MikeCheck: Grizzlies focus more on connections - less on hotline calls – to thrive in NBA’s bubble
MEMPHIS - It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the NBA’s so-called snitch hotline.
But with games set to resume next week for the first time in four months, Ja Morant and the Grizzlies understand how vital it is to follow the league’s safety mandates and guidelines inside the Disney bubble campus.
I do none of that telling. Guys go about certain stuff the way they want to. But for me, I didn’t see nothing, haven’t heard nothing and I ain’t saying nothing.
For the NBA’s presumptive rookie of the year, phoning in potential violations concerning the actions of other teams isn’t necessary high on his agenda.
“I don’t know the hotline number or none of that,” Morant emphatically assured heading into the weekend. “I do none of that telling. Guys go about certain stuff the way they want to. But for me, I didn’t see nothing, haven’t heard nothing and I ain’t saying nothing.”
Morant is a month shy of celebrating his 21st birthday basically sequestered inside the NBA’s campus bubble. The young man’s comments could easily be taken as promoting an anti-snitch culture that doles out machismo and respect for turning a blind eye to transgressions of peers.
But it’s not even that deep.
The Grizzlies have simply locked their focus in on themselves. With one of the youngest rosters among 22 teams gathered on the Disney campus, they remain determined to stay connected and avoid any distractions that could disrupt their progress toward the league’s restart.
So far, so good for Memphis. The Grizzlies still having their entire roster healthy, available and operating within guidelines in Orlando under the circumstances shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially as teams throughout the bubble have struggled to stay intact – or even get together – amid strict COVID-19 testing, injury concerns, conduct violations and personal issues.
Some difficult developments this week in Orlando have already seen No. 1 pick Zion Williamson depart the bubble due to a family medical emergency, leaving his availability for the Pelicans initial games in jeopardy. Top contenders such as the Bucks (Eric Bledsoe) and Rockets (Russell Westbrook) press on as their star point guards remain quarantined by positive COVID-19 tests.
And earlier this week, the Lakers lost Rajon Rondo for two months and the Celtics may be without Kemba Walker for a few games because of injuries. Then there was separate inappropriate conduct that landed at least two other NBA players – Sacramento’s Richaun Holmes and Houston’s Bruno Caboclo – back in the league’s re-entry protocols for breaking quarantine rules.
The NBA reportedly sent memos to all 22 teams in the bubble reminding them of protocols, behaviors and restrictions in place on the Disney campus to remain in compliance. Two national media outlets have also reported a recent increase in calls to the league’s violations hotline.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have tried to construct their safe haven within the larger bubble. However, it doesn’t render them immune to any of the potential dangers, disruptions or distractions – intentional or otherwise – that await outside practice courts or meeting rooms.
“We’ve been blessed to have all of our guys here, and it just helps with the ability to get connected,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of preparing, so far, with his full complement of players. “Whether it’s individual work with the small groups all the way to the 5-on-5, we need that. Obviously, games are creeping up on us pretty quickly here. Also, we’re just beginning to have the ability to develop our depth, regardless who ends up starting or coming off the bench. Who knows how lineups will play out over the course of this bubble?”
Much like Morant’s response to the snitch hotline, Jenkins’ comments hold dual meanings. On one hand, not necessarily knowing how lineups will play out over the course of the bubble is a nod to the Grizzlies’ plethora of productive options in a playing rotation that could run 12-deep.
At the same time, not necessarily knowing what might transpire with your team over the course of the bubble is a sobering need to brace for the risks and randomness of potential setbacks. With 22 teams essentially locked into Orlando anywhere from six weeks to four months, advancing to and through the playoffs requires equal parts talent, chemistry and resilience.
Whether it’s individual work with the small groups all the way to the 5-on-5, we need that. Obviously, games are creeping up on us pretty quickly here. Also, we’re just beginning to have the ability to develop our depth, regardless who ends up starting or coming off the bench. Who knows how lineups will play out over the course of this bubble?
But avoiding COVID and chaos on campus will also carry teams a long way.
Veteran forward Anthony Tolliver is a member of the NBA Players Association executive committee and was involved in the league and union’s shaping of guidelines and protocols for the restart. That gives the Grizzlies an embedded human resource in understanding how to operate in Orlando and what potential pitfalls could derail a player or team.
“It was a lot of discussions and phone calls for us to get to where we are,” Tolliver said of the NBA and NBAPA joint effort. “But No. 1 was health and safely. Outside of that, if we’re going to be locked up in this campus, we have to find ways to pass time and entertain. It took time. But most of it got covered. It still will be difficult for a lot of people, because it’s difficult to have to stay in one place... for six, seven, eight weeks or whatever it may be. But we’re trying to make the most of it and make sure that everyone is healthy and as safe as much as possible.”
Fortunately, the Grizzlies are off to a productive start as they head into next Friday’s exhibition opener against the Sixers. Some teams around them in the standings have faced significant burdens adjusting in Orlando as the Grizzlies aim to maintain the West’s eighth and final playoff seed.
But No. 1 was health and safely. Outside of that, if we’re going to be locked up in this campus, we have to find ways to pass time and entertain. It took time. But most of it got covered. It still will be difficult for a lot of people, because it’s difficult to have to stay in one place... for six, seven, eight weeks or whatever it may be. But we’re trying to make the most of it and make sure that everyone is healthy and as safe as much as possible.
Memphis (32-33) holds a 3 ½-games lead for the No. 8 spot with eight “seeding” games to play, starting with its July 31 restart opener against Portland. The Blazers, Pelicans and Kings are essentially tied for ninth place in their respective quests to overtake the Grizzlies or remain within four games of Memphis in the standings to force a “play-in” series for the No. 8 seed.
But these playoff pursuits extend far beyond just matchups on the court. The Blazers get back big men Yusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins from injuries. But they won’t have forward Trevor Ariza after he opted out of the restart as part of a child custody arrangement with his young son.
The Pelicans expect Williamson back during the resumption of games, but testing protocols require that he must first quarantine anywhere from four days to two weeks upon return. The Grizzlies face the Pelicans Aug. 3 in a critical game midway through the restart schedule.
And the Kings might just be hardest hit among any in the bubble right now. Veteran swingman Harrison Barnes this week became the fourth Sacramento player to announce he’s tested positive for COVID-19, a list that also includes star guard Buddy Hield. Kings coach Luke Walton said he isn’t sure if or when either Barnes or center Alex Len will be available to play.
“We have to prepare as if we’re not going to have either of those guys,” Walton said. “That’s just getting us ready for whatever the worst-case scenario may be.”
Anything we do, we normally just stay together. We wear our masks, make sure we wash our hands, staying safe. We need all our guys. I wouldn’t say it’s easy (because) guys want to go out (socially) and do stuff. But even out there, everyone had their masks on and we stayed a little apart from each other for safety.
The Pelicans won both previous meetings with the Grizzlies this season. The Kings went 3-1 against Memphis and would also own the tie-breaker should they land evenly in the standings.
Yet the Grizzlies remain in solid standing overall.
And that takes prudence, tremendous effort and good fortune on and off the court.
“We all know our goals, so I guess we can say that’s how we act inside this bubble,” Morant said of the team’s chemistry and connectivity. “Anything we do, we normally just stay together. We wear our masks, make sure we wash our hands, staying safe. We need all our guys. I wouldn’t say it’s easy (because) guys want to go out (socially) and do stuff. But even out there, everyone had their masks on and we stayed a little apart from each other for safety.”
Ultimately, success inside the bubble is no secret for the Grizzlies or anyone else.
For now, it’s not about the talent of teams capable of finishing first.
It’s about the enduring approach of those determined to last.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.