since helping the Heat win their third NBA crown last year. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

SOUTH BEACH BOND — Four-time league and two-time NBA Finals MVP LeBron James was among the players with whom former Miami Heat swingman Mike Miller enjoyed playing. Miller, now in his second stint with Memphis Grizzlies, returns to Miami Friday for the first time since helping the Heat win their third NBA crown last year. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Mike Miller has two notable words for the Miami Heat organization when he enters American Airlines Arena for shoot around Friday morning.

“Thank you,” the Memphis Grizzlies swingman said prior to the team’s light workout Thursday afternoon at its practice facility.

To get a clear indication of why Miller is so appreciative of Heat management, look no further than what has transpired in his career in recent years. Miller’s 14 NBA seasons include three years in Miami, a stint by which the 34-year-old veteran will remember for the rest of his life.

Miller was a member of the Heat squad that has won consecutive NBA championships and is a heavy favorite to three-peat this year.

Come Friday night, moments before the Grizzlies face the Heat at 6:30 CST, Miller will receive his second championship ring.

For Miller, a former University of Florida star, while he contends that Friday’s pregame presentation likely won’t give way to him being overcome by emotions, he said acquiring his second ring will prompt him to relish the memories he established during his brief tenure at South Beach.

Signed by the Grizzlies weeks after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in seven games for the franchise’s third NBA title, Miller played for Miami from 2010-2013. His three seasons with the Heat are comprised of 139 appearances, including 58 postseason outings. In addition, he made 21 starts, including 17 last year during which he averaged 15.3 minutes per game.

Arguably his grandest moment in a Heat uniform came during the 2012 NBA Finals against Oklahoma City when Miller scored 23 points on the strength of an NBA Finals record seven three pointers.

Miami went on to defeat the Thunder in five games, giving Miller his first championship.

In assessing his brief stint in Miami, Miller said among the things he deemed mostly intriguing was playing alongside four-time league and two-time Finals MVP LeBron James.

“It was a lot of fun,” Miller said. “To see how hard he worked was humbling. And to be a part of what he was doing was exciting. So it was a lot of fun, made your job a lot easier. I missed that part of it for sure.”

As for collecting more championship hardware before squaring off against his former teammates, Miller said more than anything, he hopes the much-anticipated exchange will inspire a Grizzlies team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year.

WALKING IN MEMPHIS --- Miller reunited with Grizzlies teammate Marc Gasol after signing with Memphis weeks after the Heat won the franchise's third world title. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

WALKING IN MEMPHIS — Miller reunited with Grizzlies teammate Marc Gasol after signing with Memphis weeks after the Heat won the franchise’s third world title. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“I think more than anything, it makes you hungry,” Miller said. “Once you get a taste of it…it’s actually worse than not winning it at all. My whole goal now is to find a way to get another one. I know it’s not going to be easy because I realize how hard it was just to get (to the NBA Finals) the last three years. And winning it was definitely hard. So it’s not going to be easy, but it’s definitely a mission of mine.”

If nothing else, Miller said the Grizzlies, after coming one round short of the NBA Finals last year, should view his pregame ring presentation as motivation, of sorts, as they continue to lobby for a playoff spot for a fourth consecutive year.

“They should be,” Miller said. “I think if they’re not, there’s something wrong. I feel it’s everybody’s goal to do that. You know, making the Western Conference Finals is a heckuva accomplishment. Just having that success should put a taste in their mouths to want to win a championship. But to make it to that next step, to the (NBA) Finals is harder, and winning a championship, it’s even harder than that.”

As Miller tells it, that he’s receiving his second championship ring Friday couldn’t have come at a better time now that he’s back with the Grizzlies (40-27), who currently own the seventh spot in the West with 15 regular-season games remaining.

It’s a great timing for this because it will inspire them,” Miller said. “Like I said, it’s the whole reason everyone’s out here. It’s the whole reason we put in all the hours now, to win at any level. When you see the championship and how it affects you as a person and player can only help.”

Come Friday night, the Mitchell, South Dakota native will not only show gratitude to his former employer for three memorable years, but he will be afforded the luxury of basking in championship glory.

Once again.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

OKC star Kevin Durant: ‘People may be happy we don’t have Westbrook’

Kevin Durant is only keeping it real.

When asked Tuesday afternoon how concerned he is about the health of point guard Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar was rather transparent and upfront with reporters.

BOUNCING BACK --- Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant said after Tuesday's shootaround in FedExForum that OKC has played efficient basketball in the absence of injured All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and he's glad the team's second-leading scorer will be back for the second half of the season. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

BOUNCING BACK — Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant said after Tuesday’s shootaround in FedExForum that OKC has played efficient basketball in the absence of injured All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and that he’s glad the team’s second-leading scorer will be back for the second half of the season. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“Not concerned at all,” Durant said following the Thunder’s shootaround in preparation for their game against the Memphis Grizzlies in FedExForum. “We’ve got guys that pride in what we’re do, guys that come out here and play hard. We’re not going to make excuses about what we do. We don’t have guys that make excuses. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. In fact, people may be happy we don’t have Westbrook.”

That Westbrook, the Thunder’s second-leading scorer, has been hampered off-and-on by injuries since late last season is nothing to new to Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer who had to steer the Thunder past the opening round of last year’s playoffs without the team’s star point guard. Westbrook has been sidelined since late December after having surgery on his right knee, a procedure that is expected to keep him out of the lineup until sometime after the All-Star break.

OKC has compiled a 5-4 mark since Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, sustained his latest injury on Christmas Day at the New York Knicks, although he managed to produce a triple-double in the game. After the team announced the next day that Westbrook would require surgery on the same knee he hurt in Game 1 of last year’s opening-round playoff game against Houston, Durant was among those who appeared optimistic the Thunder could remain just as competitive in Westbrook’s brief absence.

“It could be a lot worse, you know,” Durant said. “Thank God they said he’ll make a better recovery this time around. A lot could be worse, so we’re just focusing on the positives, knowing he’ll be healthy when he comes back. I’m worried about him getting healthy. Basketball will take care of itself, man.”

Last year, the Thunder entered the playoffs as the top-seeded team in the West and heavy favorites to return to the NBA Finals. However, after Westbrook injured his right knee when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley collided with him while attempting to steal, OKC beat the Rockets in six games before ultimately being eliminated by the Grizzlies in five games in the Western Conference semifinals.

Although he is roughly a month away from his likely return, Westbrook —- who isn’t required to speak with the media — made the trip to Memphis with the Thunder and sat alongside Durant after Tuesday’s shootaround with an ice pack draped over his knee.

What’s so inspiring this year, Durant said, is that the Thunder will have Westbrook back for what figures to be a pivotal stretch the second half of

Durant and the Thunder lost in six games to the Tayshaun Prince (left) and the Grizzlies in the semifinals of the Western Conference playoffs last year. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

Durant and the Thunder lost in six games to the Tayshaun Prince (left) and the Grizzlies in the semifinals of the Western Conference playoffs last year. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

the season. Heading into Tuesday night’s game at Memphis, OKC is currently tied with Portland for the NBA’s third-best record and trails first-place San Antonio by 1 ½ games for the top spot in the West.

In OKC’s previous visit to Memphis, Westbrook, appearing unaffected by a slight tear in his right meniscus he suffered last April, registered a game-high 27 points on 7-of-12 shooting in lifting the Thunder to a decisive 116-100 win against the Grizzlies.

“We’re a different team without Westbrook,” said Durant, who is averaging an NBA-best 29.6 points per game. “We know what we hang our hats on and that’s on the defensive end. We just want to play hard to be honest. You know, we can talk about X’s and O’s or how many shots this guy is taking. But it’s about playing hard. We might win every night, but we’re consistently playing hard. And that’s what it comes down to no matter who is on the court. Whether it’s Jeremy (Lamb), Reggie (Jackson), or Nick (Collison) or Steven (Adams), or Perry (Jones), it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to play hard and that’s what it boils down to. And I think we’ve been doing a good job of that.”

Also on Tuesday, Durant said he will play against the Grizzlies after missing practice the past couple of days while nursing a sore wrist he sustained after a hard fall last Saturday against visiting Milwaukee.

“I’m good,” Durant said. “I just took a little tumble. Everybody’s done that before.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

NBA veteran Courtney Lee aiming to make the most of his ‘fresh start’ for Grizzlies

FRESH START --- Veteran swingman Courtney Lee, who was acquired by the Grizzlies in a three-team trade Jan. 7, said he welcomes the challenge of helping Memphis compete for a playoff spot the second half of the season. Lee scored 12 points in 25-plus minutes in his Grizz debut Tuesday against San Antonio. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

FRESH START — Veteran swingman Courtney Lee, who was acquired by the Grizzlies in a three-team trade Jan. 7, said he welcomes the challenge of helping Memphis compete for a playoff spot the second half of the season. Lee scored 12 points in 25-plus minutes in his Grizz debut Tuesday against San Antonio. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Courtney Lee has a few New Year’s resolutions.

Nothing too complicated, however.

“It’s 2014, New Year, new start,” Lee, the newly-acquired Memphis Grizzlies swingman, said before Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns. “I’m on a different team, have different goals, so this is a fresh start.”

For Lee, a six-year veteran, his “fresh start” with the Grizzlies drew rave reviews from coach Dave Joerger and his staff following Tuesday night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Traded by Boston Jan. 7 in a three-team deal to the Grizzlies in exchange for combo guard Jerryd Bayless approximately 48 hours prior to Memphis’ game against the Spurs, Lee wasted little time making his presence felt, particularly during the Grizzlies’ second-half surge that enabled them to erase a 16-point deficit and force overtime.

Lee scored nine of his 12 points after intermission, including six points during the pivotal fourth. Among his clutch baskets was a fastbreak layup off an assist from Mike Conley with 1:35 left in the fourth that jumpstarted a key 9-0 spurt and eventually allowed in the Grizzlies to rally and to tie the contest in the waning moments.

By game’s end, Lee had registered 5-of-10 shots while playing 25-plus minutes, the third-most among Memphis’ reserves. As the former Western Kentucky star tells it, making the transition to a Grizzlies team that boasts lofty playoff aspirations is ideal at this stage in his NBA career. Among the reasons is that the 28-year-old Lee has yet to establish any sort of longevity with the four previous teams (Orlando, New Jersey, Houston, and Boston) for which he has played. His longest tenure, in fact, transpired in Houston, where he spent 23 months and nine days between August 2010 and July 2012.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m one of the missing pieces because Marc’s (Grizzlies center Gasol) been hurt,” said Lee, accessing his move from Boston to Memphis. “He’s a huge piece for the team. I just want to add on to anything the team’s doing, especially when they get Marc back. Coming from Boston was different because it was a rebuilding stage when I was over there and coming to a team that wants to win right now and win at a high level. So I want to be on a team that wants to win and make the playoffs and make noise in the playoffs. That’s the only difference.”

Upon his arrival to Memphis, the Indianapolis native received a warm welcome from his new — but familar — teammates, many of whom not only recall

Lee, now with his fifth NBA team, has appeared in 25 career postseason games during his six-year stint in the league.

Lee, now with his fifth NBA team, has appeared in 25 career postseason games during his six-year stint in the league.

his career-night two years ago when he scored 30 points against the Grizzlies while with the Nets, but sense the 6-foot-5 guard brings to the team an attribute it hasn’t enjoyed since the organization parted ways with Rudy Gay last January — someone who has the luxury of creating his own shot and provide Memphis with some much-needed instant offense in the backcourt.

“It always different when you see one of your teammates get traded away,” Conley said. “Obviously, you want to see them succeed wherever they go. But getting Courtney Lee was big for us. He’s a very good fit. He plays defense. He scores. Whatever the team needs him to do. He did a little bit of everything the last game, so hopefully we’ll get more of the same from him here on out. I think he adds something to our team that we haven’t had in a long time. He’s a guy who obviously can create his own shot, but he also isn’t afraid to take and make big shots. He’s a veteran. He knows the ins and outs of the game. Hopefully, when we get back on track and make that playoff push, we’ll see more.”

Lee, who has appeared in 25 career postseason games, welcomes the challenge of aiding a Grizzlies team that is currently four games back for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

That, he said, is just one of his few New Year’s resolutions.

“Everybody has new resolutions every year,” said Lee, who scored eight points on 2-of-6 shooting in 28-plus minutes in Friday night’s 104-99 win against the Suns in FedExForum. “I just want to help this team win and make the playoffs.”

Nothing too complicated, however.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Spurs star Tim Duncan on retiring from NBA: ‘I’m going to play it day by day’

Tim Duncan fielded the question as if he expected it.

 

STILL AIMING HIGH --- San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan hasn't shown any signs of a slowing down during an NBA career that spans 16-plus seasons. The 37-year-old Duncan said Tuesday he isn't sure when he will call it a career with a Spurs team that is destined to return to the NBA Finals this year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

STILL AIMING HIGH — San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan hasn’t shown any signs of a slowing down during an NBA career that spans 16-plus seasons. The 37-year-old Duncan said Tuesday he isn’t sure when he will call it a career with a Spurs team that is destined to return to the NBA Finals this year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I’m going to play it day by day,” the San Antonio Spurs superstar said following Tuesday’s shootaround in FedExForum, when asked how much longer he plans to play professional basketball. “I don’t know what the end of the year will bring. I don’t know what next year will bring. But I’m going to enjoy every game out there, knowing that it’s coming to an end.”

While the 37-year-old Duncan hasn’t shied away from discussing his NBA future, he appears to be in the best shape of a Hall-of-Fame career that spans 16-plus seasons. Duncan, to his credit, was the catalyst last year of a San Antonio team that came within seconds of capturing its fifth world championship since the 14-time All-Star was drafted No. 1 overall by the Spurs out of Wake Forest in 1997.

Having averaged the most minutes (30.1) in three years, Duncan registered 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.7 blocks per game last year in helping the Spurs to the NBA Finals, where they lost in the decisive Game 7 to the Miami Heat. Add to the fact that Duncan shot an impressive 50.2 percent from the field and a career-best 81.7 percent from the free throw line, and it’s no wonder a number of his peers contend that the 6-foot-11, Saint Croix, U. S. Virgin Island native hasn’t shown any indications he’s ready to call it quits.

“Man, how can you tell a guy to hang it up that’s averaging 17 and 10…18 and 10?” Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said of Duncan. “Tim can play until he’s 44 if he wants to. He’s one of the greatest of all time, hands down, period. He’s the type of guy you look up to and pattern your game after because he’s not a super athletic guy. He’s not a high-flyer. He plays off skills.”

During the Spurs’ remarkable postseason run last year, Duncan certainly performed as if he was in his prime. Displaying such poise and resilience that enabled him to evolve into one of the NBA’s premiere power forwards, Duncan witnessed his numbers soar significantly during the season’s latter stages as he logged 20.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per contest for a San Antonio team that swept the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. He was especially dominant during the NBA Finals much like when he engineered the Spurs to four NBA titles during an eight-year stretch between 1999 and 2007.

No doubt, he was the biggest reason San Antonio was seconds away from dethroning the Heat, particularly with his epic Game 6 performance, when he went on a tear by scoring 30 points and 17 rebounds, although the upset-minded Spurs sputtered in the waning seconds.

“We had another opportunity (in Game 7) to win it,” said Duncan, recalling his mindset after the Spurs had squandered a five-point lead over the game’s final 28 seconds. “That’s all that mattered at that point. We didn’t want to talk about what we had given away or what position we were in. We had another opportunity. We just came up short. But honestly, we gave it our all and we’re happy with that.”

If there were questions swirling as to whether Duncan’s effectiveness had been reduced for an NBA veteran, he silenced

Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph (right) was highly complentary of Duncan following Tuesday's shootaround. Randolph said the 14-time All-Star is not only one of the best players to ever play the game, but he's one after whom he patterns his game. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph (right) was highly complementary of Duncan following Tuesday’s shootaround. Randolph said the 14-time All-Star is not only one of the best players to ever play the game, but he’s one after whom he patterns his game. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

an array of critics last year, particularly when it mattered most — on the NBA’s grandest stage.

“Tim will play as long as he thinks he’s helpful to the team,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has coached Duncan since he entered the NBA. “You know, that’s what he said to me. He really enjoys the competitiveness. He enjoys being around the guys. He likes the challenges. He really takes care of himself well. You know, he watches what he puts in his body as you can see just looking at him. As long as he feels he can help this team, he’ll be playing. If he feels he can’t do that, he’ll be the first guy to walk off the court.”

Duncan, just as he’s done on numerous occasions during his illustrious career, aided San Antonio mightily Tuesday night. He scored a 13 of his team-high 24 points (10 points better than his season average) in the second half for the Spurs, who outlasted the Grizzlies, 110-108, in overtime, despite squandering a 16-point second-half lead.

Whether the two-time NBA MVP will walk away from the game for good at season’s end is anybody’s guess. As Duncan tells it, however, his primary focus is not on how much longer his 230-pound frame can hold up with his 38th birthday just three months away, but rather he’s concentrating on savoring what’s left of an NBA career that will culminate with him being christened a Hall of Famer.

Asked how he would like his legacy to be remembered if he retires after this season, Duncan once again fielded the question as if he expected it.

“My legacy will write itself,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what I think of it. I’m just going to go out and play every night and see what happens from there.”

Judging by his display Tuesday night for a Spurs squad that boasts the NBA’s third-best record, it’s safe to assume Duncan still has gas in that 37-year-old tank.

More than people realize.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Marc Gasol’s first comments following his MRI diagnosis

On Friday, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol injured his knee in a game against the San Antonio Spurs.

On Saturday, Gasol underwent an MRI which revealed a “MCL sprain in his left knee.”

On Sunday, he got on Twitter to make his first public comments since his injury and to quote The Terminator:Gasol will be backSEE ALSO: Grizzlies reserve center Kosta Koufos is ‘ready’ to replace the injured Marc Gasol

Twitter: @cerrito
Email: kevin@memphisport.com

Grizzlies rookie head coach Dave Joerger is a familiar face with a new voice

FAMILIAR FACE, NEW VOICE --- Dave Joerger, after serving as Lionel Hollins' lead assistant the previous four-plus seasons, was promoted to head coach of the Grizzlies in June. Memphis opens the season Wednesday night at San Antonio in a rematch of the Western Conference Finals. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

FAMILIAR FACE, NEW VOICE — Dave Joerger, after serving as Lionel Hollins’ lead assistant the previous six seasons, was promoted to head coach of the Grizzlies in June. Memphis opens the season Wednesday night at San Antonio in a rematch of the Western Conference Finals. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Roughly an hour into the Memphis Grizzlies’ recent Media Day festivities, new head coach Dave Joerger walked into the media hospitality room in FedExForum and was immediately met by a throng of reporters, many of whom were eager to find out if he has assumed what they deem a “new voice” since he was named the franchise’s 11th head coach in late June.

Without hesitation, Joerger alluded to his predecessor, former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, whom he admittedly has been extremely supportive in aiding him to make the lofty transition to coaching a Grizzlies team that came within four games of advancing to the NBA Finals last year.

“I love coaching,” Joerger said with a smile. “I really do. To have the opportunity to be an (assistant) coach for 350 games helps me feel comfortable with my voice. And, at the same time, Lionel gave me a lot of latitude to coach the defense, to run drills, to be out on the floor. He encouraged all of coaches to do well. He delegated very well and, as a young guy coming up, that makes you feel confident.”

Whether the 39-year-old Joerger will savor the kind of success he had as an assistant under Hollins the previous six seasons remains a mystery for Memphis, which opens the season Wednesday night at defending Western Conference champion San Antonio at 7:30 p.m. CST. However, given a solid professional coaching resume that includes a number of championships in the minor leagues, Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera is convinced the organization has found the guy who is capable of ensuring the Grizzlies remain a serious contender to vie for the Larry O’Brien trophy this year and beyond.

“He’s a young guy, he’s hands on,” Pera said of Joerger. “He’s won championships at different levels. When we were interviewing coaches in the summer, I got to know him. And we talked about building a selfless team, a cohesive team with a great culture. We talked about his approach to the great defense he built and also about getting more efficient on offense.”

The Grizzlies, despite enjoying a 2012-13 campaign in which they manufactured the highest winning percentage (.683) in franchise history with a 56-26 mark, was 22nd in the league in offensive efficiency, one of a several notable issues the organization aspired to address after it parted ways with Hollins, whose contract was not renewed after coaching Memphis from 2009-2013. With the key offseason additions of rookie Jamaal Franklin — who will likely back up veteran point guard Mike Conley, former Denver Nuggets big man Kosta Koufos (who was traded to Memphis for Darrell Arthur), and the return of veteran small forward Mike Miller, among others, many within the Grizzlies organization believe the team essentially has upgraded its roster from a year ago.

“We feel this is a team that could do something special,” Conley, the longest tenured Grizzly now in his sixth season, said. “I was telling someone earlier that I think we quietly had a very productive offseason and I think the guys we got fit our team.”

Conley and Co. also believe Joerger is a right fit to steer the Grizzlies. Among the reasons is that as Hollins’ lead assistant

the previous two seasons, Joerger was among those credited for helping Memphis emerge as one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. The biggest question, however, that loomed mostly throughout training camp and the preseason is whether his coaching transformation process will include demonstrating the ability to be unrelenting, let alone challenging his players intensely when necessary.

In other words, does the usual muffled Jeorger have what it takes to rip into this veteran bunch much like his predecessor?

“I think the biggest challenge is him trying to take the lead coaching role,” Conley said. “Sometimes, he’ll have to rip some guys’ heads off and yell at them…something different than what he was as an assistant. He didn’t have that voice as much as Lionel did, but now he has that chance to really go after some guys and challenge some people and we expect him to do that.”

Regardless of how vocal or unyielding Joerger becomes, his players — from the rookies to the veterans — don’t shy away from the notion that he has the respect and full support of his team.

Especially respect.

“Coach got the respect from all the players that’s been here,” said 12-year-veteran Zach Randolph, now in his fifth season with the Grizzlies. “Me, Marc (Gasol), and so on. You know, this is coach’s first year, and he knows he’s got a lot of eyes on him. But from a team aspect, he’s not going to have a problem out of anyone trying to disrespect what he’s trying to do. I’m the easiest person to get along with.

“This is a players’ league and we treat everybody with respect. This isn’t about tough love. We’re coachable, so we do

NEXT IN LINE --- Despite coaching the Grizzlies to a franchise best 56-26 record and their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals last year, that wasn't enough to save Hollins' job. Hollins was replaced by his Jeorger, his former top assistant to whom he still offers head-coaching advice.

NEXT IN LINE — Despite coaching the Grizzlies to a franchise best 56-26 record and their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals last year, that wasn’t enough to save Hollins’ job. Hollins was replaced by Jeorger, his former top assistant to whom he still offers head-coaching advice.

what they tell us to do just like with coach Hollins.”

As the new-look Grizzlies prepare to raise the curtain on what many hope is season in which they overachieve much like a year ago, Joerger relishes the fact that he has been afforded the monumental challenge that awaits him, one that will surely call for him to exhibit his revamped voice now that he’s the main man in charge.

“Well, getting any opportunity to coach any NBA team is a privilege, something anybody would want,” Joerger said. “It’s truly a blessing for me. I think I have a really good group of guys. It’s an easy group to work with. They care about each other. Those things have to continue. We feel like we have some talent. We’re a tough team, a tough out. We’ll play hard every single night. We display passion both home and away. And we hope our home court continues to be an advantage for us.”

Even if he finds himself ripping into players, a component that comes with inheriting the proverbial head-coaching role.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Mike Conley following the Western Conference Finals: ‘We will be back’

Photo by Justin Ford

Photo by Justin Ford

The historic run by the Memphis Grizzlies came to end after the San Antonio Spurs swept the Grizzlies 4 games to none.  Some people will make jokes about how the Grizzlies got swept, but that is not how most of the Grizzlies players and fans are looking at it.

When Lionel Hollins arrived as the head coach, he had to change the attitude and chemistry of the team.  This off season will dictate the immediate future of the franchise.  The two building blocks of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will be back on the team next season.  However, there are still questions about Tony Allen and Zack Randolph.

Here are the Grizzlies in their own words:

Tony Allen:  “I BLEED BLUE”

  • If you are not back here next year, how do you see the transition for next year?

“It is all in God’s hands, I bleed blue.  One thing I have done is, I’ve made a name for myself  a lot of teams around the league know who I am.  I am focused on being here.  I have built relationships with the guys.  I mean real bond with the guys.  I’ve showed the guys what that grit and grind is all about.  It will be hard to leave the city, where they have shown me so much love.”

  • How special has this year been for you?

“It has been great one.  We lost “Double D” (Dana Davis) and I know he was looking down on us.  I think everything that took off for us.  I am happy with the season we had.  There is no reason to hold our heads down.  We fought hard. We showed the city what winning is all about.  It is just unfortunate to lose four in a row.”

  • On the Grizzlies fans:

“They are the best sixth man of the year.  They have been with us from day one every since I got here.  The fans have always shown us love and we would not have been here without them.  Salute to the fans.”

  • Did you get a cut from all of the growl towel slogans you suggested?

“I really did not care about money or nothing like that.  I just felt like my presence and laying down the foundation on how to win games on the defensive end.  The Grit and Grind should forever live forward in the Grindhouse aka the FedExForum.  I’ve got to thank Chris Wallace in showing to give me that vision.”

Mike Conley:  “WE WILL BE BACK!!!”

  • Describe the love that this city gave you and you give them.

“This city has been great.  They have to endure the good and the bad and they have stuck with us.  They are loyal. They have been there for us.  It means the world to us. I am proud of them for being there to push us through and supporting us when we were not good.  It is tough on us on letting them down.  We will be back.”

  • This team is known for their defense, why were you not able to contain Tony Parker?

“He was in a zone they play so well together.  Any adjustment we made they made another one.  We played well for 18 seconds on the shot clock and he would make a play.  That is why he is one of the best and they are heading to the finals.”

Zack Randolph,I WANT TO RETIRE A GRIZZLY

  • How does it feel to know that it is over?

“It is difficult.  I don’t know what to say they beat us.  The two overtime games could have went either way.  It could have easily being tied up.  We gave it 110 percent.  You have got to take your hats off to the Spurs they have a great team from their bench to their starting five.”

“The city has been great. This ride has been great I hate that it ended like this, but we got to keep our heads up for the things we accomplished for the city and the organization.  Hopefully this core will stay in place and we are able to add a few more pieces some shooters and some depth.”

Marc Gasol: “TOMORROW WILL BE A BETTER DAY!”

  • What were the Spurs doing to keep you from cutting their lead?

“They were getting stops and they were executing well offensively.  They made some tough stops and ran when they had to.”

  • What can you take from this series?

“Tomorrow will be a better than it is right now.  We wanted to win and play another game.  We were not able to put it out.  We played and hustled, but we did not have enough to get over the hump.  They taught us a lesson on how to execute.  We are going to create habits that will work for us”

Coach Lionel Hollins

  • Question: When you came here came here you were able to put your stamp on this team?

“Every coach tries to establish an identity with a team and try to get a team to buy into it.  What I am proud of is I was blessed to have a group that wanted to win.  They did not know how, because they were young.  They did not know how to work hard, because they have never had to.  I tried to show them the way and to put them in an environment that they could be successful.  They did not come smiling saying that great, this is great they came they were kicking and scratching not to do it, because it is easier to do it in a manner which is easier.  They could have chosen to quit and rebel as well, but they choose to fight and they are reaping the rewards for us right now.”

Terry Davis is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him @terryd515.

Western Conference Finals Game 4: Photo Recap

Though the Grizzlies’ epic ride came to a disappointing end last night against the Spurs, the season was still one to be remembered. Check out some of the best pictures of people using the #GrizzNation hashtag at Monday night’s game.

(For photos of celebrities at Game 4 of Spurs vs. Grizzlies, click here)

(For Mark Cuban and other celebs react to the end of the Grizzlies’ franchise-best season, click here)


 

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