Ex-Cat Tayshaun Prince slowing with age, but he's far from obsolete

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)January 5, 2014 

DETROIT — Tayshaun Prince acknowledges that there were at least 10 Grizzlies games in which he probably shouldn't have appeared.

The veteran small forward's entire left side ached.

Prince, who barely speaks above a whisper, quietly dealt with a sore left hip and knee. Those injuries led to a troublesome left groin, which made him decide to sit out a few games.

"I was probably hurting the team," Prince said. "I tried to gut it out. I'm just one of those guys that feel like as long as I put that jersey on, even if I'm in pain, I can give some type of effort."

Now "pain-free," Prince's motor is not a question. It's his ability that came into doubt as Prince prepared to start his 791st NBA game since the start of the 2003-04 season.

The Griz were back in Prince's old stomping grounds to play the Detroit Pistons on Saturday afternoon in The Palace of Auburn Hills — he had 15 points (one off his season high), four points and four rebounds in a win. Only LeBron James has started more games than Prince over the past decade.

Old reliable, however, doesn't fit Prince any longer. And no one understands that more than Prince, who will be 34 on Feb. 28.

Prince, a 12-year veteran, has done this long enough to know that while his presence is needed, there will be games when he must yield to more athletic and deft-shooting teammates.

A pair of games last week provided a snapshot of what the rest of Prince's season could look like. He logged just 15 minutes Thursday at Phoenix and played nearly 30 the next night at Denver.

"Of course, I understand it," Prince said of his unsettled playing time. "I've been in this league long enough to understand, especially when you're not winning. When you win a game and lose a game, you're just trying to find a rhythm with what is going to work best. When we find a way to have a consistent level of play on both ends of the court, (Coach Dave Joerger) will know what the rotation is.

"I'm not the kind of guy who will complain, talking about I need this or that. There's enough things on the plate with this team as far as putting guys in a rhythm. It's game to game."

There is an argument for replacing Prince, and/or shooting guard Tony Allen, in the starting lineup because the opposition flat-out ignores both on offense nightly. Playing with a pair of nonscoring threats on the wings does little to alleviate pressure in the post, where the Griz try to dominate in scoring every night.

Putting more shooters in the starting lineup would help space the floor — in theory.

But slow starts are no longer an issue for the Griz. And Joerger has committed to the game-to-game philosophy of starting Prince but making a quick substitution if the veteran struggles to defend or make shots.

"It's difficult without his level of experience," Joerger said. "He's got a high IQ."

Prince has reached the downside of his career physically but there still is an appreciation for his cerebral approach. Prince understands positioning and uses his length to cut off lanes or force an offensive player into the Grizzlies' desired defensive trap.

Prince can't keep up one-on-one with most of the younger, more athletic and explosive wing players but he remains a solid help defender.

Prince has struggled this season, particularly on offense, where his production of just 6.2 points per game on 40-percent shooting does little to uplift a scoring-impaired Griz squad.

Prince showed signs of slowing down last season but his lack of shooting is more glaring now because of team-wide issues on offense.

"Last year, we were so much more in tune with what we were doing on both ends of the floor that me missing shots didn't affect anything," Prince said. "We would do what it took defensively to win the game. So now we're not playing as good defensively, so making shots is much more vital than it was last season.

"I just have to continue to try to find a way to get something easy, whether it's just cutting off Zach (Randolph). I just can't wait for a 20-foot jump shot to go down first before I can get in the flow of the offense."

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