Thursday, June 7, 2007

LeBron James is not the saviour of the NBA

This isn't a post that will denounce LeBron James or his accomplishments. If that's what you're looking for, then move along. At the same time, this isn't a piece that will exalt "The King" either, so be prepared for what is to follow.

I would not even had to have seen the final game of the series between the Pistons and the Cavaliers to have known who won the next day when listening to talk radio. The effusive praise being spouted forth engulfed me like a swimming pool full of Jell-O (quite a sight to behold, by the way) -- and it all centered on one man: LBJ. "LeBron has saved the Finals", "LeBron saved the fanbase of the NBA", "LeBron has proven his doubters wrong", "This is the coming out party for LeBron". These were the things I heard over and over that morning and have continued to hear over the past few days. Well, I don't agree with all of them and I'm about to tell you why.

First, let's address the issue of LeBron "saving us" from another Spurs vs. Pistons NBA Finals. I might have been the only one who remembers what a fantastic series that was.....albeit mostly because of the outstanding final three games, since the first four were somewhat boring due to their lack of suspense. Both the Spurs and the Pistons play phenomenal fundamental team basketball -- the way basketball was meant to be played, in fact. After the lottery results were announced, some of us settled in to watch the Spurs-Jazz playoff game that followed. Time and again we were amazed at the crisp passing and movement by the Spurs on offense, as well as their ability to help each other on defense. Was it as "entertaining" as watching the Suns run and gun? No. Was it still a joy to watch a team execute plays perfectly over and over? Absolutely. The Pistons play the same way, as the Spurs, which makes for a lack of contrasting styles, but is a display of the fundamentals of basketball that has been sorely lacking for some time now. So, count me out of the group that thinks that LeBron "saved us" from something by willing his team to the Finals.

I do believe that LeBron's emergence will help create new fans, draw interest from the "casual fans" and will certainly help the television ratings, I think that Cleveland's presence in the Finals will be a short-lived blessing for them. I think that LeBron has managed to do two things that most people are not considering. He has met very high expectations.....and simultaneously raised them for the remainder of his career. Chip and I discussed this the other day, in fact. By making the Finals in only his 4th year as a pro, he has actually reached the unrealistic bar that was set for him before he even got drafted. Unfortunately for him, now the expectations are going to be raised to the point of people expecting, nay demanding a championship next season, even though he has the worst supporting cast I've seen since watching Jimmy Chitwood play for Hickory High. Larry Bird had more help at Indiana State, I think. But, if there is one thing I've come to know, it is that once you have proven you can do something, then it becomes the "new standard". If you don't believe me, look at how the expectations were raised for the Memphis Grizzlies after vaulting from 28 wins to 50 the next year. By the time the next season had begun, people were talking about title contention! Don't ever forget that the word "fan" is short for "fanatic".....and fanatics are rarely ever coherent or lucid about the things nearest and dearest to their hearts.

So having said all that, let me conclude by saying that LeBron has had a remarkable run so far this postseason and that I hope his team will have a very competitive series with San Antonio over the next few weeks. Let's not have him fitted for a new crown, robe and scepter just yet though.

What Do We Care? We're Disconnected

Michael Heisley said he was feeling more energized about the team and was going to get more involved in the operations and then attended about one game from January to the end of the season. The Grizzlies had an interim coach that was the laughing stock of the league, a highly compensated individual who wanted to be traded and a team with more ‘injuries’ than any two teams in the league but Heisley still couldn’t make it to a game. The fans were never given a reason for this.

What do we care? We’re disconnected.

The Memphis local owners wanted to buy the team from Heisley but apparently didn’t want to enter into a bidding war with Heisley using their offer as leverage to get others to pay more for the franchise. Heisley refused to accept those terms and refused to discuss the situation with the media or the fans.

What do we care? We’re disconnected.

At the end of the season it was announced that West was retiring on June 30. This was to allow him to make the draft pick, pick a new coach and a replacement before retiring. Why in the world the team would want to allow the outgoing GM to make all of these decisions? What’s more the team didn’t come forth and tell us what they were looking for in a GM, a coach or really the draft. Not one press conference or Chalk Talk meeting with season ticket holders to discuss the franchise’s direction or hopes for the future.

What do we care? We’re disconnected.

The press reported that Heisley was interviewing Larry Brown and Kiki Vandeweghe. Upon hearing the news was released Heisley stated that he wasn’t going to conduct the hiring process in the press. He wasn’t going to talk about who he was interviewing or why. He wasn’t going to announce what he wanted in the new GM, Coach or VP of Operations. Heisley also wasn’t thinking about talking to the fans to explain what his thoughts were on the type of person needed to do the job.

What do we care? We’re disconnected.

The team lost the lottery and not one word came from the Grizzlies front office except Jerry West’s rant that the lottery is a terrible way to punish bad teams. No statement on how the team was going to move forward after the disappointment. No comment on the players that should be available at the fourth spot. Not a single comment at all. The fans were left in the dark about how this outcome affected the team and its future plans.

What do we care? We’re disconnected.

The team hired a man with no experience as a head coach without knowing who his boss will be on July 1st. He talked glowingly of the players Memphis has under contract but then stated he didn’t know what style his team would play until he got to know his players better. He then left for Spain to talk to the highest paid player on the team to massage his concerns? How he would do that without knowing what style of play the team was going to play or how the teammates perform would be a good question that hasn’t been asked.

What do we care? We’re disconnected.

All through this period the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s beat writer on the Grizzlies has been criticized for not reporting certain stories like the summer league games, player injuries and player criticisms of the team. All the while he has a morning radio show where daily he talks about how much he dislikes the team and the way they do things.

What do we care? We’re disconnected.

Now that the lottery is set and the deepest draft in recent history is staring the team in the face the Grizzlies announced that they will concentrate on only their single draft pick and that while they will be bringing in players to work out the workouts will be closed to the media, closed to the public and there will not be any discussions about the workouts.

Guess what. We don’t care. We’re disconnected.

I can’t help thinking back on the Grizzlies comments about being unsure of why the team has disconnected with the fans. I always thought it was because the team didn’t understand the Memphis mentality. They didn’t understand that what works by the Great Lake in Chicago and the beaches of Los Angeles may not translate well to the cotton fields of Memphis. Memphis has always been a community that relied on contact and personal interaction. We are a society of meeting for backyard barbeques more than disco dance halls and sports bars. We don’t feel that knowing your neighbors and what they are doing is nosy and intrusive. It shows we care. We extend the family from the house to neighborhood and to the city far more than people do in other parts of the country. Sure there is still a lot of gossip but when people need help the communication network gets the message out fast and people come running.

So why hasn’t Memphis come running to help the Grizzlies? Has this first taste of real big city action already numbed us to indifference like it has in so many other places around the nation? Simply put we have been told and shown that the Grizzlies don’t want us poking our noses in their business. Get the door slammed in your face enough times and eventually you stop caring. If Heisley and the Grizzlies front office don’t want Memphians to be concerned and get irritated when the fans ask questions then don’t act surprised or upset when the fans stop asking and stop caring and stop coming to games. Want to know why the fans are disconnected? Because you told the fans you don’t want us to be connected.

So why should we care?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Is Lowry's Injury More Serious that We Have Been Told?

Has anyone considered the possibility that Lowry will never be the player we saw last year again?

Lowry broke a bone in his wrist that is very difficult to heal properly. The fact that he had to have two surgeries implies that there were complications with the healing process, most likely blood flow was restricted to the bone. Arthritis is guaranteed from what I have heard but whether it begins at 23 or 43 or 63 is not known. What is of a more immediate threat is that the bone has not healed properly causing restricted movement. He may not be able to use his hand as freely as he has been accustomed to in the past.

Obviously the Grizzlies would not want this information to leak out to the press if it is in fact true. That would make the ability to acquire a point guard even more expensive. I think they may be preparing people however by certain comments and actions they have made of late.
Don't be surprised if the Grizzlies make a move to acquire a PG in the draft. Conley is a possibility but I hear that West is more enamored with Acie Law. If the Grizzlies make a move to acquire another lottery pick it should be a warning sign that the Grizzlies are very concerned with Lowry's situation.