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.

1 comment:

Melvin said...

Nice recap. Well I think they have to trade Pau because his drama will not end unless you end his tenure in Memphis... At first I like Barone because he's a poor Don Nelson, but unless Nelson he's not winning...

If Memphis are only in the East I think their chance is big.