Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 - A Year Not Worth Recapping

As the 2007 year winds to a close it is a tradition to recap the year past and see what has happened in the past season. Usually there are pros and cons about the previous year which are enjoyable and painful to review. I am not so sure that can be said about 2007 but we will try our best.

The best news is that the year is over. 2007 was a disaster for the franchise overall. The city was told in 2006 that the team needed to take a step back to move forward but it is doubtful anyone knew how far back that step would end up being.

The Tony Barone tenure as head joke was in 2007 as Tony Barone was appointed head coach on Dec. 28th. Barone was a sad joke from the beginning. He opened up the offense but failed to install a co-ordinated defense to back up the attacking style. The resulting game play was fast paced and high scoring but not successful. What was worse was the inevitable images of Barone looking like a bad comic more than an NBA coach. He was funny on occasion but overall the effect wasn't.

He lasted until May 31st when Marc Iavaroni was named the Head Coach.

That should have brightened Grizzlies spirits as it appeared the Grizzlies hired not only their first choice but the fan favorite as head coach. However the Iavaroni era has begun slowly as well. In fact the team is only 1 game ahead of last season's pace right now and that is with Gasol not missing the first 22 games of the season this year. Still Iavaroni has an excellent resume to be a head coach. He played in both the NBA and the European leagues during his career. He has been an assistant coach under Pat Riley, Mike Fratello and Mike D'Antoni while also working numerous years at the Pete Newell Big Man Camp. He has struggled in his first year as Head Coach but the knowledge is there and with time he should prove to be an excellent hire for the Grizzlies. He is positive mentally and that alone is something the Grizz need more of on their team.

2007 saw the rise and fall of Tarence Kinsey. Kinsey was not even an after thought under previous Coach Mike Fratello's offense, gradually earned minutes under Tony Barone, eventually became a starter when Mike Miller went down with an injury and finished the season as the Western Conference Rookie of the Month. However, a shoulder injury sidelined Tarence during the summer league and he fell out of favor with new coach Marc Iavaroni and was released on Dec. 18th. Quite a year for the unddrafted player out of South Carolina. As of this writing Tarence has still not signed a new contract with anyone but it is only a matter of time before someone takes a chance on the former fan favorite.

2007 saw the drama of Pau Gasol. He started the year recovering from his broken foot that cost him the first 22 games of the season. He was starting to play himself into shape when he met with Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and reportedly asked to be traded. When the story broke on Jan. 21st the fans turned against their highest paid player and several disappointing performances soon after made the environment hostile to Gasol who fought threw the negative reaction to post the best statistical season of his career. The summer brought in a coach he reportedly liked, a trade that brought his best friend to the team and a trip to Spain to perform in front of his loving Spanish fans. However he has struggled in the new system and has appeared more lackadaisical than ever this year in posting career lows in scoring and blocks. The rumors have started again about Gasol being available in trade despite Chris Wallace's statement that the team is not pursuing a trade. He did not say that no trade for Gasol would be considered but rather he would pursue any deal that improved the team.

In 2007 Jerry West retired..again. At least this time it is permanent for the Grizzlies. Rumors swirled that West was fed up with the Heisley ownership position and wanted more freedom. West was also known to be irritated with the Grizzlies fans impatience in building the franchise as he had lashed out at the locals on more than one occasion for their lack of support of the franchise. West also was reported to be disgusted with Pau Gasol and his request for a trade. Understandable considering the problems the franchise had experienced due to Gasol injury suffered playing for Spain. Clearly the time for West to retire had come.

Heisley hired Chris Wallace as the replacement for West which was not a popular choice with many fans who associated Wallace with poor decisions made in Boston, the 2nd worst team in the NBA last season. Wallace had traded Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnston as rookies while acquiring questionable veterans like Vin Baker and Roy Rogers. However Wallace did a superb job of turning around that attitude with an apparent successful summer with the drafting of Michael Conley, the free agent signing of Darko Milicic and the trade for Juan Carlos Navarro. While those moves have yet to produce results on the court no one is questioning the intelligence of the acquisitions.

More important, Wallace's easy going persona and willingness to meet anyone interested in the team has built tremendous amounts of good will in the community that was noticeably absent under the West tenure. Unlike West, Wallace is very comfortable talking to locas about the team and I have yet to hear anyone being critical of Wallace after talking to him.

The team has suffered from an inordinate amount of minor injuries in 2007. From Miller's injury to end the season, Damion's knee swelling, Gasol's sprained ankle and bad back, Darko Milicic's sprained thumb and twisted ankle to Michael Conley's shoulder injury the team has had to battle numerous minor injuries while attempting to build some cohesion. While some of the injuries raised eyebrows last season, no one can deny the constant roster shake ups this season has slowed the team's progress.

What else has gone bad for the Grizzlies in 2007? Well they had the worst record in the NBA last season, lost the lottery ending up with the 4th pick in a draft that had 3 excellent big men available, turned over the front office almost 100% when Andy Dolich finishes his work day and are currently one of the worst teams in the league. Have I left anything out?

What has gone right? Michael Conley has super potential once he recovers fully from his shoulder injury. Conley still leads all rookies in assists per game despite his limited minutes and he did make an appearance against San Antonio. Rudy Gay has shown the potential to be a game changing player over his career with a game winning shot over San Antonio, a game tying shot against New Orleans, back to back 32 pt games and numerous highlight real plays already this season. Mike Miller seems to have no ill effects from his sore knee last season as he leads the team in minutes, Juan Carlos Navarro shows tremendous range and a deceptive push shot in the lane to average 10 ppg as a rookie. Kyle Lowry has sparked the team defensively many times and Darko has shown the toughness in the middle the team has lacked since their arrival in Memphis. Pau Gasol has shown that he is still a very difficult guard around the basket. The youth of the team has shown a lot of promise as only one player is over 30.

So as 2008 arrives there are positives. Gasol and Darko appear to be healthier than they have been together all season. The point guard situation is healthier than it has been as well. Memphis' big three scorers have each reached the 30 pt plateau this season making it difficult for teams to concentrate on just one or two players. Time has been the team's enemy this season but time could be their friend in 2008 as they head into an easier stretch of the season. Memphis has already played 12 of their 16 division games and get to play the easy teams in the conference for a change which could help develop some chemistry and confidence in the new system. Portland has made incredible strides in the second season of Nate McMillan as coach, the Grizzlies made incredible improvement in the second season of Hubie Brown as coach as well so it is a bit premature to grade Iavaroni too harshly after 31 games. Memphis needs to understand it takes time to build a champion.

Just aske another Memphis coach, John Calipari who failed to make the NCAA tournament his first two seasons and didn't make it past the first round the season he first made it. Does anyone think Coach Cal is doing a bad job now? He was given time to turn things around and Coach Iavaroni needs some too.

Blogger MVP/ROY Rankings - Episode 3

Welcome to the third installment of the Blogger MVP/ROY Rankings. You can find the tipoff voting at and Version 2.0 over at Clips Nation. Just in case this is new to you, here's a brief explanation of what we're doing. We've assembled the best minds in the basketball blogosphere -- well, at least the ones that are still returning our emails at this point -- and having them vote on who they think should be the Most Valuable Player and the Rookie of the Year for the 2007/08 NBA season. These rankings will appear every two weeks on corresponding Mondays, and you can check back here for a link to the next installment and then the next one after that all season long. Our motley crew of fellow voters:

Our comments from the 3SoB staff will come first, followed by selected comments from the rest of the voting contingency that were judged with the utmost scrutiny. They either had to make us laugh or nod our heads in thoughtful agreement. We're tough critics, after all.

Most Valuable Player

1. Dwight Howard
When you average 23.1 ppg, 15.3 rpg and 2.7 bpg, both questions and hyperbole are sure to surround you. Is there another player in the league that appears to be able to post 40/20.....every single night he steps on the floor? Forget testing him for steroids or performance enhancers -- I want him tested to make sure that he's actually human! He actually frightens me -- and I root for a team that employs a player who threatened to murder referees and rape their wives and children over the summer. Now if only he could shoot better from the free throw line than he is from the floor, he might stop drawing the unfavorable comparisons to Shaq.

(Matt/Corndogg, Hardwood Paroxysm -- Best overall play. There's nothing that Howard's not doing right now, his numbers are great, his team would be wretched without him and he rules. Also, we call him Big Baby Jesus for a reason - he will save us all.)

2. Kevin Garnett
Are his numbers down? Yes. Does the league still already have part of his name engraved on the trophy? You better believe it. While I believe that there are at least 4 other players who probably deserve it more than he does, KG will continue to get support as long as the Celtics keep rolling along. Besides, you don't want to piss off anybody who plays with that level of intensity each and every night.

(College Wolf, TWolves Blog -- Amongst the elite of the league, slight differences in individual statistics should not carry as much weight when trying to determine something such as MVP rankings. When it comes down to it, KG is the emotional leader and the best defender on the team that happens to have the best record in the league. It's not like averaging 19 and 11 is too shabby either.)

(Ricky, Sixers4Guidos -- I hate to use cliches, but...he's the best player on the best team.)

3. LeBron James
If there is something he cannot do with a basketball, we haven't seen it yet. He's even playing defense this year! If you ignore the team records, he probably wins the award going away. However, if you're like us, then you look at a guy who watched his team lose 5 straight while he sat out with an injury.....on his non-shooting hand. *shakes head in silent disappointment*

(College Wolf, TWolves Blog -- Doing everything in his power to prevent a career parallel to that of KG, prior to arriving in Beantown.)

(We Rite Goode -- Why punish LeBron in the MVP vote too? Surrounded by mediocrity, dude is suffering enough.)

4. Kobe Bryant
He just might be the best all-around player in the NBA right now. Here's what we want to know though: If the Black Mamba wins the MVP, will Andrew Bynum get partial credit? Because we know that Kobe's already taking bows for Bynum's run at Most Improved Player.

(David, 20 Second Timeout -- Widely acknowledged as the "best" player in the NBA, supposedly the only reason that he has not won the MVP award the past two years is his team's record. The Lakers have beaten Phoenix twice and are on pace for more than 50 wins, so if the Lakers keep this up, then that excuse will no longer be valid. Even LeBron insists that Kobe is the league's best player, so who are we to argue?)

5. Chris Paul
We're probably biased after being witness to two 40+ point whuppin's, but great googly-moogly, is there any way to stop this kid from doing whatever he pleases? "Finally...a point guard worthy of being considered for the MVP award" is how my co-blogger MemphisX phrased it.

(James, Green Bandwagon -- I would like someone to send me a detailed plan of how to effectively guard him. If someone has such a plan, I would like said person to immediately become a coach in the NBA.)

(We Rite Goode -- We don't want to be on the wrong side of John Hollinger.)

6. Steve Nash
The two-time MVP has been put on the back burner when MVP talks take place, but he still leads the entire universe in "assists that you have to replay three times on the DVR to figure out how he saw that angle", as well as giving perhaps the greatest postgame interview of all time. Besides, his Canadian accent reminds us to flip through all 836 channels to find a hockey game once a week.

(Matt/Corndogg, Hardwood Paroxysm -- While the Suns have been "so-so" by their standards, they'd be sunk without Nash. And that whole "leading the league in assists" thing -- well, that goes a long way with us.)

7. Tim Duncan
Do you get the feeling that Timmy is getting bored with the regular season? He hasn't turned into a complete slacker, like say, Shaq over the last decade, but you can sense that he wouldn't balk at only having to play against teams over .500 that he might face in the postseason. I wonder if Pop has him on a 35 mpg/15 incredulous looks max this season?

(David, 20 Second Timeout -- Like Kevin Garnett, he is putting up lower numbers than usual, but the Spurs were just 2-2 during the four games that he missed due to injury. His performance has been up and down since returning to action.

8. Carlos Boozer
Boozer is having a career year, putting up numbers to rival Dwight Howard's (24 and 11), but his team's .500 record is surely costing him votes. If not that, then it is probably the ascension of teammate Deron Williams that is keeping people from mentioning him in the Top 5. If it's not that....well, we hate to point out flaws, but you'd think with the cash he's pulling in, he could afford to see a dermatologist. We're sure that his skin condition isn't doing him any favors with the voting public.

(College Wolf, TWolves Blog - He's a beast, but the fact that the Utah Jazz are currently not in the playoff picture hurts his chances at the MVP.

9. Chauncey Billups
Mr. Big Shot is quietly having a solid season as the Pistons currently enjoy an 8 game winning streak that includes victories over Boston, Houston and Golden State. While it is difficult to ascertain just who the MVP of the Pistons truly is, we have no problem giving that title to the floor general who has been the catalyst of their success over the past few years.

(NetsDaily -- The Pistons are the best team in the league right now, and Chauncey deserves some love .)

10. Brandon Roy
Once Portland reported that #1 overall pick Greg Oden would miss the season, everyone penciled the Blazers in to compete with the T'Wolves for worst record in the league. Brandon Roy said: Hold up -- wait a minute. He's averaging 19.1 ppg, 5.6 apg and 4.6 rpg while shooting nearly 45% from the floor. In short, he's doing what an MVP candidate does to lead his team to wins.

(James, Green Bandwagon -- You have to respect the Blazers' ridiculous win streak. You just have to.)

Also receiving votes: Caron Butler, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Michael Redd, Deron Williams, Allen Iverson, Baron Davis, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Tracy McGrady, Chris Kaman, Al Jefferson

Rookie of the Year

1. Kevin Durant
KD has had this ranking wrapped up since being drafted by Seattle (or is it ok to start calling them OKC yet?) and is only now facing a challenge to his place atop the pedestal. He'll need to improve his shooting percentages and lead his team to a few more victories to assure himself of the award though.

(Matt/Corndogg, Hardwood Paroxysm -- We don't necessarily WANT to reward the chucking madness going on in Seattle, but we can't really do otherwise until one of the others steps up.)

2. Al Horford
The most consistent threat to Durant's stranglehold, Horford is nearly averaging a double-double (9.2 and 9.5) and is a big part of why the Hawks are suddenly, well, respectable. If he avoids crashing after hitting the inevitable rookie wall, he could move into the top spot next month.

(College Wolf, TWolves Blog -- Too bad he can't play point guard for the Hawks, too.)

(Matt/Corndogg, Hardwood Paroxysm -- Playing great all-around basketball. In Atlanta. We're perplexed.)

3. Yi Jianlian
He has settled in to some form of consistency, although you still have to prepare for both the 20+ point scoring outbursts and the 5 point "stinkers" as you would with any young player. Yi might not have a lot of fellow countrymen to keep him company in the land of beer and bratwurst, but he seems to be adapting to the NBA quite well.

(David, 20 Second Timeout -- Like all of these rookies, he has had some ups and downs, but he has been more consistent than most of the first year players.)

(Matt/Corndogg, Hardwood Paroxysm -- Ancient Proverb says: You Can Go No Wrong Path, With 7 Foot Chinese Dude.)

4. Juan Carlos Navarro
"Instant Grits" hasn't been given consistent minutes the last two weeks, so it is really no surprise that he hasn't performed consistently. He is still the Grizzlies' fourth-leading scorer, even with PT ranging from 12 minutes to 23 to 44, depending on the injury situation of the perpetually plagued Memphis roster. The fact that he is a seasoned international veteran has undoubtedly helped with his adjustment to the grind of the NBA.

(Matt/Corndogg, Hardwood Paroxysm -- Hello. My name is Juan Carlos Navarro. You traded my rights. Prepare to die.)

5. Sean Williams
Sean Williams? I thought we were going to be talking about Jamario Moon here? No...well how about Luis Scola then? Fine, fine. Williams has been a tough, physical presence that has put up 10 rebounds in each of the last two games and is averaging 8.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 3.0 bpg in 6 games as a starter. In short, he's the kind of guy that other teams will regret passing on sooner, rather than later.

(NetIncome, NetsDaily -- His presence in the starting lineup has reinvigorated the Nets to the tune of 4-2 over their last six games.)

Also receiving votes: Jamario Moon, Luis Scola, Jeff Green, Daequan Cook, Al Thornton

Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the Comments.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

If you were the GM...

Chris Wallace had some quotes in the Commercial Appeal today that left some fans with a rather sour taste in their mouths.

"I don't feel pressured or compelled to make a deal," Wallace said. "When you're in that frame of mind, you make mistakes. We like our talent. ... I'm at heart an impatient guy. But there's a process.
"I've been through difficult times. The most important part of getting through this is everybody staying together. ... Under no circumstances can you become desperate. You're going to end up in a more difficult spot than you are already in. I don't want to push a panic button. We haven't seen this team together for a long period of time. It
would be premature for us to say who this team is."
Wallace said Iavaroni has been a stabilizer in troubled waters.
"He doesn't go crazy," Wallace said. "He doesn't turn on players and hate them. He
doesn't all of a sudden say 'You know that guy who just scored 14 points on us the other night is the answer. Let's get him.' He's been positive about our long-term future."
Short-term, Wallace said the Griz have no plans to move Gasol, who is often mentioned in trade rumors. Memphis has received calls and standing trade offers for Gasol from at least two teams -- Charlotte and Atlanta -- according to insiders.
Mike Miller also has been mentioned as trade bait in national reports. But one thing to keep in mind about the Grizzlies is that they won't accept expiring contracts for their top talent. Teams, though, have become more serious about trades since Dec. 15, when free agents from last summer could be dealt.
While the rumor mill will get more intense as the NBA's trade deadline of Feb. 21 looms, Wallace cautioned that the Griz won't enter a fire sale.
"I'm not shopping players. But I'm always willing to improve the team," he said. "I can't tell you what the next phone call will bring. In this business, the landscape changes dramatically every day. We're not opposed to doing something if there's a deal that helps us basketball-wise and makes sense financially."

While I understand the impatience of some fans, I think that they are looking at Wallace's words in the wrong context. He's not saying that he isn't open to making moves or taking calls about his players. What he is saying is that he doesn't feel pressured to do that, given the injuries that have not allowed him or the coaching staff to evaluate the team as a whole and the fact that the season is only a third of the way through. What he is saying is meant for other GM's and executives around the league -- not for the fans. It is a message that says, "I'm not going to take your trash for my treasure". It is also a message that states that an expiring contract is not enough to pry Pau Gasol and/or Mike Miller away from Memphis.

Chip told me to post something of this nature two weeks ago and I didn't do it. So, now that a poster over at the Grizzlies Message Boards has, let me piggy-back onto that and offer my thoughts. I don't care to guess what the "standing offers" from Atlanta and Charlotte are, although I'm sure that the speculation will be widespread and overly hopeful. Instead, I'll attempt to look at some deals involving other teams that will help the team in terms of both basketball and business.

Originally posted by New Game. New Era.:
I mean, if you guys were the GM of this team ... Would you not see that something isn't working for this team and try to move some pieces around?
On the other hand ... If we do end up with a top 6 pick in the next draft ... Would it be the missing piece to this puzzle? Would you wait out the season and let the team you have now play together and get use to each other?
What would you do if you were the GM?
It has been established that there will be a 50-game evaluation period. Obviously, Chris Wallace will wait until that has passed before making any significant moves -- something that is backed up by his quotes above. However, if after that evaluation period has concluded, the team is still in the same "funk" that it is currently experiencing, then here is what I would do.

Scenario #1: Complete Overhaul
1. Trade Gasol and Cardinal to Miami for Udonis Haslem (3 yrs, $19.7 million), Jason Williams (1 yr, $8.9 million), Dorell Wright (1 yr, $2 million, Qualifying Offer next season for $2.9 million) and Alonzo Mourning (1 yr, $2.76 million), two 2009 2nd round picks (via Indiana and Philadelphia). (ESPN Trade Machine)

Cut both Mourning and Williams, since they are expiring contracts, unless JWill's presence might draw some fans in. I'd rather just cut him though. This gives the team a minimum of $11.6 million in extra cap space next season, as well as a tough, intimidating rebounder in Haslem and a talented young SG in Wright who won't break the bank with an extension. Miami gets a legit #2 option to put next to Dwyane Wade now that Shaq isn't even a shadow of his former self, which might be enough to get them back into the playoff hunt. They should give us a 1st round pick, too, but they don't have one. C'est la vie.

2. Trade Miller and Stoudamire to L.A. for Kwame Brown (1 yr, $9.1 million), Trevor Ariza (1 yr, $3.1 million) and Sasha Vujacic (1 yr. $1.75 million, Qualifying Offer next season for $2.6 million), 2008 2nd round pick. (ESPN Trade Machine)

All three are expiring deals, although I wouldn't mind holding on to Ariza as the backup SF if a reasonable deal can be worked out or Vujacic as a "minimum wage" bench player. The Lakers are rolling along right now (and have done so without the services of Kwame for most of the season), but they won't win in the playoffs with Jordan Farmar as their primary PG and an injury to Derek Fisher would doom them almost as certainly as an injury to the Black Mamba, so Damon's presence could offset that by playing 10-15 minutes a night throughout the regular season, lessening the wear-and-tear on the backcourt through the grueling marathon that is November through April. Mike Miller gives Kobe another weapon on the perimeter when the double teams start to come early and often. With Andrew Bynum's emergence, he'll start to command more attention with each passing game as well, which could also benefit a sharpshooter of Miller's caliber. This deal could result in as much as an additional $13.9 million in cap space, bringing the total to over $25 million from the two deals.

3. Trade Warrick and Jacobsen to Philadephia for Rodney Carney (2 yrs, $3.2 million) and Louis Amundson (1 yr, $687,456). (ESPN Trade Machine)

Hakim is (and probably always will be) a defensive liability, which means he needs a strong defender next to him. Philly has Dalembert and Evans and could use Hak's scoring punch to complement that. Carney is a super-athletic SG and a good defender, which we all know is needed. I wouldn't count on it, but he might even bring in a Tiger fan or two with his presence -- never can tell. Amundson is a great rebounder for his size (think poor man's David Lee) and would be a decent fill-in if needed. This move probably isn't necessary, but I don't see Hak or CJ being in the long-term plans for the team, so why not take a chance on someone who might be?

The reshaped roster looks like this (positions listed alphabetically, not representative of starters/bench players):

PG - Conley/Lowry/Williams
SG - Carney/Navarro/Wright
SF - Ariza/Gay/Vujacic
PF - Amundson/Haslem/Swift
C - A.Brown/K.Brown/Milicic

That's a young athletic team that is capable of playing defense and would have more than just a little cap room this summer to play with, along with a couple additional draft picks the next two years.

Scenario #2: Build around Conley/Gasol/Gay

1. Trade Damon and Hakim to Denver for Eduardo Najera (1 yr, $4.95 million) and Linas Kleiza (2 yrs, $2.8 million). (ESPN Trade Machine)

Denver gets a PG upgrade and a scoring forward. Memphis gets an expiring contract in the form of the gritty Najera and a G/F capable of being a solid backup for a cheap price in Kleiza. A lot of people will balk at "giving up" Hak for so little, but taking $5 million off next year's cap is worth it.

2. Trade Mike Miller, Casey Jacobsen and Andre Brown to Atlanta for Josh Childress (1 yr, $3.6 million), Shelden Williams (2 yrs, $6.5 million) and Lorenzen Wright (1 yr, $3.25 million). (ESPN Trade Machine)

We give up the guy who should be our 6th man (Miller) for their's as he nears a contract extension, as well as a young big man who hasn't really panned out to this point in Shelden Williams. Williams' draft position isn't his fault, but so far he could be fairly labeled a disappointment. Perhaps some work with a big man coach like Marc Iavaroni could help with that?

Those two moves would give the team a makeover without sacrificing financial flexibility for the future. Don't forget that if he continues on his current ascension, Rudy Gay will be a max contract player soon enough and Michael Conley might not command much less than that.


1. Trade Mike and Hakim to Chicago for Joe Smith (2 yrs, $10 million), Tyrus Thomas (2 yrs, $7.25 million) and Thabo Sefolosha (2 yrs, $3.7 million). (ESPN Trade Machine)

Chicago still needs low-post scoring and some "veteran leadership". Hakim provides the former (even if he's not Pau) and Miller provides the latter along with some outside shooting and playmaking ability. Ok, ok, Mike doesn't really give them any leadership, but the Bulls don't know that. Besides, Paxson has to do something, because firing Scott Skiles was only a temporary reprieve from the axe that is descending upon his neck. Memphis does this deal because it is an influx of younger, cheaper talent in Thomas and Sefolosha, as well as an attractive contract to use as trade bait next year in Smith. It is something of a "minor move" according to some, but trading away two players in Ivaroni's main rotation would definitely be considered a major change from where I sit.

That's all I've got for now, so be sure to let me know what your thoughts are in the Comments.

Memphis at San Antonio 12.30.07

Memphis plays their last game of 2007 at San Antonio. Many people associated with the Grizzlies are glad to see this year end. A record of 23 wins and 77 losses (heading into the Houston game) can have that effect on an organization. However there are some bright spots peaking through the clouds and one of those is Rudy Gay who's game winning three point shot over Tim Duncan at the buzzer on Dec.19th allowed the Grizzlies to double last seasons total wins in the Southwest Division and it's only December! Sure they only had to win 2 games to do that but an achievement none the less. Going 1-15 in the division last year and 2-8 this season means the Grizzlies head into the weekend's games just 3-16 against the division in 2007.

San Antonio still leads the Western Division despite losing Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to various injuries over parts of December. The surprising thing is that Tony Parker's absence seemed to hurt more than Duncan's. At 20-7 heading into the weekend the Spurs can't afford to play sloppy with Phoenix just one game behind in the standings. San Antonio's nearly unbeatable at home with a 15-1 record and the only loss happening when Tony Parker was out with his injury and that was to 2nd place Phoenix by only 5 points. Strange things are happening in SA these days however. How often does a team honor a former player by retiring his jersey, while he is the Coach of your biggest rivals??? The Spurs did that last week honoring Avery Johnson. And I thought Shane Battier Poster Night was a bad idea!

Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Tony Parker
Damon isn't limping anymore in his recovery from Patella Tendon surgery but he has definately lost a step and even on his best days he never was fast enough to stop Tony Parker. Kyle Lowry's bull dog approach hasn't been slowing down too many PG's lately either. With Conley cleared for workouts he may see action in this game if Lowry and Damon can't keep up although that's doubtful. The only thing slowing down Tony Parker these days is women. Which wouldn't be bad if he hadn't gotten married this summer! Of course, Spurs fan may get to ogle at both Eva Longoria and the 19 yr old french starlet during games.
Advantage: San Antonio

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Michael Finley

At one time Michael Finley was the premier Sg in the Western Conference. Now he is relegated to three point shots after the ball is dumped out. Of course standing wide open is a shot even this old man can hit with regularity at 36.8%. Mike Miller used to disappear against the Spurs but not so much anymore. With Bruce Bowen tied up tring to contain Rudy Gay, Miller is not blanketed so much any more and his season high 31 points are representative of that in the game earlier this month. Mike is averaging 18.7 ppg on 58% from the field and 56% from the arc against San Antonio this year.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Bruce Bowen

Rudy Gay has failed to break 20 points a game in the last 3 games after scoring in the 30's twice in the previous 3 games. Defenses are definitely keying on Rudy and Gasol's presence may be intimidating Rudy's aggressiveness (although Gasol only taking 6 shots against New Orleans doesn't make it seem to be the issue). As has been said before, Rudy seems to play better when he doesn't have to guard slashers and Bruce Bowen is definitely not a slasher. Bruce Bowen is a defender and holding Rudy to 18 ppg on 465 fg shooting and only 18% from the arc (and that includes the 'Dagger in December' which was over Duncan) seems to confirm that Bowen is among the best at what he does. However, Bowen is getting older and Rudy is getting better.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Tim Duncan

Pau Gasol may be happy to not be in Memphis after the fan discontent he has dealt with lately. Really Gasol is not playing that bad. He is averaging 17.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.7 apg and 1.3 bpg despite the injuries and the passing of lead scorer role to Rudy. Compare that to a probably All-Star in Tim Duncan who is averaging 18.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.9apg, 1.7 bpg. So would people think Gasol was all-star material if he averaged just 1 more point a game? Do the 1.8 rebounds per game make that much of a difference? What about the 0.4 bpg? I'm just teasing. The big difference in production isn't the numbers its the rings and Duncan dominates that category because he is a better team player that doesn't worry about the individual categories.
Advantage: San Antonio

Centers: Stromile Swift vs Fabricio Oberto

Stromile Swift was supposed to be one of the biggest benefactors of the Grizzlies up-tempo style. He has played well at times and not so well at others but why is he only getting 17.1 mpg (21.5 as a starter)? Playing way less than half a game Swift is averaging 7.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg and shooting 54.7% from the floor. That isn't bad production for the #3 big man on the roster. Sure it is hit and miss on his performance but he needs to be given more than 17 minutes to determine if he is hot or not. Oberto is only getting 22.7 mpg but that is still 25% more than Stro and he averages only 6.2 ppg but does grab 6.2 rpg as well. Obreto also brings a more consistent effort. Oberto understands his role on the team and does the job he is asked to do every night. Stro is hit or miss.
Advantage: San Antonio

Benches: Memphis vs San Antonio
San Antonio has a luxury most teams can only dream about in Manu Ginobili who comes off the bench to terrorize other teams backups. Averaging 19.2 ppg in only 28.8 mpg Ginobili has already cleared a space on his mantle for this season's 6th man of the year award. How Memphis matches up with the 6-6 shooting guard from Argentina determine the game. Manu lit up Memphis on opening night for 30 points in the Spurs 3 pt win. He has only shot 12-36 in the next two games however. Memphis' bench has been off of late with Navarro finding out how hard the NBA schedule really is, Warrick and Darko are fighting inconsistent playing time and inconsistent time and Kyle Lowry's outside shot is so disrespected around the league opposing teams' PG are camping out around the lane looking to strip whichever big man attempts a move into the paint.
Advantage: San Antonio

UPDATE: Darius Washington was waived Friday by the Spurs.

Zack's Corner

With the way the Grizzlies are playing right now, I think it is healthier for us to look back on the improbable home victory over the Spurs 11 days ago instead. This is all you need to know. Happy New Year!

(Getty Images)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Face of Failure

The beginning of the end of Pau Gasol’s tenure as a Memphis Grizzlies came during the 2006 playoffs. With the Grizzlies feeling the weight of an 0-10 playoff record, the Grizzlies went toe to toe with the Dallas Mavericks inside the FedEx Forum for 53 minutes. The defining moment came when Pau Gasol stepped to the free throw line and actually double clutched a free throw. To me it seemed like he was shook. From then until now, Pau Gasol’s heart has not been in Memphis and the majority of the fans in Memphis have had very little love for the talented Spanish 7 footer.

When Pau came back from the World Championships injured and demanding a trade, the relationship between him and the fans became even more strained. Gasol took the beating for most of the ills of the organization on and off the court. Heck, I am shocked he wasn’t blamed for the Grizzlies not winning the NBA draft lottery. Pau and his game has become symbolic for everything that was wrong with the team: poor rebounding, poor defensively, and relatively soft. He became the ugly face of the franchise.

After his performance against the Hornets in front of the home crowd, I hope that Chris Wallace is actively exploring trading Gasol. If Gasol is on the team after the trade deadline and the Grizzlies continue to lose, the damage to the psyche of the Grizzlies fan base might be beyond repair. At some point, the Grizzlies have to at least try to do something different.

In New York or Chicago, it might be OK to be the highest paid player and just be a cog in the machine. In fact, it might not be such a problem in Memphis except Pau has been here his entire career. Sort of like Rasheed Wallace in Detroit, it really didn’t matter that he made more money than Ben Wallace and Chauncey because they had already established themselves as the leaders of the Pistons and the faces of the franchise. However, expectations in Portland were different for Sheed. I think the same can happen for Gasol in another city. I just don’t think he can handle the pressure and responsibility that comes along with being The Man.
This is not to say that Pau Gasol is to blame for the problems of the Memphis Grizzlies. He is just symbolic of that failure. As the face of the franchise, he stands a 7 foot reminder of all the frustrations of the sub 30 win seasons and the 0-12 playoff record. Only the impossible could lift Gasol's burden. This team simply does not have the talent to compete at a level that would deflect criticism from Gasol. It was that way when he was drafted and has remained that way throughout the bulk of his Memphis career. I expect that burden has started to make the bumps and bruises he routinely played through just a little more unbearable.

For added proof , New Orleans post game marked the first time in Pau’s entire Memphis career that he used an injury to explain away a poor performance. Gasol has played through countless injuries in Memphis, some much more serious than his jammed toe. However, this crutch and his denial of boos aimed at him are signs that the situation in Memphis is about to come to a head.

Another problem that Marc Iavaroni and Chris Wallace should keep their eye on is the terrible body language on the court. Especially the body language of Rudy Gay, who seemed to be totally disgusted with the play of the team as a whole and the mounting losses. I know all players get frustrated with losing but the way the Grizzlies are losing has to be extra frustrating. Getting pimped slap on your home court is one thing; having Chris Paul stay in the game just so he can score 40 points is another. How the hell do you not put him on his back when he drives to the hole specifically to pad his stats on your home court?

Iavaroni and Damon Stoudamire can harp on toughness all they want but like I said 5 games into the season, you have to change the culture of this team through personnel moves. The most significant move that can be made is to move Gasol. Moving Gasol sends a statement that the Grizzlies are changing directions. Six weeks later my words are still fitting:

I just wonder how much longer Iavaroni and Wallace are going to try and sell us this pig in a poke. Nobody in Memphis believes that Gasol is taking this organization anywhere but the NBA draft lottery. For them to keep giving lip service to the contrary makes them seem dishonest at best and incompetent at worst. I have yet to find a single Grizzlies fan in Memphis that thinks Gasol lead us to any significant success in the NBA. I just wonder if the Grizzlies brain trust is going to let this organization flop and flounder without direction on into next offseason and then attempt to make moves. Does Chris Wallace have the balls to move Gasol sooner rather than later? We will see…

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Future of the Memphis Grizzlies: Business vs. Basketball

What is the future of NBA basketball in Memphis?

Don't worry -- this isn't one of those doomsday pieces that proclaims that the Grizzlies will be moving next year to Las Vegas, Kansas City, St. Louis or whever else that uninformed people conjure up as a viable relocation site. No, this is going to be a frank look at what the only "big time" pro sports franchise in Memphis needs to do to stay here beyond the city's lease with them.

The idea for this sprang from the dissatisfaction that rained down on franchise player Pau Gasol on Wednesday night from the meager gathering of fans at the FedEx Forum. It was originally going to be a frank look at whether or not it was truly time to part ways with the talented Spaniard. Then I decided that the issue was much larger than the presence or absence of just one player. We will start with Gasol though, as he is one of the lynchpins that is holding this convoluted mess together right now. Right now, fans are voicing their displeasure with him (and the team) by booing him during games and by staying away from games en masse. While the first part is troubling, it is understandable. The second part though, is more than just troubling -- it is an issue that has to be addressed and rectified. The team cannot survive in Memphis without fan support.

Is Pau the problem? This is his 7th season in Memphis and he has been the best player every single season. However, as has been noted before, he is better suited to being the #2 option on a consistent playoff contender. Grizzlies fans long ago soured on him being the man who would lead them to the Promised Land -- have they now given up on him being suited up in Beale Street Blue altogether? If that is truly the case and the emergence of Rudy Gay, as well as the potential of Michael Conley are no longer enough to persuade fans to come out to games or that Pau can be a vital part of future success, then he must be moved....and soon. From a business perspective, if something is obviously negatively affecting attendance, then that issue should be dealt with ASAP. Last year, it resulted in the firing of Mike Fratello -- this year it could be the trade of Pau. As Geoff Calkins noted and Gary Parrish recently told me, trading Pau could be the "shake-up move" that puts the team on the right path to title contention. For the record, I still believe that a trio of Rudy/Conley/Pau can contend with the right pieces around them -- namely a defensive stopper at SG (think Raja Bell) and a big man that looks a lot like Darko on his good nights. So, from a basketball standpoint, I think it makes sense to keep him unless presented with an obviously beneficial offer from another team, which means more than Chicago's package of Nocioni/Thomas/draft pick from where I sit. In any case, it is blindingly apparent that something needs to happen to change the perception that this team is adrift with no heading.

That brings me to the next player -- Mike Miller. I've advocated having the former Sixth Man of the Year return to that role, with either Tarence Kinsey (preseason) or Juan Carlos Navarro taking the starting role at SG. I think having his size and scoring ability off the bench at two positions (SG/SF) gives the team greater flexibility. Also, that has always helped to mask his deficiencies as a defender, while maximizing his abilities and strengths. Miller is one of those guys that is a fan favorite wherever he plays, but is also the source of constant criticism from fans who want him to be more than what he is, which is a fantastic role player who doesn't have a defined role as a starter. If the Grizzlies can have him return to his role off the bench, then I'd love to keep him around for the next 4-5 years. Otherwise, I'd have no problem moving him for a shot-blocking big man (is Marcus Camby still available?), a defensive minded SG (Mickael Pietrus, Ronnie Brewer) or a young talented player not currently being afforded playing time (Thabo Sefolosha and Ime Udoka come to mind). I'll even admit that Tom Ziller's piece this preseason might not have been as off-target as I originally thought, although I still shudder to think about trading Miller for an expiring contract and/or a draft pick. This would definitely be classified as a basketball decision, as I don't believe that Miller's play/contract/presence is keeping many fans away.

Other obvious basketball decisions would be the trade of Damon Stoudamire once Conley proves to be healthy and ready to start and the trade of either Stromile Swift (opt-out clause for this offseason) or Hakim Warrick (solid on offense, subpar in nearly everything else), perhaps both of them if a big name could be procured. I realize that Hak has a lot of fans, but he's too skinny to be a PF, doesn't have the skills to play SF and has proven to be mostly one-dimensional to this point in his career. That would not be a bad thing if one plans to be a role player off the bench for an entire career, but unless you're a perimeter player who can score in bunches like Ben Gordon, it isn't going to have too many people excited about paying you a big salary or making you an integral part of their team. These are all moves that should be made prior to the trade deadline, if at all possible.

In my opinion, the most important thing to impart unto fans is not just hope, but something that shows them the direction of the team, a move or statement that gives them tangible evidence that this organization has a plan and will follow through with it. That could mean the trade of Damon and Stro or something far more significant, such as the trade of Mike or Pau. This organization has to establish a plan for the future and let the fanbase know what that plan is. Otherwise, we will all be witness to the self-fulfilling prophecy that is the current state of things, where would-be fans sit around and say "I'm not going to invest time in this team, because they will be leaving town". Well, if you don't support the team, then they will leave eventually. Not tomorrow, not next year and not before the lease is up, but they will leave if there isn't enough support for them. I could preach about the importance of Michael Heisley selling to the local owners, about what the organization needs to do in terms of marketing and sales or about why the loss of Andy Dolich could very well be the first coffin nail. I still believe that what the team does on the court matters more than any of those other things though. When a team wins consistently, gets better each season and makes strides towards being a title contender, the fans will support it, whether the team calls Memphis home, or San Antonio, Sacramento, Toronto or Charlotte. When that happens, petty complaints about concessions, dance teams, ticket prices, location of block parties and halftime shows seem to subside to the point of extinction, as watching a winning team becomes the reason to show up to the arena. Trade Gasol or don't, trade Miller or don't, trade whomever or don't -- once the 50-game evaluation period is up, this team needs to make some moves and be clear about their direction before it digs itself too big a hole to climb out of with its fanbase.

Grizzlies Making Moves to Bring In Big Men



Memphis, Tennessee– The Memphis Grizzlies will be hosting the Sixth Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Game and Celebration on January 21 when they host the Chicago Bulls, and will honor NBA legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier for their contributions to civil and human rights. The celebration is presented by the Memphis Grizzlies, National Civil Rights Museum, City of Memphis and Shelby County.

Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier are this year’s recipients of the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Awards in the national and international categories, respectively. The award pays tribute to athletes who have made significant contributions to civil and human rights and who have laid the foundation for future leaders through their careers in sports in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Abdul-Jabbar carries out the vision of Dr. King with speaking engagements, and most notably, his writing. His most recent book is On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, published earlier this year. It details the changes and growth of the African-American culture in New York City after World War I. He also wrote Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes, about the first African-American armored unit in World War II. His other books include Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement and A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn With the White Mountain Apache. When Abdul-Jabbar retired he held league records for career points, blocks, Most Valuable Player Awards, All-Star Games and seasons played. He was a Rookie of the Year, member of six NBA championship teams, six-time NBA MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams. Abdul-Jabbar was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

Lanier is a legend both on and off the court. An eight-time NBA All-Star and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Lanier routinely visits with students and delivers motivational messages on education, youth and family development and health issues. Lanier serves as Special Assistant to the Commissioner with specific responsibilities in the areas of refereeing, basketball operations and public service, and he helps lead NBA CARES, the league’s global outreach program. Lanier averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds in 959 games with Detroit and Milwaukee in a 14-year career.

The work being done by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier represents the values Dr. King stood for, and we’re proud to honor them on a day that has such significant meaning,” said Memphis Grizzlies President of Business Operations Andy Dolich.

The day will begin with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day High School Classic presented by Southwest Tennessee Community College. The game will pit the Booker T. Washington Warriors against the New Hope Trojans (Columbus, MS). The game starts at 1 p.m., and admission is free with a ticket to the Grizzlies game that night.

Following the High School Classic will be the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Sports Legacy Symposium presented by the Hyde Family Foundation. The symposium will be emceed by TNT sideline reporter and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist David Aldridge, and will feature Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier, who will share their stories and experiences about their contributions to civil and human rights in the spirit of Dr. King. The free symposium will be held in the Methodist Healthcare Practice at FedExForum from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. While admission is free with the purchase of a Grizzlies game ticket, space is limited. Season ticket holders interested in attending must pre-register by calling their account executive at 888-HOOP or contact them via email at All other fans can get tickets from the FedExForum box office when purchasing a ticket to that night’s game.

Following the symposium, the Grizzlies and Bulls will tip-off at 4:30 p.m. in a nationally-televised game on TNT presented by Lexus. Fans will want to make sure they arrive early, as prior to tip-off in a live TNT telecast Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier will be presented with their awards, and the national anthem will be performed by Boyz II Men. The halftime ceremony presented by AutoZone will feature a special Martin Luther King, Jr. video tribute, recognition of Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier, and a performance by Boyz II Men.

This marks the third year the Grizzlies and National Civil Rights Museum will present the Sports Legacy Awards. In 2007 David Robinson was the recipient of the national award and Dikembe Mutombo was the recipient of the international award. In 2006, Bill Russell earned the national award and Mannie Jackson received the international award.

Tickets for the MLK Jr. Day Celebration and game can be purchased by calling 888-HOOP, at all Ticketmaster outlets, the FedExForum box office or at Fans can also take advantage of significant savings by purchasing a Pepsi Family Value plan which includes four game tickets, four Pepsi fountain drinks and four hot dogs for as little as $48.

For more information, visit

Memphis vs Houston - 12.28.07

Come give one of the men responsible for the Grizzlies being in Memphis a rousing farewell as he leaves to pursue opportunities in another city. Tonights game is the last home game before Andy's retirement so come out and give him a great send off!!!

We will miss you Andy and wish you continued success back in San Francisco. Don't forget us when we call you for Super Bowl tickets in a few years!!!

Memphis is trying to finish the season with a few bright spots to jump start the 2nd half of the year. One of the early bright spots was a victory over a healthy Houston Rockets team at FedEx Forum. The last game the Grizzlies played the fans were less than hospitable at the effort. Hopefully the Grizz will shake off their post-Xmas blahs (no turkey leftovers before the game please) and come out running and playing aggressively like people know they can do. Memphis can triple their division wins from a season ago with a win tonight against the short-handed Rockets.

Houston is attempting to correct their path before their season crashes as well. The preseason pick of having the best chance to unseat the Dallas-San Antonio stranglehold on the division has been struggling to find consistency with a new coach, several new players and two superstars who seem unable to get their health together to start any kind of run. The Rockets haven't played since losing in Detroit on Sunday in a game where both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady left with injuries. At 13-15 and with two games remaining in 2007 the Rockets need to win both games to finish the 2007 year at .500 and within shouting distance of division leaders San Antonio, Dallas and New Orleans.

Zack's Corner

Sorry for coming in late with my thoughts on the Houston game. Despite sitting courtside for the Hornet game, I am just not feeling all that good about the team right now. That causes me to refrain from saying too much in the pre-game posts because an enjoyable and informative pre-game post should not be done when you are too down on the team (see last year's game threads). But here it goes. You can call these keys to the game, or rather they are simply some aspects of the game I am interested in tonight against the divisional rival Rockets:

-- Help defense on defensive mismatches. In the last meeting, the Rockets went to Bonzi in the post something like 7 straight times with Lowry on him (because JC guarded Alston to decrease the SG mismatch). What followed was embarassing and I am still at a loss for why Iavaroni didn't try to counter the Bonzi-iso somehow. If the gameplan is again to not double (or something) against defensive mismatches like the one Bonzi creates against Kyle or JC, we are in trouble.
-- Transition 3-pointers. It has been said that the Grizzlies need to be hot from outside to be at their best. I will modify that some for tonight. I think it is the ability to hit 3-pointers in transition that will make the most difference. Navarro and Miller both seem to have an easier time making 3's on the break than in the half court because it minimizes the ability of the other team to focus on the 3. The Rockets are good with transition defense though. Watch out tonight when we are on the break for how much success Miller and Navarro have.
-- RU-DEE. He's a stud and I think he's to the point now that he could go off for 30+ points on any given night and be almost unstoppable on offense. I want him to shoot the most shots tonight. I want him to be our 1st option on offense. With McGrady out, he should have an easier time.
-- Darko's interior defense. In my opinion, Darko's best 2 games of the year were against the Spurs, where it seemed he really wanted to show Duncan he is a good post defender. And it all started with Darko fighting HARD for position on the block (something I never see Pau do, Pau would rather take his chance after the post guy gets the ball, Darko on the other hand has shown he can do damage by fighting hard to not allow the post player the position or the ball). If Darko can go out there tonight and give the same kind of effort against Yao, we will be in good shape.
-- Foul trouble. We need Yao to get 2 quick fouls and for Rudy to stay out of foul trouble.

Matchups by Chip

Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Rafer Alston
Rafer Alston was never viewed as a pure point guard under Jeff Van Gundy but that reputation seems to be changing with Rick Adelman. Alston has been the point guard on the floor when Houston's offense has executed at its best while the team has struggled to score when the reserves, Steve Francis and Mike James, have been on the court. Damon Stoudamire was supposed to be packing his bags by now for some new locale while Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley were preparing to play the point. Someone forgot to tell the plan to Coach Iavaroni as Damon is not only still starting but actually increasing his minutes played in each game and has re-taken the closer's role.
Advantage: Houston

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Tracy McGrady

T-mac has struggled with a mysterious knee injury that has not shown up in scans or even an MRI but McGrady has said he can't play with the pain. It is not sure if he will play in this game or not but resting it for 6 days should ease the pain somewhat. Miller has been playing well until he hits the 35 minute mark when his legs appear to give out and his game goes downhill. Unfortunately Miller is being asked to play over 40 minutes a game and the drop off in crunch time has been easy to notice. Miller is having a great season other than late in games as he is scoring at the 3rd best clip of his career, is having his best rebounding season, second best assists and is shooting over 50% from the floor and over 43% from the arc. The trouble is if this game goes down to the wire, T-Mac can take over and Miller can't.
Advantage: Houston

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Shane Battier

A match up of the past and future kings of Memphis. Shane Battier was the most beloved player ever to play in Memphis. Loved by nearly the entire city, his trade two summers fits rather conveniently with the drop off in attendance at games. The funny thing is that Battier's play has dropped off in Houston while Rudy Gay has become the new star of the team and a potential all-star that Shane could never be. Rudy is leading the team in scoring, has hit a game winning 3 pt shot (over Tim Duncan no less) and routinely is seen on ESPN with his highlight reel moves. Battier isn't the bright light but the glue and he makes his opponent work to look good. You will rarely notice Shane on the court much less see him on ESPN but he does his job. Rudy is just doing it better right now.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Chuck Hayes

The biggest mismatch on the court, literally. Gasol at 7-1 towers over Hayes at a generous 6-6. If there is a weakness that shouts out on the Houston team its Chuck Hayes. Adelman prefers his forwards to be passers from the high post as well as bangers underneath. Hayes can't shoot, isn't a great passer and is routinely over-matched underneath. He does try hard however. Gasol went into Christmas vacation with the best game of the season and one of his most clutch ever. Down the stretch Gasol continued to score as pull the Grizzlies close eventually tying the score. It didn't produce a win but it was good to see.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Stromile Swift vs Yao Ming

Most of Stromile's highlights in Memphis have come against Houston and Yao Ming. Including a few poster dunks over the big man from China. Unfortunately Stro only plays Houston four times a season. Yao is having another big season averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds a game but struggles against the quicker Swift. Since Houston has little support behind Yao getting the big man in foul trouble early is a big advantage for the Grizzlies. Failure to get him in foul trouble spells trouble as the last game in Houston showed. History says bet on the Grizzlies tandem but common sense tells you Yao should be too big for the Grizzlies post players.
Advantage: Houston

Benches: Memphis vs Houston

Bonzi Wells is notorious for playing big against former teams he feels disrespected by. I wonder if he feels that way about Memphis? Other than Bonzi the only real contributor off the bench for Houston has been rookie Luis Scola who has been erratic. Mike James and Steve Francis have struggled in the back up point guard role and Luther Head seems to be better suited as a small SG than a PG. Kyle Lowry has struggled lately as teams have become accustomed to his bulldog approach at the point. Teams are just daring Kyle to shoot from outside while preventing him from getting into the lane. Kyle's forcing the issue has created turnovers at inopportune times. Navarro is having a tough time in the NBA when his shot isn't falling but he is still averaging over 10 points and makes it difficult for teams to double in the post when he is in the game.

UPDATE: Tracy McGrady said he expects to miss a week with his non-injured knee. Despite an MRI showing no damage Tracy McGrady expects to miss at least another week resting his sore knee. Maybe he is waiting to get his lift back. Great news for the Grizzlies in this game if T-Mac doesn't play. Of course the bad news is more Bonzi Wells who has a history or torching his former teams.

Outside Commentary:
Wages of Wins: Houston Still Has a Problem

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bulls vs. Celtics and Faux contending

It is interesting the course the 2007-08 NBA season has taken with the firing of Chicago Bull's head coach Scott Skiles and the dominance of the Boston Celtics. It seems that the importance of top level talent over depth has become even more apparent. (I have a feeling the Grizz fans are well aware of this notion.) Kobe and KG have already shown that one player, no matter how great they are, can not carry a team to contention alone. LeBron seemingly defied that logic until the Cavs ran into the Spurs and the difference between the Eastern and Western conferences was made clear. Even Yao and T Mac are struggling to carry a less than stellar supporting cast in Houston. However, three All Star level talents, even when supported by inexperienced players short on talent can propel you into the upper echelon of the NBA.

Obvious? Ok. I am bringing this up because I think my "trade Pau or bust" stance is quite misguided. It has nothing to do with whether Pau is good enough to be a 1st or 2nd option, whether he can defend, or how he closes out games. Pau is a legit All Star level talent in a top level talent driven league. As such, the only acceptable trade is another All Star level talent that is more in line with the age of Rudy Gay and Michael Conley.

My change in stance has nothing to do with Gasol's performance against Philadelphia, it was simply a realization, after taking a step back from the season and a third of losing, of how difficult it is to acquire or develop that talented of a player and how unimportant depth is on the grand scale of the NBA. Rotations get so tight during the playoffs that it doesn't matter what your 9th or 10th man can provide.

It would have been nice if the Grizzlies could have gotten a Chris Paul type of rookie season from Michael Conley but until he actually playus productively for thirty minutes a night, I will remain hopeful but skeptical. Also, it seems that the other big acquisition in the 2007 offseason, Darko Milicic, is having problems with his confidence. This is not good to read about the guy that was supposed to be our defensive enforcer. Can you even imagine Bill Laimbeer giving those excuses in a freaking interview with a journalist from an opponents city?

So what do I think Chris Wallace should do? I think the Grizzlies fans deserve for them to make a decision. Either fully rebuild the team around Rudy Gay and Michael Conley and take the pain for the next two seasons or build a fake contender by adding a veteran player on this team that can elevate the Grizzlies into the playoffs and possibly top out with the 2nd round in the next 2-3 seasons. I think you do the former by trading Gasol and Brian Cardinal for a young All Star level talent like Luol Deng (I know, I know) and the latter by adding some of our short contracts (Damon or Stromile) and/or young players (Lowry or Warrick) to Mike Miller for an upgrade on the wing either offensively (Vince Carter) or defensively (AK47).

I think these are the two options for this organization. It makes no sense or difference to change fringe players when your coach has already stated and shown a preference for playing an eight man rotation. Any thing less is wheel spinning and setting us up for getting mired in the muck of mediocrity that Jerry West said was the bane of NBA teams.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hornets Postgame (I Sat Courtside!)

From Zack Via Courtside Seats

Despite the Grizzlies getting killed by Chris Paul and the Hornets, tonight might have been the best basketball night of my life. Midway through the 1st quarter, the friend that took me to the game got his seats upgraded to COURTSIDE SEATS (thank you Andy).

For an NBA junkie, only a few things in life is better than sitting courtside. Even when the home team gets their butts kicked.

The feel for the size, strength and speed of the players and game is unmatched. It was almost too much, actually. Too much to watch. Too much to take in and pay attention to. Along with watching the game play, I was focusing even more of my attention to my hearing, since sitting so close makes it possible, well almost possible, to hear the conversations that take place on the court between the players, coaches and refs.

Although I didn't hear anything incredibly fascinating. Ok, I didn't hear anything slightly fascinating, but still here are some things I did hear.

-- At one point in the 2nd half, I heard Iavaroni yelling at Darko to show "emotion" on defense.
-- In the 4th quarter during Hornet free throws, Chris Paul was walking up before the last shot and telling his guys to make sure and "get a stop" next time down.
-- The Hornet players would routinely talk 1 on 1 with the refs during stoppages. The Griz players only yelled at the refs during play, not talking with them when not playing.
-- In the 3rd quarter Iavaroni put Rudy on Peja. Peja went around a screen and nailed a mid-range jumper. On the way down the court Rudy told the ref to "watch those screens" next time.
-- After one of Chandler's many dunks, he quickly flashed the Stro show sign. One of the refs running down the court was discouraging this saying "no, no, no, no".
-- In the 4th quarter on defense, Lowry wanted to get up on Paul earlier, but Iavaroni yelled at him to "get back" and lay off of Paul. So of course, Paul just pulled up and nailed a long 2.

Other things about the game.

Chris Paul is awesome.
He was just unbelievable tonight. At one point in the 2nd half I think he had only missed 1 shot. He finished with 40 points on 17 for 25 shooting, 9 assists and only 1 turnover. It didn't matter what we did, he countered with a successful play. Which brings me to...

Iavaroni had no answer to defending the pick and roll effectively. He tried everything. He started the game with having the guards go under and the bigs stay back. This led to Chris Paul showing the crowd how great of an outside shooter is. He then tried to just have the guard go over but the big still play off. This led to layups and sweet passes to Chandler for easy dunks. He then tried to trap off the screen. Again this didn't work and instead led to Peja sinking numerous 3-pointers from the corner. On that particular situation, the trap would leave Rudy as the guy trying to guard 2 people. The SG was at the wing and Peja in the corner. Rudy looked confused and got very frustrated trying to properly rotate between the two. Very frustrated. However...

Rudy's game has really impressed me this season.
Rudy tonight was decent. He wasn't dominate on offense and was as bad as all the Grizzlies on defense. He struggled to guard Peja. He didn't rebound particularly well. But he still looked like a budding star. He was able to get good shots on offense (because Peja cannot stay with Rudy on the dribble-drive) and he was able to make borderline bad shots from the perimeter (that is, IMO, what sets apart great basketball players from bad the rest....great players routinely make difficult shots that seem low-percentage, the rest don't). At this point I think we should be getting Rudy even more shots on offense. He was 50% tonight from the field and had at least three layup attempts rattle out. He is good slashing and pulling up. He can score out of the post and perimeter positions. He's our primary scorer from here on out, IMO. Which oddly enough segues into....

Tonight might have been a turning point on the relationship between Pau and the fans.
He was booed many times tonight. It actually seemed to be building throughout the game. It may have started with the Hornets getting some easy dunks and timely offensive rebounds. But it clearly culminated with Pau being passive and hesitant on offense. In typical Pau fashion, he submitted to the jab-step-fest when catching the ball, refusing to assert himself against a physical Tyson Chandler. He was weak the few times he tried to drive. He couldn't hit his jumper and he threw some bad passes out of a double team. In the 2nd half, boos started to trickle in after another jab-step-fest at the elbow resulted in zero Griz points. Later I turned and said I think this place is going to explode on Pau if he does something blatantly bad again (sorta like the free throw incident from last year). Then on the very next possession, Pau was in the short corner, gave the jab-step-fest and turned the ball over. The boos rained down from the rafters. And deservedly so, IMO. I think this game might have been a turning point. The fans are frustrated and they are going to take it out on Pau. Watch out. But I don't want to be all negative about tonight, here are two last bits of good news.

Lowry played better tonight than he has in a long while.
He got early action due to Damon's 2 quick fouls guarding Paul. He resembled the old Lowry for the rest of the quarter with an active style of defense. He had a bunch of deflections and caused plays that could have went the Grizzlies way with a better bounce on a loose ball. Chris Paul was on fire tonight, which negates most of the good things that Lowry did on defense early on. But more importantly Lowry was better on offense. He shot decent. Scored 15 points. Also had 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals. He made good decisions on when to drive and when to dish. He still wasn't the playmaking PG that we need on offense. Someone who forces teams to focus almost entirely on stopping them (like Chris Paul does), but he also wasn't the negative presence he has been at times this year. Maybe we have another young PG on the roster that can be more like Chris Paul, what's his status again?

Conley has resumed full contact practices.
Can I get an Amen! Spartacus alerted us to this fact today in the links post (via Conley's own blog). Tonight, the news was at the bottom of the AP article. This is great news and hopefully I will get to see the full time backcourt duo of Conley and Lowry be a reality at some point this year. There was an interesting quote from the AP article, though. Here is the full passage, with the interesting part in bold:

Grizzlies G Mike Conley returned to full contact practice Tuesday night, meaning his return from injury is much closer. The rookie from Ohio State has been out of action since injuring his right shoulder against Dallas on Nov. 17. "You wouldn't have thought he had a shoulder surgery," Iavaroni said before Wednesday's game. "Moving around well. He was quick. He needs to get in better shape, but that will come with play." Iavaroni wouldn't give a specific time on the first-round pick's return.

What? Conley had surgery? Surely this is a misquote. Chip, get the crack research team on this.

Well, in summary. Chris Paul is awesome. The Griz didn't have the effort and hustle necessary to be competitive for 48 minutes and the locker room atmosphere has to be pretty bad right now. Pau was particularly awful tonight and the home town crowd let him hear it, which could be an interesting development or nothing at all. If nothing else, he knows we fans don't like the jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, turnover move. Conley is close to returning and well, I got to sit freaking courtside. Click this link to see a picture. I'm underneath Paul's left shin.

Chipc3's Perspective:
I didn't sit courtside. However I did see many of the things Zack referenced so I won't repeat them too much. Congrats on the upgrade Zack. Since it is the holidays the game had a sort of movie night feel to it.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:

Good: Rudy Gay took over in the fourth quarter again and came up big offensively. The Bad: Pau Gasol's streak of double figure scoring games came to an end at 81 games, third longest in the league. The Ugly: One of the worst shooting teams in the NBA shot 55.8% in the game while one of the higher scoring teams in the league failed to break 100 pts for the third consecutive game.

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde:
Pau Gasol goes for 31 and 15 against Philly including some of his most aggressive play late in the game only to turn around and put up 9 and 8 against Tyson Chandler and the Hornets the next game. If there was a more bi-polar performance without injury in the NBA I don't know what it is. Down the stretch Gasol was crying to the refs (I almost titled this the Crying Game actually) but the bottom line was Gasol wasn't aggressive enough to earn a call. The fans booing him didn't seem to upset Gasol either as he nonchalontly shrugged off the boos as if he didn't care. That definately didn't help the situation. Gasol may not be demanding a trade but it sure seems like he doesn't want to be here despite his buddy being on the team. Maybe he feels the losing isn't his fault but when you only take one shot in the 2nd half perhaps the problem is looking you in the mirror when you are the highest paid player on the team. The team needed Pau to be big and force New Orleans to keep an eye on him. Instead he was passive allowing the pressure to remain on the perimeter players and the fans saw that and let him know that isn't what they want from him.

The Two Towers:
Darko Milicic tonight came into the game and scored right away and prompty took most of the rest of the night off. He played only 13 minutes, committed two turnovers and seemed to be so scared on the offensive end that we were playing 4 against 5 when he was in the game. What happened to the Darko who started the season? Is his thumb so sore that he can't catch the ball? Has his confidence whittled away to the point that he doesn't even want to be a part of the offense? When Darko doesn't assert himself and Pau plays as soft as he did there is not a single team in the NBA the Grizzlies can beat. The Ivory Towers appeared to be made out of paper last night. We need more of the Bad Boys and not the Back Street Boys on this team. Until the Ivory Towers start getting mean and aggressive again the Memphis Grizzlies will continue to be forced to rely on perimeter play and that is not a good thing late in games (Philly) nor in games when the opponents try to out-muscle you (New Orleans). At some point we have to have interior players saying enough is enough.

Stripes and Titanic rolled into one 2 hour tragi-comedy:

This game showed all that is wrong with the franchise right now. Too many sloppy turnovers, not enough physical play inside, too many fingers being pointed at others (the refs, the fans, teammates) and not enough at themselves. Someone needs to take charge on this team and as MemphisX pointed out in a conversation with me, we don't know who it should be!

Therein lies the problem. Damon makes a big stand and says the team needs to play with more heart and they come out and play really well, for a quarter. Then New Orleans elevates their game to match Memphis' intensity and the Grizzlies collapse. Is it Gasol's fault? Is it Darko's? Are we cursed or just a weak franchise? I don't know the answer but it sure hurts having to ask the question over and over.