2014 M Awards: Moment We Would Most Like To Forget

sad baby twoApparently there are four moments Memphis sports fans would like to forget. There is a tie for third, just like this year’s Most Memorable Moments category.  Something tells me it will take Memphians a while to forget this terrible moments in Memphis sports history.

Z-Bo “punching” Steven Adams, First Place: 21%
UCF’s 2 TDs in 9 seconds during the 4th quarter to prevent what would’ve been a huge Memphis Football victory, Second Place: 19%
Marc Gasol injuring his MCL, Third Place (tie):16%
Tigers getting blown out by OK State, Third Place (tie): 16%

Visit MemphiSport.com daily in the month of July for a new winner in MemphiSport’s annual M Awards presented by the 17th Annual Sports Ball Black-Tie Tennis Shoe Gala.

MORE WINNERS: VIEW ALL OF THE M AWARDS WINNERS ANNOUNCED SO FAR

LISTEN:  2014 M AWARDS NOMINATIONS SPECIAL

SPORTS BALL: BUY TIX TO THE SPORTS BALL BLACK-TIE TENNIS SHOE GALA BENEFITING BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS

#MAwards2014

 

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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.

Grizzlies rush to LeBron’s defense in his decline to meet with St. Jude patient

Memphis Grizzlies veteran swingman Mike Miller joined the Miami Heat the same year LeBron James bolted Cleveland for South Beach.

FULL PLATE --- Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with St. Children's Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

FULL PLATE — Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

Among the things Miller deemed mostly intriguing about James is how he often went out of his way to give back to the community.

“He’s about as giving as I’ve ever seen,” Miller said of James.

 

Which, of course, is why Miller was among those who sensed there was more to James’ decision in declining to meet earlier this week with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient Josh Hardy as reported by Memphis’ WREG News Channel 3.

Hardy was a recipient of St. Jude’s Make A Dream Come True. Among his wishes was to attend Wednesday night’s Heat versus Grizzlies game so he could watch James, his favorite player, in action. However, after a request by WREG through a Heat media relations representative to have James meet with Hardy, the two-time reigning league MVP reportedly declined the inquiry.

Still, Hardy was among the 18,000-plus witnesses in attendance and sat in a luxury suite to watch Memphis outlast the two-time defending champs, 107-102, and keep alive its playoff hopes.

Though Hardy didn’t get to meet James, he was given paraphernalia by the Grizzlies organization and got to meet Quincy Pondexter, his favorite player on the team.

Pondexter, the Grizzlies reserve shooting guard who is sidelined with a season-ending tarsal navicular stress fracture in his right foot he suffered in a December 7 game against Golden State, sat with Hardy during the game and gave him a basketball that was signed by his teammates.

Grizzlies All-Star power forward Zach Randolph was among the players who autographed Hardy’s basketball, although he said he wasn’t aware that James had declined to meet with the St. Jude patient until after shootaround Friday morning.

Memphis played host to the Philadelphia 76ers Friday at 7 p.m. CST.

Randolph, who in November was given NBA’s Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, said James’ decision not to meet with Hardy could have been because of a conflict in his schedule. Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies was the last on back-to-back nights for the Heat, who hosted the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to  the community.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to the community.

“LeBron does a lot,” Randolph said. He probably was busy. LeBron is a great guy. You know, he does a lot for the community and for the kids. So that’s (Wednesday’s decline) nothing. He’ll probably fly the kid to meet him.”

Miller, who re-signed with the Grizzlies in July after a six-year absence, also rushed to James’ defense, saying the situation likely was a misunderstanding.

“Knowing LeBron as much as I know I him, I doubt the information even got to him,” Miller said. “He takes all of those requests.”

Asked if he believed because the Heat played on consecutive nights was a factor in James having turned down a request to meet with the patient, Miller said, “I think he would have met with him still. I think with that, it had to do with a situation where he probably didn’t get the information.”

While Randolph and Miller wouldn’t say whether they sensed the controversy surrounding James has been blown out of proportion, both agreed the 10-year veteran and four-time league MVP’s track record is such that he is committed to giving back to underprivileged individuals. “He gets those request a lot,” Miller said. Believe me, when it comes to St. Jude and children and giving back, he’s going to do that.”

That James was labeled a “punk” and “thug” by several WREG viewers was unwarranted, Miller said.

“The bottom line is no one knows anybody,” he said. “Until you get to know somebody, it’s difficult to judge them. I reserve judgment on everybody I know.”

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 shines against Pacers despite ankle injury he suffered against Miami

HUGE CENTERPIECE --- Grizzlies center Marc Gasol gave Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert all he could muster during Saturday night's game in FedExForum. Though he was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury he suffered Friday at Miami, Gasol played a pivotal role in Memphis' 82-71 win against the top team in the Eastern division. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

HUGE CENTERPIECE — Grizzlies center Marc Gasol gave Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert all he could muster during Saturday night’s game in FedExForum. Though he was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury he suffered Friday at Miami, Gasol played a pivotal role in Memphis’ 82-71 win against the top team in the Eastern division. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

During his pregame media availability session Saturday night, Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger took all but 26 seconds to provide reporters with an update surrounding the latest injury to center Marc Gasol.

“He’s going to be a game-time decision, but we’re hoping he plays,” Joerger said. “But we’ll see how his warm-ups go and how comfortable he is.”

Though Gasol did not participate in pregame shoot around, the 7-foot-1 Spaniard underwent treatment for a Grade 1 left ankle sprain a source close to the team told MemphiSport before Saturday’s game versus the Indiana Pacers.

During pregame warm-ups, Gasol appeared unfazed by an ankle injury he suffered in the third quarter of Grizzlies’ 91-86 loss at Miami Friday. While it is unclear just how severe the injury was, the Grizzlies elected to hold Gasol out the entire fourth for precautionary reasons after he scored 14 points and managed six rebounds against the Heat.

However, the six-year veteran and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year was in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game, wearing a protective brace around his knee.

Gasol finished with 10 points on 4–of-11 shooting in 38-plus minutes as the Grizzlies earned a gutsy win against the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers, 82-71, before an announced sellout crowd in FedExForum.

Late in the second quarter against Indiana, Gasol erased any doubts as to whether his ankle would be a concern for a Grizzlies team that entered Saturday’s contest eighth in the West and fighting for its playoffs lives.

With Memphis clinging to a nine point lead, Gasol fielded a backdoor pass from Zach Randolph, penetrated hard to the basket then converted a two-handed slam at the 2:44 mark. That play was followed by Gasol’s baseline jump hook over Indiana’s David West that increased the Grizzlies’ lead to 43-30 at the half.

Among those relieved to see Gasol return after he was limited to approximately 2 ½ quarters of action the previous night was Randolph.

“We need him,” Randolph said. “That’s our big fella. That’s our anchor. I was just praying he would be all right.”

Fortunately for the Grizzlies (41-28), who are seeking their fourth consecutive postseason berth, Gasol’s ankle injury didn’t cause him to miss a significant amount of time. For starters, Memphis got back into playoff contention, in large part because the 2012 All-Star returned to the lineup in mid-January after nearly a two-month absence. He had been efficient ever since.

Prior to suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee during a Nov. 22 loss to San Antonio, Gasol was the Grizzlies’ second-leading scoring, averaging 16 points per game. Since his return, his 13.8 points is third-best for Memphis, which went 8-2 in March with Gasol in the fold.

NO WORRIES --- Gasol erased all doubts as to whether the ankle injury he suffered in Friday's game at Miami would be a concern with this two-handed dunk late in the second quarter against Indiana.

NO WORRIES — Gasol erased all doubts as to whether the ankle injury he suffered in Friday’s game at Miami would be a concern with this two-handed dunk late in the second quarter against Indiana.

Indiana coach Frank Vogel, whose Pacers (51-19) entered Saturday’s game with a three-game lead over Miami for the top spot in the East, said having a player of Gasol’s caliber in good health is crucial at this stage in the season.

“Anytime a player like Gasol is out, it certainly weakens what they do,” Vogel said. “But certainly they’re capable of winning basketball games (without Gasol) as they’ve shown. They played a lot with him this year, so to me, there’s some familiarity there. In some ways, it’s rewarding for other guys to get a chance to step up. But anytime you have a key guy to go down, it challenges everything you’re doing.”

That Gasol’s ankle injury wasn’t serious enough to keep him out of the lineup Saturday caused the Grizzlies to breathe a collective sigh of relief with 13 regular-season games remaining.

With the Grizzlies well in command, 79-65, against the Pacers, Gasol left the game for good with 1:52 left in the fourth and was replaced by fellow big man Kosta Kufos, who started 22 games when Gasol went down in November.

“As the day went on, I was pretty confident I was going to be able to play,” Gasol told reporters afterward. “Everyone who got in the game contributed. Everybody played the right way. It was a really good win for us after a tough loss (Friday) night on the road. I thought we did a good job of coming in and playing our game.”

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

Grizzlies sound off about point guard Mike Conley’s All-Star snub

Zach Randolph believes Mike Conley’s day will eventually come.

Never mind that his chances were better than ever this year.

SILENCING CRITICS --- The inconsistent play of Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley led to much criticism early in his NBA career. This year, Conley is staging All-Star-caliber numbers in what is shaping up to be his best season as a pro. (Photos by Chris Evans)

SILENCING CRITICS — The inconsistent play of Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley led to an array of criticism early in his NBA career. This year, Conley is staging All-Star-caliber numbers in what is shaping up to be his best season as a pro. (Photos by Chris Evans)

 

“He’s going to get there,” the Memphis Grizzlies power forward said after Wednesday’s shootaround when asked his reactions to Conley being snubbed as an All-Star for the West squad. “You know, a lot of players were snubbed. But Mike is going to get there. He’s getting better.”

The longest-tenured Grizzly, Conley has made considerable strides at the point guard position since he entered the NBA seven seasons ago, particularly in a season in which Memphis has battled an assortment of injuries to several marquee players. Even before he sustained an ankle injury last Friday at Minnesota, Conley played with much poise and resilience in helping Memphis re-emerge as a playoff contender.

Currently, Conley is Memphis’ leading scorer at 18 points and 6.3 assists per game for a Grizzlies team that is 25-18 with him in the lineup. And, although the possibility exists that he could be sidelined at  least through Memphis’ weekend road games at Atlanta and Cleveland, the Grizzlies appear to be a solid shape heading into next week’s All-Star break, largely because the 26-year-old Conley has played arguably the best basketball of his career.

Conley wasn’t available to the media after shootaround in preparation for Memphis’ game Wednesday night at 7 CST against the Dallas Mavericks in FedExForum, although team officials said he was in the facility and receiving treatment for his injured ankle. Having won 11 of their last 13, the Grizzlies are one game back of Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Among Conley’s notable highlights was his 27 point, 10 assists outburst at upstart Sacramento on January 29, an inspiring performance that prompted various media pundits to debate whether he is worthy of making his All-Star debut. However, even during a season in which Conley is producing All-Star-caliber numbers, the former Ohio State star was left off the roster when the reserves were announced last week.

The 63rd All-Star Game is Feb. 16 at New Orleans Arena.

TAKING CHARGE --- Through 43 starts, Conley, the longest-tenured Grizzly, leads the team with 18 points and 6.3 assists per contests as Memphis has re-emerged as a playoff-contender.

TAKING CHARGE — Through 43 starts, Conley, the longest-tenured Grizzly, leads the team with 18 points and 6.3 assists per contests as Memphis has re-emerged as a playoff-contender.

Four other point guards were named All-Star reserves ahead of Conley, including Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul, who has missed the past 16 games with a separated right shoulder he injured in a Jan. 3 game at Dallas. Portland’s Damian Lillard was named one of seven reserves for the West squad (his first All-Star selection), despite being outplayed by Conley in Memphis’ resounding 99-81 win at the Trial Blazers during the Grizzlies’ recent three-game road trip. San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Golden State Stephen Curry were also named to the West roster.

“It happens,” Grizz center Marc Gasol, a 2011 All-Star, said of Conley being left off this year’s All-Star team. “It happens every year that a lot of players who should of made the All-Star team don’t make it. But at the end day, we have bigger goals and I’m sure Mike knows that. And hopefully that’s the NBA’s Finals.”

Roughly one month into the season, the Grizzlies looked nothing like a team that was destined to secure a playoff for a fourth consecutive year, in large part because of the injuries to reserve shooting guard Quincy Pondexter and Gasol coupled with the inconsistent play of their bench.

Credit Conley for Memphis’ resurgence as the All-Star break looms.

A once unproven player who garnered much criticism for his inconsistency and lethargic play in the pick and roll offense in the early stages of his career, Conley has steadfastly silence his critics in recent years, demonstrating among other things that he’s as good as advertised for a lottery player who was selected with the fourth overall pick by Memphis in 2007.

Grizz coach Dave Joerger on Wednesday didn’t shy away from the notion that his starting point was an All-Star snub.

“Mike Conley has been absolutely tremendous for us,” Joerger said. “He would go stretches where he would 44 assists through four games and three turnovers and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I want you to have the ball the whole time.’ The West has a lot of guards, a lot of good guards. He’s valuable and if it’s an All-Star Game where guys are valuable, I think he gets in and I feel he should have been an All-Star.”

At this stage in his career, it’s not a matter of if Conley will make his All-Star debut, but rather a matter of when.

“He’s going to be an All-Star,” Randolph, a two-time All-Star, said. “He has an All-Star mind.

Which, of course, is among the reasons his day will eventually come.

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

Grizzlies star Zach Randolph holding his own in season mired by injuries, trade talks

The general consensus about Zach Randolph is that he is among the most admired and well-respected public figures in Memphis.

No one seemingly knows that better than Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.

 

GAME CHANGER --- In what has been a challenging season mired by injuries and constant trade talks, Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph tied  franchise record for double-doubles with 189 in Saturday's 91-88 win against the Houston Rockets. The two-time All-Star finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

GAME CHANGER — In what has been a challenging season mired by injuries and constant trade talks, Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph tied franchise record for double-doubles with 189 in Saturday’s 91-88 win against the Houston Rockets. The two-time All-Star finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

“We get along very well on and off the court,” Gasol said. “We talk all the time. I mean, the man came all the way to Barcelona (Spain) to my wedding (over the summer). We’re really good friends.”

Gasol was among the first players to congratulate Randolph after the 12-year veteran reached yet another milestone in his All-Star career. Randolph tied the franchise record for career double-double (15 points and 17 rebounds) in Memphis’ decisive 99-81 win Saturday night against the Houston Rockets in FedExForum.

“Who was the other guy?” Gasol jokingly asked after the game.

The “other guy” is Gasol’s older brother, Pau Gasol, who now shares the Memphis’ double-double record with Randolph at 189 apiece. Randolph, to his credit, wasted little time demonstrating that he was primed to carve out history in front of the same fans who have come to embrace the contributions he’s made to the Grizzlies organization since he was traded to by the Los Angeles Clippers following the 2008-2009 season.

Less than five minutes into Saturday’s contest, for instance, Randolph had already accounted for seven rebounds. Then, with 7:04 remaining in the third quarter, he solidified the mark when he scored on a fastbreak layup as Houston’s Patrick Beverly was whistled for a foul.

During a 20-second timeout, the 32-year-old Randolph was mobbed by teammates, who praised him in tying Pau Gasol’s double-double mark as the crowd chanted in unison, “Z-Bo.”

While Randolph appeared blissful to have accomplished such a feat with an organization from which he has publicly said he’d liked to retire, what he deems mostly intriguing is that it transpired during a time in which the Grizzlies are starting to mirror last year’s a team that advanced to the postseason for a third consecutive year.

“We’re getting there,” Randolph told reporters, when asked have the Grizzlies have recovered from their early-season struggles. “I ain’t going to say that right now. We’ve got the big fella (Marc Gasol) back and Mike (Conley) is playing All-Star basketball. But we’re getting there.”

For more proof, look no further than the current standings in the West.

Before Marc Gasol, who missed 23 games after an MCL sprain he suffered Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. After Saturday’s win against Houston that culminated a rare back-to-back versus the Rockets, Memphis, which opens a three-game road trip Tuesday starting at the Portland, is currently two games back of Dallas for the pivotal eighth spot.

That the Grizzlies, winners of nine of their last 12, had managed to hover around the .500 mark before Marc Gasol returned to the lineup was due in large part to the poise and assertiveness Randolph has exhibited in recent weeks, Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

“He’s been terrific,” Joerger said. “He’s really carried us through a tough stretch with Marc being out and he’s really helped us find our identity without Quincy (Pondexter) and Tony (Allen). He’s been pretty steady and has helped us to compete. He’s a guy who’s always double-teamed, but creates shots for other people.

Randolph said among the reasons for the Grizzlies' surge is that center Marc Gasol (left) is back in the lineup after missing 23 games due to an MCL sprain in late November.

PEAK SEASON — Randolph said among the reasons for the Grizzlies’ surge is that center Marc Gasol (left) is back in the lineup after missing 23 games due to an MCL sprain in late November. Memphis is 6-1 since Gasol’s return.

“I’m just really proud of him because he didn’t quit and say, ‘I’ve got a bigger guy on me, somebody else needs to go get it (rebounds).’ He goes and gets it off the glass and he’s good at calling stuff out for our guards.”

Besides being a vocal presence on the court, Randolph has proven to be just as expressive and resilient, particularly pertaining to business-related matters off the court.

As early as mid-December, for instance, Randolph reportedly was being rumored to be traded by the Grizzlies, news that prompted the two-time All-Star to say that there is “no loyalty” in NBA front offices. Though Randolph admittedly was “hurt” after emerging as the subject of constant trade talks, the Marion, Ind. native assumed what he described as the “businesslike approach” until team officials ultimately announced weeks later that they had no plans of dealing Randolph, who has a $16 million player option for next year.

Given how fans and his teammates responded amid his latest achievement Saturday night, Randolph not only seemed enraptured, but he sounded like a man who has lofty aspirations of adding to what has been a memorable five-year stint with the Grizzlies.

“It feels good,” Randolph said of the double-double record. It’ll be better when I hold the record. I mean, you’ve to go out and put your all into being a part of the community and this organization. You know, this is my town, my fans. And I appreciate the fans. They’ve been great this season and we need them.”

Especially now that the surging Grizzlies are starting to exhibit the same swagger that enabled them to stage a deep playoff run last year.

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

VIDEO: Is Memphis Grizzlies Guard Mike Conley An All-Star?

Friday night Grizzlies guard Mike Conley had yet another great game scoring a career high 31 points against the Phoenix Suns in a Grizzlies 104-99 victory at FedExForum. After the game Conley and his teammates were asked if he should be considered a NBA All-Star.

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.

Zach Randolph ‘relieved’ after Grizzlies announce they have dismissed trade talks

It appears Zach Randolph will remain with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Whether his tenure with the team will last beyond the Feb. 20 NBA trade deadline is still uncertain.

According to multiple media reports, Grizzlies officials earlier this week said they have no immediate plans to trade their star power forward, a two-time All-Star who was the catalyst of the team’s postseason success in recent years.

WALKING IN MEMPHIS --- Grizzlies star Zach Randolph appeared relieved after learning Saturday morning that the team officials said they have no immediate plans of trading the two-time All-Star power forward. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport

WALKING IN MEMPHIS — Grizzlies star Zach Randolph appeared relieved after learning Saturday morning that the team officials said they have no immediate plans of trading the two-time All-Star power forward. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport

After learning of the latest developments surrounding his possible trade, Randolph said he’s “relieved,” reiterating, among things, that he wants to retire as a member of the organization.

“They know I want to be here,” Randolph told MemphiSport following the Grizzlies’ shootaround Saturday morning in the team’s practice facility. “I’ve been here. They know I want to retire here.”

Now in his fifth season with Memphis following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, Randolph initially became the subject of trade talks earlier this month when he reportedly was being rumored to be dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big Ryan Anderson.

Then, according to various media reports, “a reliable NBA insider” on Dec. 19 reported that the Brooklyn Nets were contemplating preparing a package that would send 16-year veteran Paul Pierce and future draft picks to the Grizzlies for Randolph, a two-time All-Star who is in his 13th NBA season.

While the Pelicans and Grizzlies have strongly denied having discussed a trade that centered on Randolph and Anderson, Randolph — who admittedly was “hurt” after learning the team reportedly was considering shopping him — said he isn’t sure why he is constantly being rumored to be dealt, although he believes his current contract might be the underlying factor as the trade deadline looms.

Randolph, 32, is in the third of a four-year deal that is worth $71 million. Although the Marion, Ind. native has a player option for next year, Randolph would generate in the neighborhood of $16 million if he returns to the Grizzlies for the 2013-14 campaign.

“I don’t know…money,” Randolph said, explaining why his name keeps swirling surrounding a possible trade. “Small market team. You know, money plays a part. It’s the money.”

Regardless of what transpires as the trade deadline approaches, Randolph said his primary focus in the meantime is help revitalize an injury-ridden Grizzlies team that entered Saturday night’s game against Denver four games below the .500 mark. Losers of six of their last nine, Memphis, which advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year after posting the highest winning percentage (.063) in franchise history, currently is 3 ½ games back for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Randolph scored a team-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting in 30-plus minutes Saturday to help lift the Grizzlies to their largest margin of victory this season in FedExForum, 120-99, over the Nuggets.

“Like I said, I’m going to be professional either way,” Randolph, the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer, said when asked to assess the team’s decision to dismiss trade talks. “I’m going to play hard every night. It’s a job. I’m going to come out and be professional and do my job.”

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

Grizzlies star Zach Randolph on latest trade rumors: ‘I want to retire here’

Zach Randolph said he will remain a resident of Memphis until he is “dead and gone.”

However, whether the two-time All-Star will remain a member of the Memphis Grizzlies until the end of the season is unclear.

ON HIS WAY OUT? Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (right) on Sunday said despite being the subject of trade rumors, he'd like to retire as a member of the organization, although the two-time All-Star is uncertain about his future in Memphis. (Photo by Christopher Davis/MemphiSport)

ON HIS WAY OUT? Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (right) on Sunday said despite being the subject of trade rumors, he’d like to retire as a member of the organization, although the two-time All-Star is uncertain about his future in Memphis. (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

According to various media reports, Randolph once again has emerged as the subject of trade rumors, this time involving a possible deal that would send the 13-year-veteran to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big man Ryan Anderson.

When asked before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves if he expects to finish out the 2013-14 season with the Grizzlies, Randolph — who unlike last year before the trade deadline when he said publicly he’s optimistic he would end his 12th NBA campaign in Memphis — appeared uncertain about his future with the team.

“It’s a business, man,” Randolph told MemphiSport. “It’s a business. You know, we’ve just got to keep playing and I can only control what I can control and what I can handle.”

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.

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 a dominant force for 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. However, despite emerging into an All-Star caliber player with the Grizzlies following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, Randolph on Sunday said he has no lofty idea why he’s constantly being rumored to be dealt away by an organization from which he hopes to retire.

“I want to be here,” said Randolph who, before Friday’s game at New Orleans, said he was “hurt” by the latest trade rumors. “I want to retire here. But it’s a business, man. I can only control what I can control.”

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said during his pregame media availability session that he isn’t concerned about the trade talks surrounding Randolph and that his team’s primary emphasis is to escape its current slump in which Memphis has dropped three straight and six of its last eight games.

“It’s not usually something I worry about,” Joerger said. “Our guys are pros. I’ve heard rumors talked about me. You

Last year, when former Grizz Rudy Gay (right) was dealt to Toronto before the trade deadline, Randolph sensed he would end his 12th NBA season in Memphis. Whether he will finish out a sixth full season in Memphis remains a mystery.

Last year, when former Grizz Rudy Gay (right) was dealt to Toronto before the trade deadline, Randolph sensed he would end his 12th NBA season in Memphis. Whether he will finish out a fifth full campaign with the team remains a mystery.  (Photo by Chris Evans/MemphiSport)

 

know, people make up stuff all the time. So there’s a lot of stuff that’s not true. Most of it is not true at all, so to respond to it by me or any player, you know, it’s all internal, so I’ll move forward and it’s not something I worry about.”

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, the franchise’s longest-tenured player, said he hadn’t heard any trade discussions involving Randolph prior to Sunday and that at this point, “it’s just all rumors.” Also, Conley said he expects Randolph to finish out the year in Memphis and that news of a possible trade of the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer won’t serve as a distraction for Memphis as the season progresses.

The Grizzlies (10-13), who saw their winless streak reach three games in a 101-93 loss to Minnesota in FedExForum,

entered Sunday’s contest against the Timberwolves three games back for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

“Zach plans on being here,” said Conley, the Grizzlies’ leading scorer who managed a team-high 28 points against the T’Wolves. “And we plan on him being here, so we’re keeping it at that and concentrating on basketball. I think in any other case, it could be a distraction, but we’ve got guys who have been in this situation so many times that it’s just thrown by the wayside. We’re just worried about basketball. We’re not worried about trades or distractions or what not. We know that’s going to take care of itself and we got no control over it.”

With his future with the Grizzlies once again hanging in the balance, Randolph said if he is forced to relocate via a trade, Memphis will be his permanent home regardless.

“And I’m still going to be (an ambassador for the city), if I’m here and if I ain’t,” said Randolph, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds while playing a team-best 38-plus minutes. “I bought a house here, got business relationships here. So this is my home and I’m going to be here until I’m gone. You know what I’m saying?”

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