Memphis, I’ll be back on the court this season, so I wanted to take a second to put down some of my thoughts. It’s been a rocky start since I got here two years ago, and I put that on me.
Two years feels like a long time — for me, and for you guys, too, I’m sure. We didn’t win nearly as much as we should’ve or could’ve. I’ve dealt with injuries. Marc and Mike had injuries. But here’s something that was true two years ago that’s still true now: I want to be in Memphis. Two years ago, in July, I took a meeting with the Grizzlies and I walked out of it with my final decision made. I chose Memphis. And I chose it because it was the right fit for me. I liked the people, the culture. I liked the way the city had this feeling of ownership of its team. Plus, I had a great relationship with J.B. Bickerstaff from our time in Houston, and J.B. was headed to Memphis. Growing up in Florida, a lot of things about Memphis felt familiar, like it could be my home for a long time.
Then I got injured. And I guess I thought I knew what I was in for … but I didn’t. Not even close. The process was way longer and harder than I was prepared for. I went through a lot of frustration, on the inside and out. I had to learn a lot … and seeing it now as I look back, I didn’t learn it all as fast as I would’ve liked. I didn’t have the experience to know how to react to the criticism that came my way.
I still feel that Memphis is 100% the right place for me. Still, I know you guys haven’t seen me on the court in a Grizz uniform almost at all. And that sucks. This season, I’ll be back. I’m feeling healthy and strong. I want to look forward. But real quick, I want to look back, because you guys deserve that.
Before the NBA, before college, before AAU, I was a huge basketball fan. My family lived in Winter Park, a city right outside Orlando. The Magic were my team. I rode for them to everyone who’d listen, and I felt like they got dismissed a lot, and disrespected even. And we had some good years in the ‘90s. Great ones. The Penny/Shaq years were everything a Magic fan could’ve hoped for, and even though I was pretty young around that time, what those guys did is what hooked me on the Magic.
But it’s weird … all these years later, my biggest memory is a negative one.
When Shaq left for L.A., we had some losing years. I remember the day it looked like everything was gonna turn around. I was 11. I saw the news that we got Grant Hill. By that time, I was already a huge Grant Hill guy. I had his poster in my bedroom — those Pistons unis with the funky lettering … those were dope. And Grant had that fluid inside-outside game, the ability to shoot the jumper and the ability to beat you off the dribble and dunk it. It was the biggest news for me at that age. My favorite player was coming to play for my squad — how often does that happen? I was gonna get a Grant Hill jersey as soon as they went on sale.
Then nothing went like it was supposed to. Grant Hill had injury after injury. He only played about 200 total games over seven seasons for the Magic. By the time he left, in 2007, I blamed Grant Hill for the Magic’s failures. It felt personal to me, like he had gone out of his way to let me down.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this summer. It’s funny to be finding myself in a similar position, but this time as a player. I’m not Grant Hill, but just like him, I went to a new team and got injured right away. Two years have gone by, and today I’m closer to being the player I was pre-injury than any time since I got to Memphis. But during a lot of my time here, I think I lost touch with the way I felt as a basketball fan. When I was going through my own share of criticism the past few years, I wish I’d thought more about how I felt at age 11 about my home team.
I’m not the only NBA player to get injured and miss a lot of games — I knew that before I ever got injured. But I’ve learned some other things the hard way. Like, I’m pretty sure most players who get injured don’t reply to fans on Twitter — acting defensive or competitive or whatever. I did that more than once. That was dumb.
I’m pretty sure many other players who’ve been injured didn’t get riled up when reporters asked about their rehab progress or personal life. I did that, too, a few times. Dumb. I let some of that stuff get under my skin. In my mind, I was frustrated because I wasn’t on the court. It came from a competitive place, but still. I hold myself accountable. It’s taken some time, but I can see now how it seemed like I wasn’t invested in Memphis, like I wasn’t all in — even when I felt I was.
I’m a basketball fan, so I know what it’s like, as a fan, to feel like you’re giving a lot to your team …and the players are not matching that. I wish I would’ve known that I needed to be more available, and more open, while I was injured — because nobody was getting to see my contributions on the basketball court. Instead, when you guys saw me on vacation or getting photographed by paparazzi going to dinner, or posting something on IG or whatever, maybe it looked like I didn’t really care about the team. When I look back at some of that now, and remember how I felt when I was a Magic fan all those years ago, I think I understand where you’re coming from.
So yeah, the injuries were bad luck. I got hurt, and I couldn’t play this sport I love. Being injured for multiple years in a row is just … it’s easy to fall into a dark place, and to become bitter, and to think that you’re never going to be able to get back to where you were before the injuries. The rehab process is a grind — that’s not some big thing to say, though. But how I responded to my injuries didn’t have anything to do with bad luck. That part was on me.
I’ve definitely changed as a player, too. I’ve changed a lot about my routine — from nutrition, to training, to general day-to-day stuff. This summer, I’ve worked out harder than ever. For the last couple months, a typical day started early, and without a basketball. I’d start with body work — strength and balance training. After that, weightlifting: squats, deadlifts, jerks, cleans and that kind of thing. Lifting weights wasn’t new, but this time I learned to reprogram every little motion that goes into lifting and conditioning. I had to pay attention not just to building muscles to prevent injury, but to the most efficient way to complete each motion. It was like breaking down your jumper under a microscope. After lifting, I’d do yoga, and then finally pick up a basketball for a few hours of skill work.
I’ve come a long way from the days I couldn’t play five-on-five at game speed. I think I’d taken for granted being able to work on my game and play pick-up in the offseason. My last two summers changed that — instead, it was rehab for four hours a day instead of focusing on my game. This summer, I was 100% and able to meet up with Blake, PG, Courtney Lee, Marcus Smart and others to play pick-up and work on individual skills. It was good to run with those guys. It had been a while since I’d gone five-on-five with other pros like that. And it was good to see myself back at the level I remembered before my injuries. Felt like the old days.
I know the last thing you want to hear from me is a promise about my basketball performance — I know I need to show it on the court. I guess all I really wanted to say … is that I’m here. I’m here in Memphis. I still love it here. I’ve struggled here, too, which makes me want to prove myself here more than ever. I’m here to work, and I’ve got work to do. I’m not proud of how I dealt with my injuries publicly. On the bright side, I’m feeling stronger physically and mentally than I did two years ago. So I plan to do now the same thing I planned to do two years ago … come in fresh, as the new guy. With a lot to prove.