It brings me truly no pleasure to say the Grizzlies are teetering on the edge between lovable challenger and incredibly annoying. And they are increasingly tipping toward the wrong direction.
I’ve had an appreciation for the Grizz going back to the Grit and Grind days of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. The current group has been a worthy successor to those franchise legends. Their brash mentality, rugged play and the acrobatics of Ja Morant have generally been very entertaining. I even welcome their trash talk, despite the team’s relatively thin playoff résumé. But this squad constantly finds itself drowning in self-inflicted, nonbasketball nonsense, and it’s become a little exhausting to watch.
That nonsense reached its nadir Thursday night when Dillon Brooks swung his arm into Donovan Mitchell’s groin in the Grizzlies’ loss to the Cavaliers. There’s just really no excuse for this type of play, and Brooks didn’t exactly offer much explanation after the game. I’m even a fan of Brooks for the most part, though his style of play can best be described as “that one friend who is on another level than everyone else at the bachelor party” energy and his shot selection borders on self-sabotage. Taking a cheap shot at Mitchell was embarrassing. If you’re really this big, bad, tough basketball team, then prove it within the confines of the game. Hitting guys in the nuts doesn’t prove anything about how gritty the Grizz are. It’s unserious. Is that going to be the strategy when an opposing player starts going off in the postseason? See whether Brooks can get them ejected?
This isn’t even the strangest incident involving Brooks this season! It was only last month he seemingly wanted to fight NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe during a game against the Lakers. Sharpe has since apologized, and, in the Grizzlies’ defense, Sharpe was being treated with special celebrity gloves considering he managed to anger the entire Grizzlies bench, plus Ja Morant’s dad, but was allowed to remain at the game. Of course, Memphis lost that night, and Brooks fouled out.
Falling to an up-and-down Lakers team after beefing with an FS1 host wasn’t even the Grizzlies’ most embarrassing loss this season, though! That would be reserved for Christmas Day. After calling for a Dec. 25 matchup with the Warriors during the offseason, then going on national television and saying he’s not worried about the West, Morant clearly enjoys antagonizing Golden State. Except Ja and Memphis lost on Christmas to a Stephen Curry–less Warriors team and gave us the indelible image of Klay Thompson taunting Brooks after the latter had fallen on the floor. (Grizzlies fans went on and on about the refs that day, even though Golden State had no business being in that game in the first place.)
Look up and down Memphis’s schedule and you see a team that should maybe be a little worried about the West, actually. The Grizzlies lost again to the Warriors during Rivalry Week. They lost their only game against the Nuggets, a night they scored only 91 points. They’ve lost twice to shorthanded Suns teams. They’ve lost two out of three to the Timberwolves. Memphis’s conference record is 15–16—the only team in the top 11 in the West under .500 in intraconference play. Meanwhile, after an 11-game win streak, the Grizz have lost seven of eight.
I’m not a full believer in the idea of some kind of basketball karma. If it does exist, the Grizzlies are really tempting their fate with how much they relish making everyone angry without having the accomplishments you typically need to back it up. You may despise Draymond Green, for example, and he’s certainly crossed some lines in his career. He is also one of the greatest defenders ever and has four championship rings. The Grizzlies have potential. Their attitude is also obscuring some legitimate concerns about this team, namely their half-court offense and whether they will be good enough in that portion of the game to make a deep run. (That’s probably the biggest reason why the front office should be aggressive at the trade deadline.)
Ultimately, the Grizzlies’ image means very little in the long run as it relates to what happens on the floor. And as a smaller market trying to break through on and off the court, you can understand why Memphis has adopted such a gruff attitude. So far, though, their bark has far exceeded their bite.