Simpson gets another shot in the NBA

On March 27, Zavier Simpson was in Toronto, gearing up for the final week of the NBA G League’s regular season with the Motor City Cruise.

This past Wednesday, he was in Milwaukee, preparing to face the Bucks as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

What a difference a week makes.

Simpson received the call that everyone in his position works for last Thursday, a 10-day contract offer from an NBA team.

Since then, he’s made a brief stop back in Detriot to pack his things before hopping another plane to Orlando on Friday night to meet up with his new team before its Saturday night game against the Magic.

Just hours after signing his new deal, Simpson made his first NBA appearance in two years against Orlando, dishing out four assists in the final nine minutes of a 118-88 loss.

After that, the Grizzlies traveled to Detroit and got a two-point win over the Pistons on Monday, 110-108, before landing in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, where they’ll conclude a three-game road trip against the Bucks on Wednesday night.

For Simpson, that’s five cities in the last seven days, including two trips to Detroit, and on Thursday, he’ll be in Memphis for the start of a three-game home stretch for the Grizzlies.

Some might call that type of travel a grind, but for an NBA player on a 10-day contract, it’s just another day in the life.

For Simpson, this isn’t a first. The 27-year-old Lima Senior grad has been on a 10-day contract three times in his professional career. This time around, the undrafted guard out of Michigan is looking at the opportunity as just another shot at the big leagues.

“You just have to embrace the opportunity, enjoy it and soak all of it in,” Simpson said. “You have to embrace every single step and be the best you can be, whether it’s five minutes (of playing time) or the whole game. You have to let the eyes and ears of different people see you work hard as a professional in a new environment. It’s a chance to prove you belong in the league.”

It’s an opportunity that Simpson’s worked toward ever since finishing the 2021-22 NBA season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. After his last appearance for OKC on April 10, 2022, a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers where he played 45 minutes and finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, it’s been a steady climb to get back to the league.

It’s all another part of the journey that, at times, has been taxing both mentally and physically on the 6-foot-0 playmaker, but he says that his inner growth and the opportunity to test himself at the highest level has boosted his confidence along the way and motivated him to keep going.

“Sometimes you work so hard for something and still come up short, which is the hard part, and you have to keep pushing through,” he said. “This is what you do all the work for. This is why you embrace smaller opportunities, to get a bigger opportunity like this. Just being able to come in and be the best professional I can be, and representing the name on the back of my jersey is important to me.”

Representing himself was something that Simpson definitely did well this season in the G League. In 48 games with the Motor City Cruise, he averaged 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 36.6 minutes per game.

Simpson called his time in the G League over the past few seasons with the Cruise, Lakeland Magic and Oklahoma City Blue “a grind,” but he says that receiving an opportunity to get back to the NBA outweighs it all.

“It’s about continuing to pursue your dream, and working hard every single day because you never know when someone’s watching,” Simpson said. “The G League season prepares you for the physical and emotional aspects of the game and develops the habits that keep you ready for an opportunity like this so that when you get called up, it’s not as big of an adjustment.”

Simpson joins Memphis in the midst of a disappointing season full of injuries, starting with All-Star guard Ja Morant, who’s been limited to nine games because of a suspension and a tear in his shoulder. Guards Marcus Smart and Derrick Rose, along with forward Desmond Bane, have also missed significant time, leaving the Grizzlies at 25-50 and in the 13th seed of the Western Conference.

Despite the team’s struggles, Simpson had nothing but positive things to say about his first few days with the team.

“The culture and the positive energy that’s here is noticeable,” he said. “With the season not being where they thought it would be because of injuries is a lot, but being able to represent them and being in a positive environment from the front office to the coaching staff to the players is amazing. It’s a special group to be a part of.”

And in what he calls the “small world of basketball,” Simpson even ran into some familiar faces in Memphis, namely his new teammate Luke Kennard, who played basketball at Franklin High School near Dayton and attended Duke University while Zavier was at the University of Michigan.

“We grew up playing against each other since we were in about fourth grade,” Simpson said. “It was good to see him coming in here. It’s the basketball world. You see some old teammates, old friends, college buddies, people you used to play AAU with or against. It’s all part of the journey.”

No matter where that journey takes him, Simpson said he has no plans on stopping anytime soon. In his mind, there’s no time to be satisfied because the job isn’t done. There’s always another game to be played, another opportunity to run with and another contract to earn.

For Simpson, the end goal is to find a way to stick in the NBA, make an impact on his team and be the best professional he can be on and off the court.

“Being able to receive this call-up,” he said, “be the best I can be and show this organization who I am as an individual as well as a professional, that’s something I’ve wanted to do so I can leave the results where they land.

“This is just another step in my career, and I want to make more steps after this. For me, it’s not time to be satisfied because I want to find a home in the NBA, but until then I’m just taking it day-by-day trying to become the best individual professional I can be.”

Reach Chris Howell at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter at @Lima_Howell