I have a friend who subscribes to the conspiracy theory that LeBron James runs the NBA.
It’s an idea that’s not all that farfetched. LeBron James is the most powerful player the NBA has ever seen. If you don’t believe me, arguing your case instead for Michael Jordan, keep in mind that LeBron has never been forced out of the league for gambling, allegedly.
At 38 years old, LeBron James is still adding to the records he’s already broken and, in his 18th year in the league, is yet again driving a team towards another championship. If nothing else, his Lakers are in the mix.
In the first round of the NBA playoffs, Memphis Grizzlies small forward Dillon Brooks experienced the discomfort of having to guard LeBron. Brooks, who is nowhere near the caliber of the player of James but was up to the challenge, didn’t fare all that well in his task. Not only did he make soundbite after now infamous soundbite about “poking the bear” and calling LeBron “old” he witnessed firsthand as the old bear poked back. The Lakers advanced.
James isn’t the first player Brooks has provoked. His on-court quarrels with Klay Thompson are also well known. While I can respect the want-to within Brooks’ self-confident soul, I’m not sure his efforts to verbally and visibly irk first ballot Hall of Famers worked in his favor. In fact, I’m confident they did not. He’s not the first bad boy to run his mouth, nor is he the first to be unable to back it up.
Not long after their season ended, in fact within days, the Memphis Grizzlies organization publicly admitted they were not interested in re-signing Brooks, throwing in the verbiage “under any circumstances.” It wasn’t a shock, but it wasn’t exactly the most couth dismissal either.
Dillon Brooks is the longest tenured member of the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s played there for six years and has played for no other team. Despite averaging a career best 18 points only a year ago, he could hardly be described as an offensive threat. He plays small forward at a time in the league’s history when that position demands more of a contribution than occasionally decent defense and some jibber-jabber.
Brooks has evolved into an alleged stopper of small forwards, an instigator, one who could counter an opponent’s contributions, except that didn’t happen against high profile opponents and it certainly didn’t happen against LeBron this post-season, who averaged 22, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists a game. He shot 48% from the field those six games and notched his first ever 20+-point, 20+ rebound game. While those numbers aren’t exactly LeBron-like, they’re a far cry from venerable.
If anything, Dillon’s antics were a distraction and a headline grabber. It would have been something had he been able to back them up, but LeBron went about his business while Brooks averaged 10, 3, 2 and 31%. Again, you do the math.
The second seeded Grizzlies had higher hopes for their season but ended up with a first round exit against a more loaded, determined, and downright better Los Angeles Lakers team.
But I have questions.
With Brooks all but having his locker cleaned out for him, who within the Memphis Grizzlies had his back?
Was there ever a discussion between players, coaches, and Brooks that his antics were over the top? Did they encourage Brooks to be himself or rather roll their eyes when he’d go about his business? Were these discussions they wanted to have but were afraid to? If so, that’s a gap in leadership. Did they still want him there and did ownership overrule them? If so, that’s a gap in hierarchy. Did Ja Morant, the established leader of this franchise, no longer want him on the team? Did head coach Taylor Jenkins? Was either consulted on the move? Or was it, as my friend my theorizes, that LeBron simply wanted him out of the league?
Either way, Brooks is gone, his agents working overtime to find him a new home. The news of his dismissal came swiftly from above and for a variety of reasons. He was a distraction and his contributions on the floor failed to match what he brought between the lines.
This has a fair amount to do with, as Bill Simmons Tweeted, “the culture that Memphis has created” which is a shame as this franchise once seemed on a trajectory to make mainstays like Golden State and Los Angeles begin to sweat. The Grizzlies were compared to another young, upstart Western team with similar potential, the Sacramento Kings, who now appear to have considerably less drama on their campus.
All this might be overblown. As long as the Grizzlies have Ja Morant on their roster, they’ll be fine in the regular season and a threat in the playoffs. How deep they can go will depend on how they continue to build this roster, the identity they create and again, as Simmons brought up, their culture.
This team is dangerously close to finding out it reached its ceiling and might need a major tweak to get over the next hurdle. Determining that tweak will occupy the bulk of ownership’s off-season. The only thing they know for sure is that Dillon Brooks will no longer be a part of it.
I enjoyed reading Bill Simmons posts back in the day. Having spent most of my reading time lately on pulp fiction I have lost touch with much of the sports scribes. Where would one find the writing of Mr.Simmons these days? Inquiring minds would like to know.
Not sure how much actual writing for publication he’s still doing, Deac, but his road from blogger to millionaire is more than admirable.
He’s been following up his 30 for 30 docs with more documentaries, my favorite of which is Mr. Saturday Night about Robert Stigwood who put together both Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
Simmons, I believe, still runs the Ringer but I’ve been geeking out to his movie-related podcast, The Re-Watchables, which I also highly recommend.
Thanks Rev , I’ll check it out.
Amidst all this Dillon Brooks talk, who ever thought Ja Morant would be the Grizzlie’s biggest off-season problem?