Thursday, December 20, 2007

Who is Complaining About Jerry's Kids Now?

I composed this during the pre-season. I was just saving it for a rainy day. It was originally written on Oct. 24th. Stro was the starter at that time.

The earth shattering groan can still be heard in distant corners of FedEx Forum. The Grizzlies traded Shane Battier for WHAT????

People thought Jerry was crazy. We are getting Stro back and a rookie for the most complete all-around player and super citizen Shane Battier?

So Jerry West left Memphis very quietly a year later. Not actually in disgrace but no one threw him going away parties after the team bottomed out at 22-60 then lost the lottery (I still say it was rigged). He was gradually led to pasture and spoken in terms of what he gave to the game and not so much what he did for Memphis.

The new Grizz Brass drafted Michael Conley, signed Darko Milicic and traded for Juan Carlos Navarro. Big excitement was supposed to be building with these hot new players.

But what is the story of the pre-season? It sure isn't Michael Conley burning up the court, Darko Milicic being the missing piece or Navarro's surprising NBA ready form. No the chatter is about Kyle Lowry's defense and overall winner's mentality, Stromile Swift's resurection from the doldrums and Rudy Gay's consistent excellence. All of these players came to Memphis last season to help elevate the team from middle of the road status to playoff contenders. Everyone knew it would take a step backwards to move forward but I don't believe anyone realized just how big a step that would be.

People will still criticize Jerry West for his drafting of Troy Bell and Dahntay Jones (missing Luke Ridnour and Josh Howard in the process) and his drafting of Robert Archibald over Carlos Boozer and rightfully so. Those were big gambles that have returned nothing for the franchise. People may complain about how West kept rotating 2nd rd picks to reach for players like Andre Emmett, Antonio Burks, Lawrence Roberts and Alexander Johnson and they didn't work out for the Grizzlies either.

The main criticism of West has been that he never built the team, just took advantage of the team built by Billy Knight. Now the only remaining piece of the team Jerry inherited is Pau Gasol. Gone are former starters Shane Battier, Lorenzen Wright, Jason Williams and Grant Long and instead we have 4 starters straight from West acquisitions Mike Miller, Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift (okay Stro was here before but he left and West brought him back, probably against his wishes, so it is Jerry's pickup in my eyes). Throw in Jerry's bench players like Hakim Warrick, Damon Stoudamire, Tarence Kinsey and Brian Cardinal and we see a totally remade team from the group that Jerry inherited.

While it has yet to be determined if these players can perform at a high level against NBA caliber teams in the regular season. Maybe this group will fail but right now it looks like the team is taking at least a baby step forward from last season's step back. I'm not saying Jerry shouldn't have stepped down. I am definitely not saying the Chris Wallace isn't an improvement for this community and its fans who want to feel closer to the team. Jerry wasn't good about letting people feel a part of the Grizzlies.

But it is interesting to note that after all the criticism of last season that maybe Jerry knew what he was doing after all.

P.S. If you would like to read an excellent article talking about Chris Wallace I recommend the Beale St Beat's article from October 23rd.

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