Friday, September 14, 2007

Class in Session with Chris Wallace

Every now and then you get lucky in life. Sometimes it is not answering the phone in time only to have it be a sales call. Sometimes you find a quarter on the ground. Friday it was playing a long shot and winning big.

Some friends of mine from the Memphis Grizzlies message board and I decided to get together and talk about the Grizzlies summer and what our expectations were for the coming season. On a whim I sent an email to new Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace and invited him to join us. I didn't really expect a reply. If I got a reply it would probably be from his secretary saying he couldn't make it. I didn't expect a reply saying "thanks for the invitation. I will meet you there."

And he actually showed up!

So there I was with (real names withheld to protect identities) Memphis Slim, Spartacus, Grizzman, Stubbylegs, MoneyShot and Mr. Toad when in walked Chris Wallace talking on his cell phone. Now I don't know what he was saying on the phone (I imagined he was telling Phoenix why Shawn Marion wasn't a good fit on the Grizzlies but I have a vivid imagination) but he hung up the phone and walked up to our table and introduced himself. No shyness. No pretense. No air of superiority. Chris Wallace is definitely not Jerry West.

For the next 2 hours Chris Wallace educated us on his vision of the world of basketball. He answered all of our questions. No holds barred education from someone who really knows what he is talking about. To say it was enlightening would be an understatement. It was like that favorite teacher in college who kept you enthralled during the entire class. I only wish I had thought to bring paper to take notes.

Here is what I remember from the conversation.

The first question was straightforward. I asked Chris this question: The Grizzlies have assembled a lot of pieces this year almost like a jigsaw puzzle but what do you see the picture looking like Mr. Wallace? His answer was a simple "I don't know." He then explained that his job is to raise the overall talent level of the team without destroying the chemistry that already exists. He is excited about the potential of our point guards. He believes we will be a better three point shooting team. He thinks our big men will improve the defense. Most importantly he said this team wants to be faster but not at the expense of defense.

He said the only players likely to be guaranteed starting spots are Pau Gasol (without hesistation) and Mike Miller (a slight hesitation there but I may be reading too much into that). He talked about why he went after Darko and how much he expects from him (a lot by the way). He explained why he went to Argentina but didn't make a serious attempt to sign Nocioni or Varejao (way too expensive for any increase in talent over Darko). Most interesting he discussed how he values players. He explains what he looks for in draft picks and free agents and how he views value. He reference the 6 to 5 difference compared to a 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 difference. Basically he saw the differences between Darko and Nocioni and Varejao as maybe a small difference in player skill but a large difference in the cost to acquire them. He can be satisfied if he doesn't get the better player if the cost is right. I am explaining it poorly but he made a lot of sense when he talked about it.

He talked about how Rudy Gay and Tarence Kinsey were promising rookies but he needs to see more from them this year. He believes they will show it as well. He talked about his concern about rookie playing the point and his concern about Damon not being physically able to play but he also said he was impressed with Damon's professionalism. He has been to see Stro and expects him in Memphis next week to start working out with the other players in town (and he said a lot of players are already in town). He talked about Pau, Juan Carlos Navarro and Darko playing in Europe (and mentioned he is still holding his breath until the last two games are played). He discussed Darko's outburst against the ref and how the Serbian culture and the timing of the question played into this. He wasn't pleased with what Darko said, but related that Serbia was at war recently, these international games mean so much more outside of America and the players are very emotional. The press fired questions at him immediately after the game and he would have said something very different if he had been given 10-15 minutes to cool off. Basically he said that you have to understand things are different over there.

He then broadened the conversation to the NBA in general. He talked about how the NBA is attempting to build a league where teams and players are associated together. Garnett was in Minnesota for 12 or so years, Paul Pierce in Boston, Kobe in LA, Patrick Ewing in NY, etc. Sure there will be trades made but the idea is to build a league where teams and stars are associated with each other. It does make it harder to become a champion but it builds fan loyalty. He talked about the importance of chemistry from the team. He gave the example of Boston when they went to the Conference Finals and how their team had basically been together for three years and how that knowledge played as important a part as the talent of the individual players.

I am leaving lots out and I am sure that the people that were there will fill in many of the blanks but the most interesting thing for me was that Chris Wallace was there. I told him it would be 3 or 4 people plus myself. I didn't imply that the people were interested in buying season tickets or upgrading their seats. He came because we wanted to meet him and he wanted to get us as enthused about the team and future as he is. If anyone is concerned that Chris Wallace isn't the right man for the job let me clearly state that in my opinion he is the right man. He understands that Memphis is a large small town, rather than a small city, and that we appreciate a more personal connection with the team.

The Grizzlies most likely won't win the NBA Championship this season. The team may not even make the playoffs but in Chris Wallace we have a man in charge who wants the Grizzlies to be an integral part of the city. That is more important right now after 5 years of disconnect.

Thank you Mr. Wallace.

Update: Welcome TrueHoop readers!

Around the Horn

I got a slew of quick hits and links for ya.

My goal is keep the Grizzlies as the main subject around here. But with little Grizzlies news (and only little more NBA news) to talk about I still find myself plenty saturated with sports. I echo what Spartacus said.

So I thought I would take a look at what is keeping my attention around the sports world. Hold on.

--The Patriots scandal has me fired up. And I think I am extra fired up because it is coming on the heels of the NBA ref scandal and the MLB steroid scandal (among a number of other sports scandals in cycling, racing, etc). Cheating and breaking league rules to gain a competitive advantage is not fair for the fans. I feel the amount of time I spend watching and discussing sports is wasted if the athletic competition is not on a level playing field. I'm there to see gifted athletes compete against each other honestly. I understand every team and player pushes the limits of their league rules. But I would hope when warned, they quit, and when caught, they graciously take their punishment without excuses. Back to the Patriots, I think they got off easy. Peter King, Dr. Z, and Mark Clayton agree with me. I would have liked to have seen a suspension for Belicheat. Especially in light of Wade Wilson getting 5 games.
--Greg Oden is out for the year (see below). Good news for the Grizzlies. I'm sorry to see that happen to him, though. And I don't feel very bad for the Blazers. I'm still resentful for getting #4 (instead of #2, haha). But I'll shyly admit the news didn't surprise me (wink, wink). Even without Oden though, I think the Blazers will be better than predicted. Probably better than Seattle and should-have-been #1 pick Kevin Durant.
--Which reminds me of the oh so obvious Bill Simmons article that has been posted. The Sports Guy is saying I told you so, of course Durant should have been the #1 pick. I do like his story about seeing both Oden and Durant walking down the halls at the ESPY's and how Durant glided down the hallway, while Oden staggered like 50 year old Fred Sanford.
--Enough of all of the Patriots and Oden stuff. Do you know what is really consuming my sports addicted mind? Here is a hint. Yep, that's right...
--Titans vs Colts. Noon. CBS. First home game. Defending champions. Divisional rivals. Peyton Manning. Vince Young. I am about to explode with excitement. My homer tendencies have probably blinded me. I see a Titan win. I am totally convinced. VY is not always the prettiest and most polished quarterback, but there isn't a football player in America that I trust more when a play needs to be made. Especially in big games. And this game is big. Last year the Titans played the Colts (or Clots as I like to call them) close, splitting the season series with both games decided by a 3 points or less. But that was without tag team champion cornerback Pacman Jones (2nd best cornerback and best return man in the league, IMO). I'm curious to see how the Titans new cornerbacks, former Colt Nick Harper and sophomore Cortland Finnegan, fare against Harrison and Wayne. I'm pretty confident that the Titans can win the battle between the tackles. Haynseworth will be good and pissed after his $5000 fine. The Titans have one of the most under-rated offensive lines (read this story about Roos, it is good). I like the combination of LenDale and Chris Brown. My prediction is Titans 17 - Colts 13.
--Around the NFL...Why can't the Ravens and Bears fix their offensive woes...Romeo needs to start Brady now...The Giants just have the look of a team ready to implode...In week 1 I was surprised by the amount of teams that looked worse than expected...I'm taking the Chargers against the Pats...Packers over the Giants...and Eagles over Skins...
--Some turmoil surrounding the Memphis Tigers of late. Players in a brawl and making it rain. Recruits decommitting. But I still see them being the best team in the country for most of the year and am excited about seeing them at the Forum this year. Maybe even a few Tigers-Grizzlies Saturday double-headers.
--After the opening week loss to Ole Miss, I have no idea what to expect from the Memphis Tigers football squad this year. And I'm worried about 3 games in 11 days.
--How are your fantasy teams doing? Right now my best fantasy move has been taking Andre Johnson as my #1 WR in all my leagues.
--In College Football news, I'm looking forward to the USC-Nebraska matchup Saturday night. --Put me down for Nebraska pulling off the upset.
--In MLB news, looks like the Cardinals won't push past the Brewers and Cubs.
--In Nascar news, my money is on Smoke to win the Chase.
--What sports blogs do you like to read? These 4 get a lot of my attention. Profootballtalk. AOL Fanhouse. True Hoop. All of the blogs under the SBNation banner. And in that spirit, let's take a cruise thru the sports blogsphere and see what is out there...
--Mike Conley reports that pick-up games at the Forum at heating up. I'm pumped for next season. Bring on training camp.
--Hakim Warrick reports that he is still getting his legs when playing Madden '08. Did I say that I'm pumped for next season?
--I'm enjoying the the Chris Wallace radio segments with Chris Vernon. In case you haven't heard, I'm pumped about next season. Go Grizzlies!
--I echo Henry Abbott at True Hoop about former Tiger Shawne Williams arrest. Why do it in the car? Keep the illegal drugs at home.
--Whoa, this thing is getting long. Let's quit there. Enjoy a weekend stuffed to the brim with sports. Cheer for the Titans.

Edit....a big WOW regarding the post above by Chip...much props to Chris Wallace...and Chip for getting it set up and informing us about the discussion that occurred....I can't believe I missed an opportunity to meet Chris Wallace...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Greg Oden to miss entire season

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Oden is lost for the season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee today.

Obviously this is very bad news for both Oden and the Portland TrailBlazers. It appears that Portland will be on the receiving end of yet another high lottery pick next offseason which will be the third straight year for them, having drafted Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Oden the past two offseasons. This will do nothing to quell the comparisons to Sam Bowie that have been floating around, which is unfortunate for Oden and the fanbase, as they are completely off base. If anything, he's more like their most recent #1 overall pick -- Bill Walton.

For Grizzlies' fans, this has to be cause for a sigh of relief on two counts. First, that the Blazers won't have that dominant force in the middle in those 3 games this season. Secondly, and more obviously, that the Grizzlies won't be haunted by recollections of players like Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and Michael Dickerson, who came into the league with lots of potential, but whose careers were cut short by injuries.

Since the draft lottery, the question has been hanging over the city like a dark cloud: What If? What if those ping-pong balls had given the #1 overall pick to the Grizzlies instead of Portland? Well, since hindsight is 20/20, we can now say "Thank Goodness" instead of "What If". Even if Oden returns to his pre-injury condition and develops into that dominant center that was his predicted future, at least Grizzlies' fans won't have to spend the next season playing the Waiting Game, as the fanbase in the Pacific Northwest is now forced to do. I wish Oden and that fanbase the best, but I'm glad that I'm not in their shoes right now.

Update: Ron Tillery agrees with me

Expectations of Improvement

During the 2002-03 season the Memphis Grizzlies improved from 28 wins the previous season to 50 wins. That altered the perception of the Grizzlies from one of the worst franchises in professional sports to one with a bright future. With Jerry West heading the front office, Hubie Brown teaching the team concept and a cadre of young talented players the future looked promising.

That 22 game improvement was the best in the league that season and one of the top 15 team improvements since the 1973 season. It has been argued many times that the 2002-03 season did more to hurt the franchise the benefit it. Fans expectations were raised, player egos were inflated and pressure from the front office increased. These are not good combinations but that s a discussion for another day.

What I want to look into is how often a team improved more than 20 games twice since 1973.

The greatest single season improvement was San Antonio's 1997-98 season. The Spurs improved 36 games that year. The previous year David Robinson was injured and played fewer than 10 games that season. Also injured for significant periods of time were Chuck Person, Charles Smith and Sean Elliot. The perennial playoff team fell to 20 wins after making the playoffs every year since 1988. The Spurs won the lottery that summer and drafted Tim Duncan. The 1989-1990 season turned around with the arrival of David Robinson. Drafted two years earlier as the #1 pick in the draft Robinson joined a rebuilding Spurs franchise ready to make a big step forward. The 35 games improvement was the best in league history until the 1997-98 Spurs season.

Phoenix made the top 10 list twice as well. In 2004-05 they rebuilt the team with the Steve Nash signing, Quentin Richardson signing and Amare Stoudamire draft pick. The previous year Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and others were sent packing in a house cleaning in around the all-star break and those moves helped the Suns improve from 29 wins to 62 wins. That was the 3rd best improvement over that time frame. Phoenix also made the list in 1988-89 improving 27 games. The major difference was the arrival of new coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. He arrived after three years of missing the playoffs and turned the team around immediately improving from 28 wins to 55 wins that year. The previous season was known in Phoenix as the year of the trades. Over 24 hours in mid-February the Suns traded away Ed Pinckney, William Bedford, Larry Nance and Mike Sanders for Eddie Johnson, Armon Gilliam, Kevin Johnson, Mark West, Tyrone Corbin and Cleveland's 1st round pick in the upcoming draft. Throw on top the signing of Tom Chambers as a free agent and the team was totally remade. The draft brought in Tim Perry, Dan Majerle, Steve Kerr and Andrew Lang.

The Chicago Bulls also made the list twice. The team improved 25 games during the 1995-96 season when Michael Jordan returned from a two year hiatus to play baseball. The 25 game improvement took an already playoff bound team (47 wins) to the pinnacle of basketball excellence when the Bulls won 72 games in a season. The other great turnaround was the 2004-05 Bulls team that improved 24 games with the maturation of the Baby Bulls. New coach Scott Skiles turned the inexperienced team into one of the more dangerous squads in the NBA heading into the playoffs that year. That draft had brought in Ben Gordan, Luol Deng and Chris Duhon to join Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler and Kirk Hinrich to form a talented young squad of players. The Bulls were 4-14 in mid-December when things started to click (starting in Memphis against the Grizzlies). The Bulls were at .500 by the all-star break and finished with 47 wins that year.

Now the Grizzlies face a similar challenge. Can the team that played so pathetically last season in winning only 22 games make another 20 win turnaround this year? What did these previous teams have in common with the current Grizzlies?

Injuries played an important role in both of the Spurs turnarounds and injuries had a major factor in the Grizzlies demise last year. New coaches were a part of the San Antonio, Phoenix and one of the Chicago turnarounds as well. Marc Iavaroni is the new head coach in Memphis. Quality drafts played major roles in all three teams improvements and Memphis' drafting of Mike Conley Jr plus the signing of Juan Carlos Navarro (a previously unsigned draft pick of Washington) could have major impact going forward. Finally, free agent acquisitions had a big impact on many of the teams turn arounds and Darko Milicic's signing not only meant the Grizzlies acquired a talented young player but filled a need as well.

Many similarities from previous teams making big turnarounds are in place in Memphis right now. A new Coach, players returning from injuries, promising draft picks and free agent moves have all been major parts of the significant turnarounds in the past. That doesn't mean the Grizzlies will definitely improve 20+ games this season but there is plenty of reason for optimism this year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six on Six

The Grizzlies franchise is going to embark on their 13th year of existence on October 31st.

The previous twelve seasons were split evenly between Vancouver and Memphis. Six years spent in both cities.

1995-2001 The Vancouver years:

In Vancouver the team was called the worst professional franchise in all sports. The Vancouver Grizzlies were a laughing stock around the league. They won 15 games their first season, 14 games their second season, 19 games their third season (their lone season outside of last place) and 8 games in the strike-shortened 4th season before busting out to win 22 and 23 their last two years in Vancouver. That means their best season was one game better than the Grizzlies last season in Memphis!

Their overall record in 6years above the border was a dismal 101-359 for an overall winning percentage of 21.9%. The team had 5 head coaches, 2 GM's, three owners and two mascots. Originally the Grizzlies were supposed to be called the Mounties but the Royal Canadiam Mounted Police refused to allow their name to be used in such an manner. Wise choice in hindsight.

So instead the basketball minds in Vancouver chose to name the team after a creature who is asleep during most of a basketball season.

And you wonder why the team wasn't more successful?

The franchise chose to give away their #1 pick in the draft that produced Carmello Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Kirk Hinrich in exchange for Otis Thorpe despite Thorpe telling everyone who would listen he didn't want to be in Memphis. They drafted Steve Francis despite his repeated comments stating he would never play for Vancouver. Francis never did and the subsequent trade left Vancouver with no talent but some heavy contracts. Way to go Guys. It takes an enormous amount of ineptitude to simultaneously lose the present and the fuure of the franchise that way.

2001-the present:

The Memphis years began with a cleaning of the house. Gone were Shareef Abdur Rahim and Mike Bibby, In were Jason Williams, Shane Battier, Paul Gasol and Memphis native Lorenzen Wright. Nearly gone (and never to make an impact on the city) were Bryant 'Big Country' Reeves and Michael Dickerson. Within a year GM Billy Knight and Head Coach Sydney Lowe were gone as well.

The first 5 years in Memphis the team won 23, 28, 50, 45 and 49 games. The team reached the playoffs three times. The team had its first all-star representative when Pau Gasol played in the 2006 all-star game. The team won hardware for Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, Rookie of the Year and 6th Man of the Year during that span.

Even with last season's disappointing 22 win season the franchise still posted a record of 217-275 over the six years in Memphis. More than double the wins the franchise managed to win in Vancouver. The franchise has been rebuilt again and should be improved again this year with the addition of Mike Conley Jr, Juan Carlos Navarro and Darko Milicic not to mention the healthy return of Kyle Lowry.

Now the question is does it matter to Memphis? But that is the subject for a different blog.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Dave Berri, one of the masterminds behind Wages of Wins has three very interesting posts regarding who is overpaid and underpaid in the NBA using his own special brand of metrics. Naturally, many of the "underpaid" players are still on their rookie contracts, but it is an interesting read, nonetheless. Check out the three links below and draw your own conclusions, as we will be referring back to Berri's work throughout the season.

Overpaid in 2006/07

Underpaid in 2006/07

The Exploitation of Shaq

Working Out With Kyle Lowry

Bill Ingram of caught up with Kyle Lowry and has a great article about his summer workout routine here. Here's a brief excerpt:

"There's so much you've got to do. He tells you about foot work, speed, intensity, and he pushes you to the point where you've got to go like you play every day. These guys have these jobs for a reason. He's seen it, done it all, and watched it all, so he knows exactly what you have to do to address your weaknesses and even improve your strengths."

Read the full article -- especially if you have lingering concerns about Lowry after last season's wrist injury.

Wait and See?

In an article in Sunday's Commercial Appeal, Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley made this statement about this season's ticket sales:

"We're not burning down the fences -- that's for sure," Heisley said, regarding the poor showing at the FedExForum box office. "Going well would be that we're significantly increasing our ticket sales, and I haven't heard that we are."

Upon reading that article, AOL's The Fanhouse's Tom Ziller had this to say in a blog post titled "Memphis Not Excited By Grizz, Also Crazy":

It could be posturing from a reluctant owner, but Michael Heisley told the Memphis Commercial Appeal all the reforms his basketball team made have not translated to increased ticket sales this summer. If Heisley's truthful, this is sort-of depressing for me, as Memphis is probably the most interesting team in the league going into the season.

I understand the reason that Ziller is questioning why exactly fans of this new-look team haven't come out in droves to secure their place to witness one of the most intriguing teams of the upcoming season. After all, having been a frequent observer of the "slow-it-down, bore you to death" style of Mike Fratello for two seasons, almost anything would have to be more entertaining and the hiring of Marc Iavaroni, most recently of the Phoenix Suns, would be enough to send most basketball fans into an excitement induced frenzy. However, this is Memphis, and in Memphis you have to prove yourself...often more than once.

When the Grizzlies first moved to Memphis after flaming out spectacularly in Vancouver, they were not an immediate sellout hit, averaging around 14,400 fans the first year while in the Pyramid. However, they were soon over the 15,000 mark as the hiring of Hubie Brown introduced not only an entertaining brand of basketball, but the concept of winning consistently, leading to the magical 50-win season in their third year on the banks of the Mississippi River. Of course, this led to unrealistic expectations, since the Grizzlies had skipped over several steps that most young teams would have normally taken in becoming a playoff team. The jump from 28 wins to 50 wins was both a blessing and a curse in that regard.

After three trips to the playoffs and three unsatisfying sweeps, the fanbase began to complain about the style of play, the coaching, the talent level of the team and everything else you could think of, right down to the price of BBQ nachos and the choreography of the dance team. Then came Pau Gasol's injury and the Season from Hades that was the 2006/07 NBA season. So, you'll have to forgive the casual fans if they don't buy what Heisley's selling just yet. I, for one, am immeasurably excited by this team's potential in terms of talent, athleticism and growth possibility for the future. But I understand why others are hesitant to jump on the bandwagon -- they feel like they've been burned before, so I can wait for them to have things "proven" to them. I won't have to wait long though, because the bandwagon is going to fill up quickly and then it won't stop for the stragglers to find room.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sports Overload

This is something of a random post, but I'm just about to crack. Let's review my TV viewing over the past few days:

Thursday: Louisville vs. MTSU -- absolute scoring bonanza

Friday: U.S. Open
NASCAR Busch Series race

Saturday: Miami vs. Oklahoma
Alabama vs. Vanderbilt
West Virginia vs. Marshall
Nebraska vs. Wake Forest
Oregon vs. Michigan
Fresno State vs. Texas A&M
Florida State vs. UAB
South Carolina vs. Georgia
Hawaii vs. Lousiana Tech
LSU vs. Virginia Tech
U.S. Open Women's Final
PGA - BMW Championship
NASCAR Nextel Cup race
UFC 75 - highlighted by Quentin "Rampage" Jackson vs. Dan "Hollywood" Henderson

Sunday: Titans vs. Jaguars
Panthers vs. Rams
Redskins vs. Dolphins
Chargers vs. Bears
Cowboys vs. Giants
U.S. Open Men's Final
PGA - BMW Championship
Braves vs. Nationals

Needless to say, I've been living a sports fan's dream life the past few days. And I've still got Monday Night Football tomorrow to look forward to! It is entirely possible that my head will explode when basketball season starts. Training camp alone might be enough to push me over the edge.