Last Years Record: 22-60
Key Losses: Chucky Atkins, Eddie Jones (Minor losses: Dahntay Jones, Alexander Johnson, Lawrence Roberts)
Key Additions: Marc Iavaroni, Darko Milicic, Mike Conley Jr., Juan Carlos Navarro, Chris Wallace (Minor additions: Andre Brown, Casey Jacobsen)
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
New GM Chris Wallace and new head coach Marc Iavaroni were hired and have made great strides in improving the overall level of talent on the team and molding it to Coach Iavaroni’s specifications. First came the drafting of PG Mike Conley Jr., as talented a floor general to come out of college in the last few years as anyone has seen. Then they went after big man Darko Milicic, managing to sign him prior to his furious tirade against FIBA officials that only made him more attractive to Grizzlies fans who have been longing for a healthy dose of attitude and aggression on the team. Finally, they capped it off with the trade of a heavily protected 1st round draft pick to the Washington Wizards for the rights to Juan Carlos Navarro, the Spanish star who also happens to be franchise player Pau Gasol’s best friend. These three acquisitions, coupled with the additional depth provided by newcomers Casey Jacobsen and Andre Brown have Grizzlies fans praising the front office – a new experience considering the events of recent years.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Versatility, speed and depth. Pau Gasol is capable of playing two positions and is a better passer than many point guards in the league. Rudy Gay could play up to three different positions (SG/SF/PF) this year in Iavaroni’s uptempo system. Mike Miller is comfortable at either wing position and has shown the ability to play the point in a pinch. Tarence Kinsey proved that he could guard three positions against top flight competition last season. With PG’s Mike Conley Jr. and Kyle Lowry likely to see the bulk of playing time, this team is set to run all day following the lead of these two speedsters. The speed and athleticism of Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, Tarence Kinsey and Stromile Swift should leave the FedExForum crowd gasping in amazement night in and night out. Even the two big men, Gasol and Milicic, are more explosive than one would think upon first glance at the Ivory Towers. The Grizzlies appear to be two-deep at each position, leading many fans to wonder if we’ll see a return of “Hubie Ball”, the vaunted system that former coach Hubie Brown installed that led the the turnaround of the Grizzlies’ fortunes soon after their arrival in Memphis, having suffered through 6 dismal seasons in Vancouver. One injury will not derail this team in the coming season, that’s almost guaranteed.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Chemistry and familiarity. This will be their first season under new coach Marc Iavaroni, so there will be an adjustment period as they learn the new system he is installing, as well as trying to become aware of new teammates’ preferences and tendencies. With a possibility of as many as four new starters this season -- both Iavaroni and Wallace have said that only Gasol is truly guaranteed a starting spot -- it could take more than a little time for this team to form the cohesion necessary to win games consistently. In fact, everyone should expect a rocky start to the season as the team gels. Great teams are not just thrown together – they take time to develop. That’s the vision that Wallace and Iavaroni have – a great team – so it would be foolish to expect too much from this unit initially.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The primary goal for this team will be, first and foremost, to avoid a repeat of last year’s disastrous showing, which resulted in the worst record in the NBA. To do this, avoiding injury to multiple players would be helpful, but if there was truly a way to plan for that, somebody would have figured it out by now. Beyond that, they should look to develop the chemistry necessary to make strides forward in the future, while nurturing the young talent they have on the roster. Cultivating the skills, and thusly the careers, of Conley, Gay, Milicic, Lowry and Warrick should be a high priority this season. Any one of these players could be the future star of this organization, so it will be important not to overlook any aspect of their maturation process.
5. Who is going to prevail in the battle for the point?
With former ROY Damon Stoudamire, super-sub Kyle Lowry and top draft pick Mike Conley Jr. all fighting for playing time at the point guard position, not to mention Juan Carlos Navarro being able to help out at the point from time to time, this battle should be the most interesting to watch in preseason camp and subsequently throughout the season. Conventional wisdom says that Conley should have the advantage as a lightning quick, pass-first PG. Kyle Lowry has a lot of fan support after his incredible start to his rookie season that was cut short after only 10 games do to a wrist injury. The long shot is veteran Damon Stoudamire who has the experience, but is recovering from a devastating torn patella tendon injury that had him limping up and down the court last season. He is rumored to be fully healed this year, has lost 10 pounds and plans on using his experience to offset the youth of other two players. In what limited time we've had to observe him, that appears to all be true. Likely Damon will hold down the starting job coming out of camp but pay attention to who the 2nd point guard off the bench is on opening night to see who will most likely be starting the new year.
Predicted Record: 37-45
They will lose just enough close games to miss the playoffs and finish at #10 in the Western Conference, although if they catch a few breaks they could sneak into the postseason.
Monday, October 8, 2007