The Memphis Grizzlies have just defeated the Brooklyn Nets, 103-92, at Barclays Center in one of those normally meaningless mid-January games – except, the Nets are mired in a seven-game slump, and the Grizz are trying to integrate new addition Jeff Green to an already talented lineup. Post-game in the visiting locker room, it’s all smiles and joking around. A Grizzlies PR rep tells waiting journalists to “wait until they’re done dressing and everyone is available to talk.”
Marc Gasol, seated in front of his locker and answering questions fully clothed, but still not completely dry from his shower, is crowded by swarming media. In the far corner, Zach Randolph is searching for his headphones as some reporters make their way to his area.
In amongst players maneuvering their way around dropped towels and reporters’ feet, and the workers packing away Memphis’ bags, is Green. He’s seated in front of his locker, partially dressed and staring blankly ahead of him at nothing in particular. It’s as if he’s reflecting back; or looking forward to the journey ahead. Jeff Green could be the piece that catapults the Grizz to the Western Conference Finals – and beyond.
“He’s what we’ve been missing,” Griz guard Tony Allen says.
Despite a franchise best start to the season (26-11 prior to the game against Brooklyn), the Grizz felt like they needed to add depth, and extra firepower, to compete in the loaded Western Conference. The Grizz’ offense, based on the brute power of big men Randolph and Gasol, needed versatility, even though that combination was usually a match-up nightmare for most teams.
Green’s exit from Boston was finalized Monday in a three-team deal that saw Memphis send Tayshaun Prince and a future first-round pick to Beantown for Green, with Quincy Pondexter and a second-round pick also going to New Orleans in exchange for Russ Smith. The Pelicans sent Austin Rivers to Boston.
Memphis’ offense has already improved to 14th best in the league in 2014-15 (101.8 points per game), up from 27th the previous season, but Green, a 6-foot-9, 235 pound forward adds a different dynamic to lineups for coach Dave Joerger, an ability to play inside-out much more frequently, and match-up with Western teams that prefer the small-ball lineups. He can spend time at the three, but switch over and play some four when required. It’s his size and athleticism that the Grizz place a high premium on. Memphis needs athleticism that can guard floor-spreading bigs who make 3-pointers.
“You’re gonna see him [Green] play when we play small ball,” said Joerger. “Then you can put Tony [Allen] on a guy who needs to get shut down. We can do some things, mess around with some things; as long as we stay aggressive and attack, and make sure we know who we are –we’re never going to be a small ball team, but we do have to match-up with teams in the West.”
“I mean, I’m surrounded by threats,” said Green after he finished with 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting in his Grizz debut. “It’s a great feeling to have. Coach just wants me to go out there and just play my game and just be aggressive.”
Selected fifth by Boston in the 2007 NBA draft, Green was part of the package that netted the C’s Ray Allen from Seattle that summer. But he came full-circle, though, when Boston re-traded for him in 2011 in the hope that his athleticism and length could bother LeBron James as the Celtics looked to make a deep playoff run.
Green was miscast during his time in Boston following the split of the Big Three era, though. By the time Danny Ainge traded away veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Green was looked upon to be the team’s go-to man on a nightly basis, and although he performed admirably in the role (17 points per game), he’s likely a much better fit on a team where he will not be required to shoulder the burden of carrying a young, rebuilding team nightly.
On any given night, however, Green could explode and take over a game offensively.
“I think sometimes with teams that have been together a long time, and for us with two bigs, you don’t wanna defer,” said Joerger. “I want him to be aggressive and try to make plays. He’ll find his way.”
Randolph, who played on the Grizzlies team that made the Western Conference Finals in 2013, says Green’s addition makes this the best supporting cast he’s had while in Memphis.
“I think so,” he stated. “We’re very deep and talented right now. It’s one of the deepest teams [in the league]. This is our best team. We’re looking at it long run. We’re thinking championship.
“We can play different ways now, that’s the main thing. We can play small [but] we can [also] go big.”
Lionel Hollins, coaching against his former team for the first time, concurred.
“Those guys were puppies and now they’re men,” Hollins said. “They’re a very good defensive team, a very good rebounding team and that’s why they’re one of the best teams in the league.”
So good are the Grizzlies that, in fact, Gasol believes the addition of Green as sixth man puts them on the precipice of something special this season.
“He has that kind of athleticism that we haven’t had in a while,” said the Spaniard. “Especially to the starting three, he brings athleticism and size that we had with Tay, but he [Green] is a different kid of player than Tay is. I think Jeff is a big piece for us, and he will do a lot of great things for us.”
There are no guarantees in the NBA, and Green’s addition will not automatically vault the fourth-ranked Grizz to the top of the West, but come playoff time, when the need to help defend players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard arises, Green will be there to help.
“We’ve never been afraid of anybody,” adds Gasol. “We feel like in a playoff series we can beat anybody, but just like that, in order for us to do that we have to be at a great level. We’re not a team that has the firepower to go just go through motions and outscore a team, 125-120. We’re just not gonna do that, so you know, for us to beat the better and really good teams, we have to be really engaged defensively and consistent with our effort and be on our A game.”
The final piece of the puzzle has been added, now it’s time to make it fit.