The Commercial Appeal

Grizzlies under fire for lack of vets in locker room

- Damichael Cole Memphis Commercial Appeal USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE

When the Memphis Grizzlies announced Ja Morant was stepping away from the team for at least two games after apparently brandishin­g a gun at a nightclub, the conversati­on focused on how the league’s premier young superstar got to this point, why he would so boldly make that mistake and who were the people advising him?

Then, free agent center Demarcus Cousins sent out a notable tweet that received more than 3.5 million interactio­ns on Saturday afternoon:

“Hope this shows the importance of REAL VETS in the locker room,” Cousins tweeted. “No young team should be without multiple veterans on the roster.”

The Grizzlies have the third youngest roster in the NBA. Steven Adams, 29, is the oldest player. Memphis is a team that has translated that youthfulne­ss to an exciting brand of basketball, but now there are questions about the accountabi­lity off of it.

Since Morant’s leave, Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins has said the team will hold Morant accountabl­e going forward. He and Grizzlies players have mostly talked about supporting Morant and giving him his time away to seek help.

It all points to the outside dynamic on the Grizzlies has shifted fast. It was only five months ago when Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto wrote that the Grizzlies’ chemistry was “the envy of the league.”

Do Grizzlies need vets to win big?

A veteran presence in NBA locker rooms is considered valuable to many players, but it’s not a unanimous feeling.

When the Grizzlies traded for Danny Green last summer, a lot of stock was put into how the 35-year old could help the locker room. At Grizzlies media day in

September, Green pointed out that Memphis should maybe stay off social media, a point of scrutiny that publicly had not been displayed by a player on the Grizzlies roster.

Green’s time in Memphis was short — he played in just three games and was traded at the NBA trade deadline — and as he described on his Inside the Green Room podcast with Harrison Sanfor, he wished he could have had more time Memphis to connect with Morant. In that seven-month stay, Green had a close-up look at how the Grizzlies operate off the floor.

A recent report by the Athletic’s Shams Charania mentioned that Adams spoke out in a players only meeting about how the Grizzlies need to have more discipline on the road.

“I definitely felt like we needed another vet or two to help push the narrative or just help them understand the maturity part of it,” Green said. “I’m not going to put them all in the same category. They’re not all the same. They’re all great guys.”

Green mentioned how a lot of the Grizzlies players like to stay at home and focus on hoops, while Morant is one of the players who likes to have fun.

“He likes to party sometimes,” Green said. “Not saying he is the only one, but

he’s one of the few over there. It’s not like they’re all going out. It’s a couple of them that go out, and he goes out sometimes.”

Along with Green and Cousins, there’s Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who is the vet of vets. He hasn’t played more than 16 games in a season since 2016, but as a 20-year player, the Heat consider him a vital part of their culture.

NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas pointed out “knowledge” and “wisdom” as two key reasons why older players can be important to a locker room.

“In no business that I know of, where everybody is under the age of 24, and they all got ego and they all got money. I don’t know if it has ever been tried in any industry where you have had success,”

Thomas said. “This is a unique experiment that’s going on. You need some grey hairs and some vets around. Those guys are helpful.”

Jeff Van Gundy not buying the need for veterans

While many other players across the NBA also share this consensus on the important of veterans, that’s not the case everywhere.

ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy is the former coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, coaching teams that had stars and veterans, and he doesn’t believe that adding older players directly changes a team’s maturity level. Van Gundy noted that he believes the best player on a team often sets the tone in a locker room — no matter the age.

“To shift the blame to the Grizzlies’ management team that they’re not old enough … if you look, there are older players in our league who make mistakes,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not about any one age. It’s about having the right people in the locker room.”

There is no consensus on what classifies a player as a veteran. Adams has been in the NBA 10 seasons. Tyus Jones is in his eighth year. Every other Grizzlies player has spent six years or fewer in the league.

“I just think age is a very arbitrary way of looking at it,” Van Gundy said. “Profession­alism is not usually age based. I think the only thing that the Grizzlies have to ask themselves is: Have we set up the best environmen­t that we can for our players to succeed in?”

As a coach, Van Gundy never expected another NBA player to help shape another player’s character. Especially off of the court.

One area where Van Gundy has noticed the Grizzlies could have used more experience this season is how they display their confidence. The most notable moment is when Morant said he is “fine in the west” in an ESPN interview, then doubled down on it time and time again.

The Grizzlies like to have fun and talk trash, but their playing style has been criticized by people who feel like they haven’t won enough to act in that manner.

Jenkins has been asked whether the Grizzlies should scale back their trash talk and brash style, but he has consistent­ly supported the players by saying those descriptio­ns are part of the team’s swagger.

“Even prior to these Morant stories and allegation­s, if I was a member of the Grizzlies, I would have been concerned that we weren’t striking the right balance between confidence and humility,” Van Gundy said.

 ?? STU BOYD II/THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL ?? The Grizzlies celebrate after getting a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Fedexforum on Dec. 7 in Memphis.
STU BOYD II/THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL The Grizzlies celebrate after getting a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Fedexforum on Dec. 7 in Memphis.

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