The Grizzlies‘ slide down the Western Conference standings continued on Wednesday, as the team lost its third consecutive game – and 10th of 13 – to slip below .500 for the first time since October. After the game, frustrations with that slump boiled over in Memphis’ locker room, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports that veterans Garrett Temple and Omri Casspi were involved in an altercation after a team meeting turned physical.
League sources tell Charania that the meeting began with coaches and players “questioning each other about their effort and what each can do to improve.” However, when the bench unit was accused of a lack of enthusiasm, Casspi “became vocal in his defense.” Temple and Casspi had a verbal exchange which turned physical before the two men were separated, per Charania.
A source tells ESPN.com that the scuffle between Temple and Casspi was “heat-of-the-moment stuff,” and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff didn’t mention it during his post-game comments. At the time that Bickerstaff addressed the media, approximately 30 minutes later than expected, news of the physical altercation hadn’t yet leaked, giving the coach some leeway to downplay what happened in the locker room.
“A conversation that needed to be had that will stay between those of us that were in that locker room,” Bickerstaff said, according to Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian. “I think addressing larger issues was the conversation that we needed to have. Right now it’s not X’s and O’s that need to be resolved. I think we resolved some of those issues tonight.”
The Grizzlies, who were 15-9 less than a month ago, now sit at 18-19, tied with the Mavericks for 10th in the West. Memphis is still within striking distance of the top eight, 2.5 games back of the Spurs (No. 7) and Lakers (No. 8), but the club will need to right the ship soon in order to avoid slipping further out of the playoff race in a competitive conference.
Temple and Casspi are both in contract years, on track to become unrestricted free agents this summer, so it wouldn’t be hard to trade one of them before next month’s deadline. However, there’s no indication at this point that that would be necessary. Of the two, Temple is the least expendable — he has started 37 games and averaged 31.8 MPG this season, emerging as a veteran leader for the Grizzlies after arriving from Sacramento in an offseason trade.