Join MSL and HardBashin producer CJ Hurt and Sports 56 producer and WUMR Sports Desk host Drew Barrett as they take you on a sports odyssey full of twists, turns, and a good time during MSL‘s Playing Hurt Podcast.
Join MSL and HardBashin producer CJ Hurt and Sports 56 producer and WUMR Sports Desk host Drew Barrett as they take you on a sports odyssey full of twists, turns, and a good time during MSL‘s Playing Hurt Podcast.
NBA SOUTHWEST DIVISION REPORT
DALLAS — As far as Tyson Chandler is concerned, it’s the “little things” that matter.
Such was the case when Chandler in June was traded back to the Dallas Mavericks after a three-year absence from the team.
Within hours after news spread of his return to the organization, Chandler fielded text messages and emails from close acquaintances with whom he established close-knit bonds during his lone season with the team in 2010-11.
It was, in fact, a memorable campaign for Chandler, considering the 13-year-veteran helped propel Dallas to its first world championship in franchise history when the Mavericks upset the heavy-favorite Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals.
So it was no surprise that within days upon his return to the Mavericks, the city of Dallas showed their appreciation to the All-Star center by posting a picture of Chandler wearing a Mavs jersey on an electronic billboard near American Airlines Center that reads: WELCOME BACK, TYSON!
A career that includes stints with Chicago, New Orleans, Charlottle, and New York, Chandler said returning to Dallas has brought about a feeling he describes as “surreal.”
“It feels great to be back,” Chandler said during Monday’s Media Day session at American Airlines Center. “At first, it was surreal. I was a visitor for the last three years. But it’s great to be back and see familiar guys.”
While addressing reporters, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said virtually everywhere he’s gone of late, Chandler emerged as the center of conversation.
“He’s the most popular one-year player of any franchise in the history of professional sports,” Carlisle jokingly said of Chandler. “In fact, at a couple of speaking engagements I’ve had over the past couple of weeks, I said, ‘Tyson Chandler’s back.’ And folks go crazy. He’s the kind of guy that you can’t help but love to watch because of his approach and enthusiasm. You know, he’s winner.”
Not to mention a fan favorite, given the courtesies he’s acquired since his unexpected return to Big D.
Because of the favorable impression Chandler left with the team three years ago, it’s safe to assume both sides were grateful to rekindle after Chandler announced six months after the Mavs’ title run that he had agreed to a four-year deal with the New York Knicks worth a reported $58 million.
Acquired by Dallas on July 13, 2010 in exchange for Matt Carroll, Erick Dampier, and Eduardo Najera, Chandler started 74 regular season games for the Mavs, averaging 10.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 27.8 minutes per game.
He was especially efficient during the team’s title run, particularly as the centerpiece on the defensive end, where he was forced to occupy more minutes because of the injury to backup center Brendan Haywood.
Having started in each of the Mavs’ 21 postseason games, Chandler averaged 32.4 minutes, his best outing coming in Game 4 of the NBA Finals when he registered 13 points and 16 rebounds to help Dallas even the series.
While Chandler admittedly didn’t know what to expect during his first run with the Mavs, he doesn’t shy away from the notion that much is expected of him this time around.
“Obviously, having been here and winning a championship, the expectations are a little different,” Chandler said. “There are a bunch of new faces. But the motivation is still the same. And the expectations within me are still the same if not more.”
Among those who appears mostly intrigued by Chandler’s return is Mavs franchise player Dirk Nowitzki. In July, Nowitzki restructured his contract, thus allowing the team to acquire a number of key players, most notably Chandler, Chandler Parsons (from Houston), and Jameer Nelson (from Orlando).
“I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Nowitzki said of Chandler. “Obviously, the chemistry was there a few years ago, so I’m not worried about.”
As the Mavs open training camp Tuesday morning, among the key challenges for Carlisle is to devise ways to distribute minutes for a roster that boasts immense depth. Conversely, Carlisle acknowledges because of the key offseason acquisitions, much of the pressure won’t fall solely on Nowitzki to generate the bulk of the offense and on Chandler to steer the Mavs defensively.
Dallas opens preseason play October 7 when it hosts Houston. The Mavs’ season-opener is October 28 at defending NBA champion San Antonio.
“We’ll make sure (Chandler’s) minutes are reasonable, because we don’t want to overtax anybody too soon,” Carlisle said.
Regardless of how the Mavs choose to utilize Chandler this season, one thing is seemingly for certain: The smile he exhibited Monday while addressing the assembled media was indicative of just how delightful he is to have landed back at his old stomping ground.
“It’s so funny because I only spent one year here and everybody thinks I’ve spent my entire career here,” Chandler said. “You know, everybody thinks I was here four or five or six years. But it was just one, long, really incredible year.”
A year Mavs fans will never forget.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to email@example.com. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
Andre 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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
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.”
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
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.
Tim Duncan fielded the question as if he expected it.
“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
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.
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:SEE ALSO: Grizzlies reserve center Kosta Koufos is ‘ready’ to replace the injured Marc Gasol
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.
“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
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.