Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Looking for Leadership


Why do young teams, such as the Memphis Grizzlies, struggle so much? Is it a lack of experience? The need for a "pecking order" to be established amongst the players? The search for a franchise player to carry them? Personally, I think that it is all those things, plus one more thing that helps to remedy many of those problems: leadership.

After reading Adrian Wojnarowski's article on Yahoo! Sports about the Chicago Bulls' players telling interim coach Jim Boylan that F/C Joakim Noah deserved another game off due to his tirade towards an assistant coach, it made things even more apparent that I've been on the right track in pinpointing the Grizzlies primary problem. He also mentions the mistake that Knicks GM/head coach Isiah Thomas made after polling his players about what to do with PG Stephon Marbury after he refused to show up to a game after being told that he would not be starting. The players said that Starbury should be benched for the forseeable future. Thomas responded by playing Marbury 34 minutes in the next game.

One coach responded by allowing his team to do what was best for the team as a whole. The other caved in to a petulant player who has done nothing to make his team better since his arrival. Both the Bulls and Knicks lack leadership right now -- mostly in the form of on-court leadership from a good player capable of making big plays and keeping the team on track during difficult times. Not so coincidentally, the Grizzlies have been looking for a player like that recently, too.

How does a team acquire a leader though? I posed this question on a few different message boards over the past couple of weeks and got a variety of answers, many of which advocated trading for or signing a "proven leader". No one was able to tell me why a player of that caliber would be available through either of those channels. After all, didn't the Bulls sign Ben Wallace hoping that he would be the leader who carried them to postseason success? Perhaps Big Ben just wasn't quite the leader everyone perceived him to be? That's the conclusion I drew....before the signing even took place. But that's a story for another day.

It seems to me that the only way to acquire a "true leader" is by drafting that player. Perhaps you draft a player that makes his teammates better, doesn't get rattled under pressure, is lauded for his "maturity beyond his years" persona, is trusted by the coaching staff and can be counted on to make the right decision 95% of the time. If that player has the potential to be one of the very best at his respective position in the league, then chances are you've got a leader that teammates are going to follow into Hell and back, no matter what he asks of them. Does Memphis have a player like that on their roster? I believe they do, although it might take a couple of years for him to reveal himself. Some things are worth waiting on though.

5 comments:

hooba said...

Sometimes you luck into leadership. Right about a year ago that the Pacers were trying to unload a nutjob facing gun charges. Chris Mullin used the opportunity to primarily offload some bad contracts and secondarily gamble on a quality role player of questionable character. All of a sudden Stephen Jackson blossoms into the missing ingredient and team leader that sparks Golden State. That might have been the only team in the league where he would have that impact.

That said, agree on your assessment of Conley and having worked with Nash up close, I think Iavaroni has a good shot at helping Conley develop those qualities.

Tim said...

I think Conley is are future leader and has the skills and mindset to do so. I wish it would come sooner or later but i think it will take a few years and a few roster changes

zack said...

i think establishing a working "pecking order" goes hand in hand with leadership...

right now I feel we lack both...

I like the idea of Conley becoming the leader on the team, though I would probably prefer for Rudy Gay to become that man...

but I also think that neither will be able to ascend to the top of the pecking order without our roster being shaken, not stirred.

much like Porltand had to give Z-Bo away for Roy to become the teams leader, I think it will take a couple of big roster moves to allow Rudy (or Conley) the freedom to be at the top of the pecking order and display better leadership on and off the court...

MemphisX said...

Great article.

Leadership is the difference between the Grizzlies being what they are now and what people thought their talent would be in the preseason.

In Memphis, leadership has mostly come from the coach. I think Conley can be that leader but the question is always...will the vets listen?

Even the nicest of vets sometimes ignore the leadership of younger players.

ChipC3 said...

I remember when Magic Johnson was drafted by the Lakers. After his first game (a last second victory) he was jumping up and down celebrating like mad. Kareem came up to him and said something about there being 81 more games and Magic said that sounded great.

Magic became a leader on a talent laden Laker team as a rookie by his positivie mental attitude and natural leadership skills. I think that Conley exhibits a lot of these characteristics but like MemphisX said, there may be some that resist it. Personally I believe anyone who refuses to listen to a team leader should be moved. Better to cut out the negative influence than coddle it.