Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Leaping to Contention: The Talent Gap

Some times you get much more than you bargained for when you stay up late watching NBA league pass. Last night I had the chance to watch Chris Paul and the healthy New Orleans Hornets dismantle a pretty good Los Angeles Lakers team that was playing well coming into the game and actually played well during the game. The Lakers lost by 14 on their home court. Seeing Chris Paul slice through the Lakers defense and dishing out a Hornet’s record 21 assists, Peja turn back the hands of time to the 2003-04, and the rest of the supporting cast hit shot after shot while Tyson Chandler controlled the paint late after early foul trouble was a humbling experience for me as a Grizzlies fan.

Although after watching the preseason, I did not think the Grizzlies were a playoff team, watching the Hornets sort of confirmed it for me. The problem for the Grizzlies is that we are stuck in limbo and like Jerry West before him; GM Chris Wallace seems reluctant to cut bait with some members of our roster (see Presti, Sam in Seattle) to improve the long-term future of the franchise. What I mean by limbo is that we are not good enough to be contenders (heck we are not good enough to make the playoffs) and the teams at the bottom of the Western Conference are led by high level young talent that the Grizzlies simply do not have on the roster.

To put this in perspective, Peja Stojakovic is probably the Hornets second best player. At Mike Miller’s age he was 2nd team All NBA, 4th in the MVP voting and averaging 24 points per game. This is the history of the Hornets, a perspective 7th or 8th seeded team, second best player who is still in his prime. He looked like that Peja in his movements vs. the Lakers. The point of this is that Peja has had a more prolific NBA career than our best player and he is the second best player on the Hornets.

Oh, I know this is where you want to chime in and talk about Rudy Gay and his future development. Well, the Hornets have their own Rudy Gay in rookie Julian Wright. An athletic long SF/PF from a big time program that had a disappointing second year that dropped him in the draft. Sound familiar?

The entire point I am making is that there simply is not enough talent on our roster at this point to have any expectation of contending in the near future (within 3 years). I expect we could become what we were if some of our young talent does develop. So if that is the conclusion (and it is a fair one), why was there such a universal declaration of love for our roster by our new GM? How do we take the quantum leap needed to get to contention with midland draft picks, no cap room, and a reservation to trade our players?

Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Darko Milicic are a good start to putting some talent with Pau Gasol but we need our 5th starter to be an All Star. That is the type of talent level you have to have if you want to compete at the highest level of the NBA. Do you think Mike Miller can reach that level of play? This road trip is going to go a long ways to answering some questions. Was last year a product of playing on a bad team? Can Miller be as aggressive with his shot as he has been on the defensive boards? I will be watching Mike, starting tonight in Seattle.


Spartacus said...

Watched that same Hornets vs. Lakers game and was just as impressed as you were with them.

I've never been against trading away supposed "core" members of the team (Battier, Bonzi, JWill, Miller, et al) as long as the Grizzlies got a fair return on the transaction. In fact, when Tom Ziller mentioned trading Mike Miller last month, I said "Let's do it....for more talent though, not for cap space or draft picks." The Grizzlies will likely be in the lottery again this summer (I didn't think they were a playoff team either), with a shot at acquiring another talented player to put with Pau, Rudy, Darko and Lowry/Conley. Hopefully, that player will be talented enough to lift them out of "limbo".

ChipC3 said...

What we need to do is win the draft. When you look at the elite teams in the league, those that have been to the Championships, they have won the draft game at least once. Maybe not winning the lottery and the top pick but the top player in the draft or among the top.

Outside of Miami and Boston's win now and damn the future strategy it is not easy to create a star laden team through free agency and drafts. When people believe Memphis' 5th starter needs to be an all-star (and there are only 24 all-stars each year) then the bar is set pretty high.

Personally I believe Memphis is in a bad situation. They can't afford to take the Sonics and Blazers approach of blowing up the core and accepting some bad seasons because the fans won't allow that. Memphis needs fans in the stands to be successful. By maintaining the competitive teams they deny themselves the opportunity to reach higher levels.

It's a catch 22. The team needs to win now to attract fans and needs to be willing to lose games now to increase the chance of being great in the future.