MikeCheck: Winslow faces Heat filled with gratitude, focused on growth in role with Grizzlies
MEMPHIS – Basketball Hall of Fame finalist Chris Bosh rarely let a day pass in the Heat’s locker room without cracking on then-rookie Justise Winslow for his serious demeanor and “mannish” appearance, despite entering the NBA as a 19-year-old lottery pick.
“He just got here, and been in the league 10 years already,” Bosh would say, simultaneously ribbing and respecting Winslow’s approach back then. “He’s got a grown-man voice, walking around here with hair on his chest. If there’s ever a 19-year-old vet in this league, it’s Justise.”
No doubt, injuries and adversity have since forced Winslow to grow up fast in the NBA.
But he never quite grew into the lofty role and expectations in Miami. After five bittersweet years with the Heat, Winslow was traded to Memphis at least season’s trade deadline and spent the next two months recovering from a back injury that lingered from his time in Miami. Just before he was set to make his Grizzlies debut in the NBA bubble last July in Orlando, Winslow endured a hip displacement injury that knocked him out of action again.
In total, the 24-year-old versatile forward went 13 months between NBA games before he finally suited up for his new team last month. Now 10 games into his comeback, Winslow faces his former team for the first time when the Heat visit the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
So more than anything, I want to see those faces, just to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ Because I wouldn’t be here without their guidance and without their support. It’s no hard feelings, just a lot of gratitude from me.
Was there some resentment for how things ended in Miami? Sure. Is there gratitude and respect for journey that led Winslow to his new chapter in Memphis? Absolutely. Admittedly, there will be a wide range of emotions when he takes the court this time.
None of that will overshadow the task at hand as Winslow tries to help the Grizzlies get on track and end a three-game losing streak to open a tough four-game homestand at FedExForum.
“My head is in a good place, honestly,” said Winslow, averaging 8.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 22 minutes in nine games. “So more than anything, I want to see those faces, just to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ Because I wouldn’t be here without their guidance and without their support. It’s no hard feelings, just a lot of gratitude from me.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Grind City Media, Winslow addressed his transition from Miami to Memphis and gradually finding a comfort zone for the Grizzlies’ stretch run.
Grind City Media: Now 10 games in, what’s been the most rewarding part of actually playing?
Winslow: It’s just the pure fact of being back out there. Being away from the game for so long – being a part of it from the sidelines, helping guys out during drills is one thing – but just being out there is a real joy for me. I love to compete in everything I do, so just having that aspect of my life back, being able to play defense and rebound and communicate with my teammates, man, that just brings a lot of joy to my life.
GCM: How has coming into the NBA in Miami with a mature mindset helped you now?
Winslow: Coach (Erik) Spoelstra always had an expression. He’d talk about an orange, and how when you squeeze an orange, that’s when you figure out what it’s really made of. So for me, going from the injuries to getting traded, it was like I was being squeezed. And you see what comes out in terms of the character and foundation you set. I’ve always tried to take those things very seriously. I fell short to some injuries and have had to battle back, but my mentality, my standards, my principles have always been top-notch. That’s always been what I’ve been able to fall back on. So when I get squeezed, that’s what comes out in the purest form.
GCM: What’s goes through your mind – and body – as you face your former team for first time?
Winslow: I’m excited, mostly just to see those faces. I’ve felt like I’ve proven myself to my peers and to the league at this point. With my injuries and my journey, I’ve been able to overcome some of that animosity, some of that resentment or tough feelings you have after getting traded. It’s nothing like that with me and the Heat. I’m not trying to prove anything. This injury is going to take time to come back from. I’m still on a minutes restriction. So even if I wanted to have 50 points, it would be hard to do it in 20 to 25 minutes. My head is in a good place, honestly. More than anything, I want to see those faces, just to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ Because I wouldn’t be here without their guidance and support. It’s no hard feelings, just a lot of gratitude from me.
GCM: During the Heat’s run to the NBA Finals, what was that experience like for you from afar?
Winslow: Yeah, there was definitely some points of resentment, just feeling like I should have been a part of that run, or that I wanted to be in the Finals. But just getting over those natural emotions, putting those emotions aside, I was happy for those guys, knowing the work they put in and we put in. I wasn’t on that team at the time, but I felt like I was part of that journey. Helping Tyler (Herro) and Kendrick (Nunn) and what the Heat were trying to get done. I was happy for those guys, especially Bam (Adebayo), seeing him come in as a rookie and work his tail off to become a starter and an All-Star. Jimmy (Butler) as well. Kelly (Olynyk), too, all those guys, Goran (Dragic). I saw all the work they put in. Getting to the Finals isn’t easy. Some guys go their whole careers without making the playoffs, and most guys go their whole careers without making it to the Finals. So I was happy for those guys that they were able to do that.
GCM: Since you’ve been back in the lineup, you’ve made it clear that being with the Grizzlies has been bigger than basketball, that it’s been about finding peace and purpose with a new organization. What’s that been like for you?
Winslow: It’s been great. With a younger team, there’s just an energy about us. The joking, the closeness on the bus rides, the togetherness. Older guys tend to have families, kids and wives that they’re attached to. But this group, it’s a lot of younger guys. It’s just a different vibe, and it has been something I’m thankful for, just to turn the page, to turn over a new leaf and it just started with the energy there every day in the locker room when I was hurt. It would have been easy to be down or get frustrated when you’re out. But when you come into a locker room like this and you’ve got (Jaren Jackson Jr.) joking around or you’ve got Ja (Morant) making jokes or you’ve got Melt (De’Anthony Melton) being himself, it makes it a lot easier coming into work every day. That young energy really helped me get through some of my battles.
GCM: In that sense, you spent a lot of time with Jaren. How have you two bonded, having gone through a similar journey with injuries early in promising careers as he works his way back?
Winslow: Jaren and I instantly grew a bond once I was traded, and a lot of that was initially through music and rap. I see a lot of myself in him, I see that passion, I see that fire and desire to be great within him. Unfortunately, we both got hurt in the bubble, and it kind of paired us together on a rehab journey that we’re still pushing through. As much as I’d like to think I helped him, well, he’s helped me every bit as much, if not more. His fearlessness to get through the day, being the best Jaren he can be, there’s a lot I can take from his story, just his mindset and his approach. I just try to be positive with him every day and see the bigger picture.
GCM: Where are you now physically compared to where you’re capable of being at peak form?
Winslow: I’m still climbing that mountain. And that’s the beauty of it. I’m feeling better and getting more comfortable with my body. I’m adapting to some of the changes and mechanics that the performance team is helping me implement. But honestly, I don’t think I’m anywhere close to where I can be. My body is catching up and I’m getting the confidence back in my body and my ability to do things on the court. But it’s going to take time. At the same time, I don’t want to be too patient with myself. I want to motivate myself and keep the standard and foundation I’ve set at such a high level. I want to keep it there. I’m not where I want to be, and I won’t be there by the end of this season. Probably won’t be there by the end of next season, but the beauty of it is the journey is the reward and you just fall in love with the grind.
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