Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Face of Failure

The beginning of the end of Pau Gasol’s tenure as a Memphis Grizzlies came during the 2006 playoffs. With the Grizzlies feeling the weight of an 0-10 playoff record, the Grizzlies went toe to toe with the Dallas Mavericks inside the FedEx Forum for 53 minutes. The defining moment came when Pau Gasol stepped to the free throw line and actually double clutched a free throw. To me it seemed like he was shook. From then until now, Pau Gasol’s heart has not been in Memphis and the majority of the fans in Memphis have had very little love for the talented Spanish 7 footer.

When Pau came back from the World Championships injured and demanding a trade, the relationship between him and the fans became even more strained. Gasol took the beating for most of the ills of the organization on and off the court. Heck, I am shocked he wasn’t blamed for the Grizzlies not winning the NBA draft lottery. Pau and his game has become symbolic for everything that was wrong with the team: poor rebounding, poor defensively, and relatively soft. He became the ugly face of the franchise.

After his performance against the Hornets in front of the home crowd, I hope that Chris Wallace is actively exploring trading Gasol. If Gasol is on the team after the trade deadline and the Grizzlies continue to lose, the damage to the psyche of the Grizzlies fan base might be beyond repair. At some point, the Grizzlies have to at least try to do something different.

In New York or Chicago, it might be OK to be the highest paid player and just be a cog in the machine. In fact, it might not be such a problem in Memphis except Pau has been here his entire career. Sort of like Rasheed Wallace in Detroit, it really didn’t matter that he made more money than Ben Wallace and Chauncey because they had already established themselves as the leaders of the Pistons and the faces of the franchise. However, expectations in Portland were different for Sheed. I think the same can happen for Gasol in another city. I just don’t think he can handle the pressure and responsibility that comes along with being The Man.
This is not to say that Pau Gasol is to blame for the problems of the Memphis Grizzlies. He is just symbolic of that failure. As the face of the franchise, he stands a 7 foot reminder of all the frustrations of the sub 30 win seasons and the 0-12 playoff record. Only the impossible could lift Gasol's burden. This team simply does not have the talent to compete at a level that would deflect criticism from Gasol. It was that way when he was drafted and has remained that way throughout the bulk of his Memphis career. I expect that burden has started to make the bumps and bruises he routinely played through just a little more unbearable.

For added proof , New Orleans post game marked the first time in Pau’s entire Memphis career that he used an injury to explain away a poor performance. Gasol has played through countless injuries in Memphis, some much more serious than his jammed toe. However, this crutch and his denial of boos aimed at him are signs that the situation in Memphis is about to come to a head.

Another problem that Marc Iavaroni and Chris Wallace should keep their eye on is the terrible body language on the court. Especially the body language of Rudy Gay, who seemed to be totally disgusted with the play of the team as a whole and the mounting losses. I know all players get frustrated with losing but the way the Grizzlies are losing has to be extra frustrating. Getting pimped slap on your home court is one thing; having Chris Paul stay in the game just so he can score 40 points is another. How the hell do you not put him on his back when he drives to the hole specifically to pad his stats on your home court?

Iavaroni and Damon Stoudamire can harp on toughness all they want but like I said 5 games into the season, you have to change the culture of this team through personnel moves. The most significant move that can be made is to move Gasol. Moving Gasol sends a statement that the Grizzlies are changing directions. Six weeks later my words are still fitting:

I just wonder how much longer Iavaroni and Wallace are going to try and sell us this pig in a poke. Nobody in Memphis believes that Gasol is taking this organization anywhere but the NBA draft lottery. For them to keep giving lip service to the contrary makes them seem dishonest at best and incompetent at worst. I have yet to find a single Grizzlies fan in Memphis that thinks Gasol lead us to any significant success in the NBA. I just wonder if the Grizzlies brain trust is going to let this organization flop and flounder without direction on into next offseason and then attempt to make moves. Does Chris Wallace have the balls to move Gasol sooner rather than later? We will see…

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Future of the Memphis Grizzlies: Business vs. Basketball

What is the future of NBA basketball in Memphis?

Don't worry -- this isn't one of those doomsday pieces that proclaims that the Grizzlies will be moving next year to Las Vegas, Kansas City, St. Louis or whever else that uninformed people conjure up as a viable relocation site. No, this is going to be a frank look at what the only "big time" pro sports franchise in Memphis needs to do to stay here beyond the city's lease with them.

The idea for this sprang from the dissatisfaction that rained down on franchise player Pau Gasol on Wednesday night from the meager gathering of fans at the FedEx Forum. It was originally going to be a frank look at whether or not it was truly time to part ways with the talented Spaniard. Then I decided that the issue was much larger than the presence or absence of just one player. We will start with Gasol though, as he is one of the lynchpins that is holding this convoluted mess together right now. Right now, fans are voicing their displeasure with him (and the team) by booing him during games and by staying away from games en masse. While the first part is troubling, it is understandable. The second part though, is more than just troubling -- it is an issue that has to be addressed and rectified. The team cannot survive in Memphis without fan support.

Is Pau the problem? This is his 7th season in Memphis and he has been the best player every single season. However, as has been noted before, he is better suited to being the #2 option on a consistent playoff contender. Grizzlies fans long ago soured on him being the man who would lead them to the Promised Land -- have they now given up on him being suited up in Beale Street Blue altogether? If that is truly the case and the emergence of Rudy Gay, as well as the potential of Michael Conley are no longer enough to persuade fans to come out to games or that Pau can be a vital part of future success, then he must be moved....and soon. From a business perspective, if something is obviously negatively affecting attendance, then that issue should be dealt with ASAP. Last year, it resulted in the firing of Mike Fratello -- this year it could be the trade of Pau. As Geoff Calkins noted and Gary Parrish recently told me, trading Pau could be the "shake-up move" that puts the team on the right path to title contention. For the record, I still believe that a trio of Rudy/Conley/Pau can contend with the right pieces around them -- namely a defensive stopper at SG (think Raja Bell) and a big man that looks a lot like Darko on his good nights. So, from a basketball standpoint, I think it makes sense to keep him unless presented with an obviously beneficial offer from another team, which means more than Chicago's package of Nocioni/Thomas/draft pick from where I sit. In any case, it is blindingly apparent that something needs to happen to change the perception that this team is adrift with no heading.

That brings me to the next player -- Mike Miller. I've advocated having the former Sixth Man of the Year return to that role, with either Tarence Kinsey (preseason) or Juan Carlos Navarro taking the starting role at SG. I think having his size and scoring ability off the bench at two positions (SG/SF) gives the team greater flexibility. Also, that has always helped to mask his deficiencies as a defender, while maximizing his abilities and strengths. Miller is one of those guys that is a fan favorite wherever he plays, but is also the source of constant criticism from fans who want him to be more than what he is, which is a fantastic role player who doesn't have a defined role as a starter. If the Grizzlies can have him return to his role off the bench, then I'd love to keep him around for the next 4-5 years. Otherwise, I'd have no problem moving him for a shot-blocking big man (is Marcus Camby still available?), a defensive minded SG (Mickael Pietrus, Ronnie Brewer) or a young talented player not currently being afforded playing time (Thabo Sefolosha and Ime Udoka come to mind). I'll even admit that Tom Ziller's piece this preseason might not have been as off-target as I originally thought, although I still shudder to think about trading Miller for an expiring contract and/or a draft pick. This would definitely be classified as a basketball decision, as I don't believe that Miller's play/contract/presence is keeping many fans away.

Other obvious basketball decisions would be the trade of Damon Stoudamire once Conley proves to be healthy and ready to start and the trade of either Stromile Swift (opt-out clause for this offseason) or Hakim Warrick (solid on offense, subpar in nearly everything else), perhaps both of them if a big name could be procured. I realize that Hak has a lot of fans, but he's too skinny to be a PF, doesn't have the skills to play SF and has proven to be mostly one-dimensional to this point in his career. That would not be a bad thing if one plans to be a role player off the bench for an entire career, but unless you're a perimeter player who can score in bunches like Ben Gordon, it isn't going to have too many people excited about paying you a big salary or making you an integral part of their team. These are all moves that should be made prior to the trade deadline, if at all possible.

In my opinion, the most important thing to impart unto fans is not just hope, but something that shows them the direction of the team, a move or statement that gives them tangible evidence that this organization has a plan and will follow through with it. That could mean the trade of Damon and Stro or something far more significant, such as the trade of Mike or Pau. This organization has to establish a plan for the future and let the fanbase know what that plan is. Otherwise, we will all be witness to the self-fulfilling prophecy that is the current state of things, where would-be fans sit around and say "I'm not going to invest time in this team, because they will be leaving town". Well, if you don't support the team, then they will leave eventually. Not tomorrow, not next year and not before the lease is up, but they will leave if there isn't enough support for them. I could preach about the importance of Michael Heisley selling to the local owners, about what the organization needs to do in terms of marketing and sales or about why the loss of Andy Dolich could very well be the first coffin nail. I still believe that what the team does on the court matters more than any of those other things though. When a team wins consistently, gets better each season and makes strides towards being a title contender, the fans will support it, whether the team calls Memphis home, or San Antonio, Sacramento, Toronto or Charlotte. When that happens, petty complaints about concessions, dance teams, ticket prices, location of block parties and halftime shows seem to subside to the point of extinction, as watching a winning team becomes the reason to show up to the arena. Trade Gasol or don't, trade Miller or don't, trade whomever or don't -- once the 50-game evaluation period is up, this team needs to make some moves and be clear about their direction before it digs itself too big a hole to climb out of with its fanbase.

Grizzlies Making Moves to Bring In Big Men



Memphis, Tennessee– The Memphis Grizzlies will be hosting the Sixth Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Game and Celebration on January 21 when they host the Chicago Bulls, and will honor NBA legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier for their contributions to civil and human rights. The celebration is presented by the Memphis Grizzlies, National Civil Rights Museum, City of Memphis and Shelby County.

Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier are this year’s recipients of the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Awards in the national and international categories, respectively. The award pays tribute to athletes who have made significant contributions to civil and human rights and who have laid the foundation for future leaders through their careers in sports in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Abdul-Jabbar carries out the vision of Dr. King with speaking engagements, and most notably, his writing. His most recent book is On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, published earlier this year. It details the changes and growth of the African-American culture in New York City after World War I. He also wrote Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes, about the first African-American armored unit in World War II. His other books include Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement and A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn With the White Mountain Apache. When Abdul-Jabbar retired he held league records for career points, blocks, Most Valuable Player Awards, All-Star Games and seasons played. He was a Rookie of the Year, member of six NBA championship teams, six-time NBA MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams. Abdul-Jabbar was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

Lanier is a legend both on and off the court. An eight-time NBA All-Star and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Lanier routinely visits with students and delivers motivational messages on education, youth and family development and health issues. Lanier serves as Special Assistant to the Commissioner with specific responsibilities in the areas of refereeing, basketball operations and public service, and he helps lead NBA CARES, the league’s global outreach program. Lanier averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds in 959 games with Detroit and Milwaukee in a 14-year career.

The work being done by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier represents the values Dr. King stood for, and we’re proud to honor them on a day that has such significant meaning,” said Memphis Grizzlies President of Business Operations Andy Dolich.

The day will begin with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day High School Classic presented by Southwest Tennessee Community College. The game will pit the Booker T. Washington Warriors against the New Hope Trojans (Columbus, MS). The game starts at 1 p.m., and admission is free with a ticket to the Grizzlies game that night.

Following the High School Classic will be the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Sports Legacy Symposium presented by the Hyde Family Foundation. The symposium will be emceed by TNT sideline reporter and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist David Aldridge, and will feature Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier, who will share their stories and experiences about their contributions to civil and human rights in the spirit of Dr. King. The free symposium will be held in the Methodist Healthcare Practice at FedExForum from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. While admission is free with the purchase of a Grizzlies game ticket, space is limited. Season ticket holders interested in attending must pre-register by calling their account executive at 888-HOOP or contact them via email at All other fans can get tickets from the FedExForum box office when purchasing a ticket to that night’s game.

Following the symposium, the Grizzlies and Bulls will tip-off at 4:30 p.m. in a nationally-televised game on TNT presented by Lexus. Fans will want to make sure they arrive early, as prior to tip-off in a live TNT telecast Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier will be presented with their awards, and the national anthem will be performed by Boyz II Men. The halftime ceremony presented by AutoZone will feature a special Martin Luther King, Jr. video tribute, recognition of Abdul-Jabbar and Lanier, and a performance by Boyz II Men.

This marks the third year the Grizzlies and National Civil Rights Museum will present the Sports Legacy Awards. In 2007 David Robinson was the recipient of the national award and Dikembe Mutombo was the recipient of the international award. In 2006, Bill Russell earned the national award and Mannie Jackson received the international award.

Tickets for the MLK Jr. Day Celebration and game can be purchased by calling 888-HOOP, at all Ticketmaster outlets, the FedExForum box office or at Fans can also take advantage of significant savings by purchasing a Pepsi Family Value plan which includes four game tickets, four Pepsi fountain drinks and four hot dogs for as little as $48.

For more information, visit

Memphis vs Houston - 12.28.07

Come give one of the men responsible for the Grizzlies being in Memphis a rousing farewell as he leaves to pursue opportunities in another city. Tonights game is the last home game before Andy's retirement so come out and give him a great send off!!!

We will miss you Andy and wish you continued success back in San Francisco. Don't forget us when we call you for Super Bowl tickets in a few years!!!

Memphis is trying to finish the season with a few bright spots to jump start the 2nd half of the year. One of the early bright spots was a victory over a healthy Houston Rockets team at FedEx Forum. The last game the Grizzlies played the fans were less than hospitable at the effort. Hopefully the Grizz will shake off their post-Xmas blahs (no turkey leftovers before the game please) and come out running and playing aggressively like people know they can do. Memphis can triple their division wins from a season ago with a win tonight against the short-handed Rockets.

Houston is attempting to correct their path before their season crashes as well. The preseason pick of having the best chance to unseat the Dallas-San Antonio stranglehold on the division has been struggling to find consistency with a new coach, several new players and two superstars who seem unable to get their health together to start any kind of run. The Rockets haven't played since losing in Detroit on Sunday in a game where both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady left with injuries. At 13-15 and with two games remaining in 2007 the Rockets need to win both games to finish the 2007 year at .500 and within shouting distance of division leaders San Antonio, Dallas and New Orleans.

Zack's Corner

Sorry for coming in late with my thoughts on the Houston game. Despite sitting courtside for the Hornet game, I am just not feeling all that good about the team right now. That causes me to refrain from saying too much in the pre-game posts because an enjoyable and informative pre-game post should not be done when you are too down on the team (see last year's game threads). But here it goes. You can call these keys to the game, or rather they are simply some aspects of the game I am interested in tonight against the divisional rival Rockets:

-- Help defense on defensive mismatches. In the last meeting, the Rockets went to Bonzi in the post something like 7 straight times with Lowry on him (because JC guarded Alston to decrease the SG mismatch). What followed was embarassing and I am still at a loss for why Iavaroni didn't try to counter the Bonzi-iso somehow. If the gameplan is again to not double (or something) against defensive mismatches like the one Bonzi creates against Kyle or JC, we are in trouble.
-- Transition 3-pointers. It has been said that the Grizzlies need to be hot from outside to be at their best. I will modify that some for tonight. I think it is the ability to hit 3-pointers in transition that will make the most difference. Navarro and Miller both seem to have an easier time making 3's on the break than in the half court because it minimizes the ability of the other team to focus on the 3. The Rockets are good with transition defense though. Watch out tonight when we are on the break for how much success Miller and Navarro have.
-- RU-DEE. He's a stud and I think he's to the point now that he could go off for 30+ points on any given night and be almost unstoppable on offense. I want him to shoot the most shots tonight. I want him to be our 1st option on offense. With McGrady out, he should have an easier time.
-- Darko's interior defense. In my opinion, Darko's best 2 games of the year were against the Spurs, where it seemed he really wanted to show Duncan he is a good post defender. And it all started with Darko fighting HARD for position on the block (something I never see Pau do, Pau would rather take his chance after the post guy gets the ball, Darko on the other hand has shown he can do damage by fighting hard to not allow the post player the position or the ball). If Darko can go out there tonight and give the same kind of effort against Yao, we will be in good shape.
-- Foul trouble. We need Yao to get 2 quick fouls and for Rudy to stay out of foul trouble.

Matchups by Chip

Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Rafer Alston
Rafer Alston was never viewed as a pure point guard under Jeff Van Gundy but that reputation seems to be changing with Rick Adelman. Alston has been the point guard on the floor when Houston's offense has executed at its best while the team has struggled to score when the reserves, Steve Francis and Mike James, have been on the court. Damon Stoudamire was supposed to be packing his bags by now for some new locale while Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley were preparing to play the point. Someone forgot to tell the plan to Coach Iavaroni as Damon is not only still starting but actually increasing his minutes played in each game and has re-taken the closer's role.
Advantage: Houston

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Tracy McGrady

T-mac has struggled with a mysterious knee injury that has not shown up in scans or even an MRI but McGrady has said he can't play with the pain. It is not sure if he will play in this game or not but resting it for 6 days should ease the pain somewhat. Miller has been playing well until he hits the 35 minute mark when his legs appear to give out and his game goes downhill. Unfortunately Miller is being asked to play over 40 minutes a game and the drop off in crunch time has been easy to notice. Miller is having a great season other than late in games as he is scoring at the 3rd best clip of his career, is having his best rebounding season, second best assists and is shooting over 50% from the floor and over 43% from the arc. The trouble is if this game goes down to the wire, T-Mac can take over and Miller can't.
Advantage: Houston

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Shane Battier

A match up of the past and future kings of Memphis. Shane Battier was the most beloved player ever to play in Memphis. Loved by nearly the entire city, his trade two summers fits rather conveniently with the drop off in attendance at games. The funny thing is that Battier's play has dropped off in Houston while Rudy Gay has become the new star of the team and a potential all-star that Shane could never be. Rudy is leading the team in scoring, has hit a game winning 3 pt shot (over Tim Duncan no less) and routinely is seen on ESPN with his highlight reel moves. Battier isn't the bright light but the glue and he makes his opponent work to look good. You will rarely notice Shane on the court much less see him on ESPN but he does his job. Rudy is just doing it better right now.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Chuck Hayes

The biggest mismatch on the court, literally. Gasol at 7-1 towers over Hayes at a generous 6-6. If there is a weakness that shouts out on the Houston team its Chuck Hayes. Adelman prefers his forwards to be passers from the high post as well as bangers underneath. Hayes can't shoot, isn't a great passer and is routinely over-matched underneath. He does try hard however. Gasol went into Christmas vacation with the best game of the season and one of his most clutch ever. Down the stretch Gasol continued to score as pull the Grizzlies close eventually tying the score. It didn't produce a win but it was good to see.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Stromile Swift vs Yao Ming

Most of Stromile's highlights in Memphis have come against Houston and Yao Ming. Including a few poster dunks over the big man from China. Unfortunately Stro only plays Houston four times a season. Yao is having another big season averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds a game but struggles against the quicker Swift. Since Houston has little support behind Yao getting the big man in foul trouble early is a big advantage for the Grizzlies. Failure to get him in foul trouble spells trouble as the last game in Houston showed. History says bet on the Grizzlies tandem but common sense tells you Yao should be too big for the Grizzlies post players.
Advantage: Houston

Benches: Memphis vs Houston

Bonzi Wells is notorious for playing big against former teams he feels disrespected by. I wonder if he feels that way about Memphis? Other than Bonzi the only real contributor off the bench for Houston has been rookie Luis Scola who has been erratic. Mike James and Steve Francis have struggled in the back up point guard role and Luther Head seems to be better suited as a small SG than a PG. Kyle Lowry has struggled lately as teams have become accustomed to his bulldog approach at the point. Teams are just daring Kyle to shoot from outside while preventing him from getting into the lane. Kyle's forcing the issue has created turnovers at inopportune times. Navarro is having a tough time in the NBA when his shot isn't falling but he is still averaging over 10 points and makes it difficult for teams to double in the post when he is in the game.

UPDATE: Tracy McGrady said he expects to miss a week with his non-injured knee. Despite an MRI showing no damage Tracy McGrady expects to miss at least another week resting his sore knee. Maybe he is waiting to get his lift back. Great news for the Grizzlies in this game if T-Mac doesn't play. Of course the bad news is more Bonzi Wells who has a history or torching his former teams.

Outside Commentary:
Wages of Wins: Houston Still Has a Problem

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bulls vs. Celtics and Faux contending

It is interesting the course the 2007-08 NBA season has taken with the firing of Chicago Bull's head coach Scott Skiles and the dominance of the Boston Celtics. It seems that the importance of top level talent over depth has become even more apparent. (I have a feeling the Grizz fans are well aware of this notion.) Kobe and KG have already shown that one player, no matter how great they are, can not carry a team to contention alone. LeBron seemingly defied that logic until the Cavs ran into the Spurs and the difference between the Eastern and Western conferences was made clear. Even Yao and T Mac are struggling to carry a less than stellar supporting cast in Houston. However, three All Star level talents, even when supported by inexperienced players short on talent can propel you into the upper echelon of the NBA.

Obvious? Ok. I am bringing this up because I think my "trade Pau or bust" stance is quite misguided. It has nothing to do with whether Pau is good enough to be a 1st or 2nd option, whether he can defend, or how he closes out games. Pau is a legit All Star level talent in a top level talent driven league. As such, the only acceptable trade is another All Star level talent that is more in line with the age of Rudy Gay and Michael Conley.

My change in stance has nothing to do with Gasol's performance against Philadelphia, it was simply a realization, after taking a step back from the season and a third of losing, of how difficult it is to acquire or develop that talented of a player and how unimportant depth is on the grand scale of the NBA. Rotations get so tight during the playoffs that it doesn't matter what your 9th or 10th man can provide.

It would have been nice if the Grizzlies could have gotten a Chris Paul type of rookie season from Michael Conley but until he actually playus productively for thirty minutes a night, I will remain hopeful but skeptical. Also, it seems that the other big acquisition in the 2007 offseason, Darko Milicic, is having problems with his confidence. This is not good to read about the guy that was supposed to be our defensive enforcer. Can you even imagine Bill Laimbeer giving those excuses in a freaking interview with a journalist from an opponents city?

So what do I think Chris Wallace should do? I think the Grizzlies fans deserve for them to make a decision. Either fully rebuild the team around Rudy Gay and Michael Conley and take the pain for the next two seasons or build a fake contender by adding a veteran player on this team that can elevate the Grizzlies into the playoffs and possibly top out with the 2nd round in the next 2-3 seasons. I think you do the former by trading Gasol and Brian Cardinal for a young All Star level talent like Luol Deng (I know, I know) and the latter by adding some of our short contracts (Damon or Stromile) and/or young players (Lowry or Warrick) to Mike Miller for an upgrade on the wing either offensively (Vince Carter) or defensively (AK47).

I think these are the two options for this organization. It makes no sense or difference to change fringe players when your coach has already stated and shown a preference for playing an eight man rotation. Any thing less is wheel spinning and setting us up for getting mired in the muck of mediocrity that Jerry West said was the bane of NBA teams.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hornets Postgame (I Sat Courtside!)

From Zack Via Courtside Seats

Despite the Grizzlies getting killed by Chris Paul and the Hornets, tonight might have been the best basketball night of my life. Midway through the 1st quarter, the friend that took me to the game got his seats upgraded to COURTSIDE SEATS (thank you Andy).

For an NBA junkie, only a few things in life is better than sitting courtside. Even when the home team gets their butts kicked.

The feel for the size, strength and speed of the players and game is unmatched. It was almost too much, actually. Too much to watch. Too much to take in and pay attention to. Along with watching the game play, I was focusing even more of my attention to my hearing, since sitting so close makes it possible, well almost possible, to hear the conversations that take place on the court between the players, coaches and refs.

Although I didn't hear anything incredibly fascinating. Ok, I didn't hear anything slightly fascinating, but still here are some things I did hear.

-- At one point in the 2nd half, I heard Iavaroni yelling at Darko to show "emotion" on defense.
-- In the 4th quarter during Hornet free throws, Chris Paul was walking up before the last shot and telling his guys to make sure and "get a stop" next time down.
-- The Hornet players would routinely talk 1 on 1 with the refs during stoppages. The Griz players only yelled at the refs during play, not talking with them when not playing.
-- In the 3rd quarter Iavaroni put Rudy on Peja. Peja went around a screen and nailed a mid-range jumper. On the way down the court Rudy told the ref to "watch those screens" next time.
-- After one of Chandler's many dunks, he quickly flashed the Stro show sign. One of the refs running down the court was discouraging this saying "no, no, no, no".
-- In the 4th quarter on defense, Lowry wanted to get up on Paul earlier, but Iavaroni yelled at him to "get back" and lay off of Paul. So of course, Paul just pulled up and nailed a long 2.

Other things about the game.

Chris Paul is awesome.
He was just unbelievable tonight. At one point in the 2nd half I think he had only missed 1 shot. He finished with 40 points on 17 for 25 shooting, 9 assists and only 1 turnover. It didn't matter what we did, he countered with a successful play. Which brings me to...

Iavaroni had no answer to defending the pick and roll effectively. He tried everything. He started the game with having the guards go under and the bigs stay back. This led to Chris Paul showing the crowd how great of an outside shooter is. He then tried to just have the guard go over but the big still play off. This led to layups and sweet passes to Chandler for easy dunks. He then tried to trap off the screen. Again this didn't work and instead led to Peja sinking numerous 3-pointers from the corner. On that particular situation, the trap would leave Rudy as the guy trying to guard 2 people. The SG was at the wing and Peja in the corner. Rudy looked confused and got very frustrated trying to properly rotate between the two. Very frustrated. However...

Rudy's game has really impressed me this season.
Rudy tonight was decent. He wasn't dominate on offense and was as bad as all the Grizzlies on defense. He struggled to guard Peja. He didn't rebound particularly well. But he still looked like a budding star. He was able to get good shots on offense (because Peja cannot stay with Rudy on the dribble-drive) and he was able to make borderline bad shots from the perimeter (that is, IMO, what sets apart great basketball players from bad the rest....great players routinely make difficult shots that seem low-percentage, the rest don't). At this point I think we should be getting Rudy even more shots on offense. He was 50% tonight from the field and had at least three layup attempts rattle out. He is good slashing and pulling up. He can score out of the post and perimeter positions. He's our primary scorer from here on out, IMO. Which oddly enough segues into....

Tonight might have been a turning point on the relationship between Pau and the fans.
He was booed many times tonight. It actually seemed to be building throughout the game. It may have started with the Hornets getting some easy dunks and timely offensive rebounds. But it clearly culminated with Pau being passive and hesitant on offense. In typical Pau fashion, he submitted to the jab-step-fest when catching the ball, refusing to assert himself against a physical Tyson Chandler. He was weak the few times he tried to drive. He couldn't hit his jumper and he threw some bad passes out of a double team. In the 2nd half, boos started to trickle in after another jab-step-fest at the elbow resulted in zero Griz points. Later I turned and said I think this place is going to explode on Pau if he does something blatantly bad again (sorta like the free throw incident from last year). Then on the very next possession, Pau was in the short corner, gave the jab-step-fest and turned the ball over. The boos rained down from the rafters. And deservedly so, IMO. I think this game might have been a turning point. The fans are frustrated and they are going to take it out on Pau. Watch out. But I don't want to be all negative about tonight, here are two last bits of good news.

Lowry played better tonight than he has in a long while.
He got early action due to Damon's 2 quick fouls guarding Paul. He resembled the old Lowry for the rest of the quarter with an active style of defense. He had a bunch of deflections and caused plays that could have went the Grizzlies way with a better bounce on a loose ball. Chris Paul was on fire tonight, which negates most of the good things that Lowry did on defense early on. But more importantly Lowry was better on offense. He shot decent. Scored 15 points. Also had 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals. He made good decisions on when to drive and when to dish. He still wasn't the playmaking PG that we need on offense. Someone who forces teams to focus almost entirely on stopping them (like Chris Paul does), but he also wasn't the negative presence he has been at times this year. Maybe we have another young PG on the roster that can be more like Chris Paul, what's his status again?

Conley has resumed full contact practices.
Can I get an Amen! Spartacus alerted us to this fact today in the links post (via Conley's own blog). Tonight, the news was at the bottom of the AP article. This is great news and hopefully I will get to see the full time backcourt duo of Conley and Lowry be a reality at some point this year. There was an interesting quote from the AP article, though. Here is the full passage, with the interesting part in bold:

Grizzlies G Mike Conley returned to full contact practice Tuesday night, meaning his return from injury is much closer. The rookie from Ohio State has been out of action since injuring his right shoulder against Dallas on Nov. 17. "You wouldn't have thought he had a shoulder surgery," Iavaroni said before Wednesday's game. "Moving around well. He was quick. He needs to get in better shape, but that will come with play." Iavaroni wouldn't give a specific time on the first-round pick's return.

What? Conley had surgery? Surely this is a misquote. Chip, get the crack research team on this.

Well, in summary. Chris Paul is awesome. The Griz didn't have the effort and hustle necessary to be competitive for 48 minutes and the locker room atmosphere has to be pretty bad right now. Pau was particularly awful tonight and the home town crowd let him hear it, which could be an interesting development or nothing at all. If nothing else, he knows we fans don't like the jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, turnover move. Conley is close to returning and well, I got to sit freaking courtside. Click this link to see a picture. I'm underneath Paul's left shin.

Chipc3's Perspective:
I didn't sit courtside. However I did see many of the things Zack referenced so I won't repeat them too much. Congrats on the upgrade Zack. Since it is the holidays the game had a sort of movie night feel to it.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:

Good: Rudy Gay took over in the fourth quarter again and came up big offensively. The Bad: Pau Gasol's streak of double figure scoring games came to an end at 81 games, third longest in the league. The Ugly: One of the worst shooting teams in the NBA shot 55.8% in the game while one of the higher scoring teams in the league failed to break 100 pts for the third consecutive game.

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde:
Pau Gasol goes for 31 and 15 against Philly including some of his most aggressive play late in the game only to turn around and put up 9 and 8 against Tyson Chandler and the Hornets the next game. If there was a more bi-polar performance without injury in the NBA I don't know what it is. Down the stretch Gasol was crying to the refs (I almost titled this the Crying Game actually) but the bottom line was Gasol wasn't aggressive enough to earn a call. The fans booing him didn't seem to upset Gasol either as he nonchalontly shrugged off the boos as if he didn't care. That definately didn't help the situation. Gasol may not be demanding a trade but it sure seems like he doesn't want to be here despite his buddy being on the team. Maybe he feels the losing isn't his fault but when you only take one shot in the 2nd half perhaps the problem is looking you in the mirror when you are the highest paid player on the team. The team needed Pau to be big and force New Orleans to keep an eye on him. Instead he was passive allowing the pressure to remain on the perimeter players and the fans saw that and let him know that isn't what they want from him.

The Two Towers:
Darko Milicic tonight came into the game and scored right away and prompty took most of the rest of the night off. He played only 13 minutes, committed two turnovers and seemed to be so scared on the offensive end that we were playing 4 against 5 when he was in the game. What happened to the Darko who started the season? Is his thumb so sore that he can't catch the ball? Has his confidence whittled away to the point that he doesn't even want to be a part of the offense? When Darko doesn't assert himself and Pau plays as soft as he did there is not a single team in the NBA the Grizzlies can beat. The Ivory Towers appeared to be made out of paper last night. We need more of the Bad Boys and not the Back Street Boys on this team. Until the Ivory Towers start getting mean and aggressive again the Memphis Grizzlies will continue to be forced to rely on perimeter play and that is not a good thing late in games (Philly) nor in games when the opponents try to out-muscle you (New Orleans). At some point we have to have interior players saying enough is enough.

Stripes and Titanic rolled into one 2 hour tragi-comedy:

This game showed all that is wrong with the franchise right now. Too many sloppy turnovers, not enough physical play inside, too many fingers being pointed at others (the refs, the fans, teammates) and not enough at themselves. Someone needs to take charge on this team and as MemphisX pointed out in a conversation with me, we don't know who it should be!

Therein lies the problem. Damon makes a big stand and says the team needs to play with more heart and they come out and play really well, for a quarter. Then New Orleans elevates their game to match Memphis' intensity and the Grizzlies collapse. Is it Gasol's fault? Is it Darko's? Are we cursed or just a weak franchise? I don't know the answer but it sure hurts having to ask the question over and over.

Word of the Day: Evaluation

With a nod to our friends over at Basketbawful, I'm going to borrow one of their mainstay titles for this post.

Most Grizzlies followers are aware that Head Coach Marc Iavaroni (along with GM Chris Wallace) said at the beginning of the season that it would take 50 games to properly evaluate this team and determine who truly belongs and can be part of the future, and who will not be part of that move back to the postseason. Many fans were calling for an end to that evaluation process 5 games into the season as they denounced the acquisitions of Casey Jacobsen and Juan Carlos Navarro and called for the trades of seemingly everyone not named Rudy Gay.

Well, we are now 27 games into the season and just past to the halfway point of that evaluation period. What do we know so far? We know that Rudy Gay is becoming the star that Jerry West promised us when he made the trade netting him on draft day last summer. We know that rookie point guards still struggle (Kyle Lowry) and over-the-hill veteran point guards don't learn new tricks (Damon Stoudamire). We know that Darko Milicic is a good (maybe great) low-post defender, but needs a healthy left hand to score with any regularity. We know that Brian Cardinal still looks good in a suit. We know that Andre Brown can contribute when called upon, as he evidenced against my pick for NBA MVP Dwight Howard on Saturday night. We know that Stro is still Stro. We know that Tarence Kinsey is still a fan favorite, even as he seeks another team to catch on with. We know that Juan Carlos Navarro can light up the scoreboard in a hurry. We know that Casey Jacobsen is the team's best blogger. We know that people expect way too much from Michael Conley right out of the gate. We know that Hakim Warrick can still score and rebound. We know that Mike Miller still has the most interesting hairdo on the team. We know that Pau Gasol is Sam Smith's favorite Grizzly now that Shane Battier is a Rocket.

Now why is any of this important? Well, while I was doing my daily check of The Fanhouse last week, I saw a post by Bethlehem Shoals about the Phoenix Suns titled Suns Brass Getting Restless. Apparently, there are those in the Suns' front office that are behaving a lot like the Grizzlies online fanbase, in that there is a split about what to do with plenty on the fence.

NBA sources say the Suns brain trust is split between those who want to give this team another shot at success, those who think it's now time for a major move and those who are on the fence after only 24 games.

If that doesn't sound familiar enough, how about his line from GM Steve Kerr:

"If we're ever going to be a championship team, we have to improve defensively."

I find it interesting that a team that is 17-7 and has legitimate title aspirations is facing the same basic issues as a team which is 7-16 and coming off a league worst 60 losses last season. Want me to make the circle complete? Here you go:

"We're watching this run of games against top competition (Utah, New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas) very carefully. We've been talking about it but we talk all the time. Are there are concerns? Sure. I'd say we're definitely in evaluation mode," Kerr said.

Evaluation mode, huh? Well, well, well, it seems that where Iavaroni came from isn't that much different from where he went to in terms of question marks. For the record, Shoals came to the conclusion about the Suns that many outspoken Grizzlies fans have arrived at:

Maybe this season's start -- which has them looking good, but not dominant -- was the wake-up call the franchise needed. With the rampage over, it's time to face facts, and maybe shake things up before it's too late.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. What is that sound?


Links: Conley Update, Rudy's Media Exposure, Damon's Statement, Oops

According to his blog, Conley participated in full contact drills, took a few hits to his shoulder and feels fine. Perhaps we'll see him on the court with the coming of the new year. That would give the fans some hope moving forward, I would think. conducted an interview with rising star Rudy Gay over the Christmas break. Now that you have a year under your belt in the NBA, has it
been easier this season as far as preparation and expectations?
Rudy Gay: I don’t know if it’s been easier, but I feel better prepared for it. There are some great players in the league with a lot of talent, so you’re always going against the best. I think the biggest thing was taking care of myself and getting used to how long the season is.

There weren't any truly deep, searching questions, but it is still nice to see Rudy get some media recognition. I think we all know that if it weren't for his buzzer-beater against the Spurs, he'd still be the most low-profile player who leads his team in scoring across the entire league.

Rudy was also the subject of an interesting read in a Pennsylvania newspaper article that I saw on, titled: Grizzlies' Gay proving critics wrong.

He's been called disinterested about basketball at times, but Memphis Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay is making a lot of critics eat those words.

With his sophomore campaign looking brighter by each game, Gay has become the lone reason why fans are even paying attention to the Grizzlies during their rebuilding stage.

While I think the writer took a somewhat simplistic approach to this story, given that Rudy's improvement could in fact be a result of having critics -- similar to the impressive rookie season that former UConn teammate Charlie Villanueva had after being blasted by pundits. But, it is still nice to see the media noticing that Rudy is starting to show why most experts had him at the top of the draft boards through his freshman season and most of his sophmore year of college.

In the Commercial Appeal today, Damon Stoudamire had some words for his teammates that could best be described as "tough love", as he said that the team needed to get tough.
"The guys in this locker room have to decide when enough is going to be enough. We, as players, have to get tough. We have to help each other on defense and offense. We have to trust each other. ...When we get after it, we're not that bad."
"We've got to take a stand as a team," Stoudamire said. "We've got to get sick of losing, and string some wins together."
"It comes a time where if you don't get it done, you have to always build each other up," Stoudamire said. "You spend a lot of time convincing guys that the philosophy will work. You're trying to make some guys want to fight, and the season is too young for that. We have to show some fight. It's not on coach. We have to do it in this locker room."

It's nice to see one of the veteran leaders of this team step up and attempt to "right the ship".

Over on The Blog of Mikey, one blogger admits to falling prey to the "previous results" fallacy of predicting success and playoff teams. At least he's a quick enough study to figure that out now, rather than after the All-Star break.

Power Rankings 12-24 & 25

Power Rankings for 24 & 25 December, 2007
Mouse Over GRIZZLIES LOGO to see COMMENTS (works best with MS IE)
Click on Grizzlies logo to go to team web page for each media's web site.
other weeksAll12-1712-1012-311-2611-1911-12 
Actual NBA SI ESPNCoversSagarin CBS FOX
1 1
2 2
3 3
4   4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8   8
9   9
10 10
11   11
12   12
13 13
14  14
15 15
16  16
17   17
18 18
19     19
20 20
21 21
22 22
23 23
24 24
25 25
26 26
27 27
28 28
29 29
30 30
Actual NBA SI ESPNCoversSagarin CBS FOX