The downward spiral of Dillon Brooks’ career in recent weeks was punctuated on Monday by a report that the Memphis Grizzlies are no longer interested in retaining him in free agency this offseason. Brooks became one of the league’s biggest villains in lightning speed, and cost himself millions of dollars in the process.
While Brooks’ time in Memphis may have been trending toward an end well before the playoffs, the path was certainly accelerated around the postseason. It began before the Grizzlies even knew their opponent and ended in flames weeks later.
Here’s a complete timeline of how we got from pre-play-in to Tuesday’s report from Shams Charania of The Athletic that sealed Brooks' fate.
Before he even knew the Lakers would be the Grizzlies’ opponent, Brooks began the trash talk. As Memphis was preparing for the postseason and waiting on a play-in opponent, Brooks declared he wanted to play, and eliminate, the Lakers.
Dillon Brooks: “I wouldn’t mind playing LeBron in a 7-game series.”— Mark Giannotto (@mgiannotto) April 11, 2023
“The legacy is there. First time back in the playoffs, knock him out right away in the first round. It’ll test us good. They got good pieces, good players, and that’ll be a good 1st round matchup for us.”
The Lakers would go on to win their play-in game against Minnesota and grant Brooks’ wish.
Brooks was quiet during and after Game 1 as the Lakers stole home court right away to kick off the series, two things that are related. But as Memphis bounced back for a Game 2 win, that’s when Brooks pulled the pin on the grenade.
Reporter: There are some people, when the Lakers are making that run and they get it to 14, you and LeBron have that exchange, there are some people that say ‘maybe you shouldn’t do that with one of the better players in the game.’ I guess what were you thinking there?
Brooks: “I don’t care, he’s old. I was waiting for that, I was expecting him to do that in Game 4 or Game 5, but he wanted to say something when I got my fourth foul. He should’ve been saying that earlier on. But you know, I poke bears. I don’t respect no one until they come and give me 40, so I pride myself on what I do is defense and taking any challenge that’s on the board.”
It’s unclear what Brooks even hoped to accomplish with these comments, but whatever it was, it didn’t work.
LeBron James himself went out of his way to not mention Brooks by name, including in the immediate aftermath of the comments from the Grizzlies' wing. A long post-practice media session ended with James making his stance clear.
LeBron at the end of his media availability: “I’m not here for the bullshit. I’m ready to play.”— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) April 21, 2023
This is about as close as LeBron came to directly discussing Brooks throughout the whole series.
With all eyes on Los Angeles for Game 3, the Lakers stormed out to a historic first quarter and routed Memphis. Brooks still took the headlines though by being ejected early in the third quarter after punching LeBron’s crown jewels.
After the game, he chose not to speak to the media.
Dillon Brooks declined an interview request. “I ain’t talking,” he told me.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 23, 2023
After having a day to think things over, clear his mind and come up with a calculated response to the growing situation between him and LeBron, Brooks spoke after Grizzlies practice and... blamed the media.
“The media making me a villain, the fans making me a villain and then that just creates a whole different persona on me,” Brooks said. “So now you think I intended to hit LeBron James in the nuts. I’m playing basketball. I’m a basketball player. So if I intended — and that’s whatever is in the flagrant 2 category — if you think I did that, that means you think I’m that type of person.”
With another chance to make a difference on the court and change the narrative, Brooks went 4-11 in an overtime Game 4 loss. His performance was capped off by fouling LeBron for the decisive and-one that sealed the win for the Lakers.
After the game, Brooks again declined to speak to the media.
Brooks was surprisingly quiet, relatively speaking, after Memphis bounced back with a Game 5 win. The damage was done, though, and the Lakers returned home for another historic Game 6 mauling, winning by 40 points to send the Grizzlies home.
In a shocking move, Brooks left without speaking to the media after the game.
Dillon Brooks exited the locker room before the media was allowed to enter postgame.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 29, 2023
After playing down Brooks' comments throughout the series and largely ignoring them, LeBron took his well-earned victory lap after closing out the series.
Unlike you little I'm a grown ass man— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 29, 2023
Big shoes to fill , grown ass pants
Prolly hustled with your pops, go ask your parents
Its apparent you're staring at a legend
Who, put a few little in the they place before
Trying to eat without saying they grace before!
After spending the latter half of the series actively dodging reporters, the NBA took notice and fined Brooks.
The NBA just announced Dillon Brooks has been fined $25,000 for "violating league rules governing media interview access"— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) April 30, 2023
At his exit interview, Brooks addressed his comments at the beginning of the series toward LeBron, stating he did not regret making them.
“That’s who I am. I don’t regret it,” Brooks said. “I’m a competitor and I compete. I don’t think it got LeBron geeked up. Back in the playoffs, it’s been a little while, so I think he was ready to play. Overall, we just got a better team, a bigger team, guys that have their whole team, their whole pieces there. I’m just going to continue to be me and get better at what I do.”
In hindsight, knowing that the Grizzlies told him that day that he would not be coming back to the team based at least somewhat on those comments is quite something. He also stated that he wanted to be more than a 3-and-D player and that he wished Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins had called more plays for him to “find my rhythm and find some stuff like that.”
Really, it’s hard to understand why Jenkins didn’t do more of that.
In an unusually strongly-worded and definitive report about a restricted free agent that the Grizzlies still theoretically could have signed-and-traded for assets at the very least, Charania detailed that the Grizzlies would be moving on from Brooks this summer.
After his tumultuous end to the season, Brooks was told about the Grizzlies’ decision to move on in exit meetings with team officials in recent days, those sources said. Memphis and Brooks discussed in exit meetings that it’s best for both sides to have a fresh start, sources added.
Brooks’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers was considered to be a breaking point.
It was a span of exactly 21 days between Brooks’ comments on the Lakers before their play-in game and Charania’s report. A tumultuous, eventful and, ultimately, hugely impactful three weeks for Brooks. Off the court, at least. On the court, he was much quieter in terms of success, and that lack of bite to back up his bark may have as much to do with his jettisoning from Memphis as any talk. Now the wait is on, for several months, to see if any other team shows much more interest, but it’s hard to imagine Brooks will make anywhere near the amount he was set to on the extension that Charania reports he turned down from the Grizzlies earlier this year.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.