Sunday, May 11, 2008

Youth Will Be Served

The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy.
Alfred North Whitehead

The Grizzlies officially began their youth movement on January 29th with the trade of Pau Gasol to the Lakers for a 19 yr old rookie, 2nd rd draft pick Marc Gasol, two future 1st rd picks and of course $9 million in salary cap space called Kwame Brown. Combining those players with a 21 yr old up and comer like Rudy Gay, a 20 yr old PG in Mike Conley, a 22 yr old center in Darko Milicic and 21 yr old back up PG Kyle Lowry and it is obvious Memphis isn't planning on turning things around by bringing in veterans. Put away the fantasy of seeing Marcus Camby or Gilbert Arenas in a Grizzlies uniform for the time being. Acquiring players past their prime could improve the team but only to the level of a 1st rd exit in the playoffs. Memphis has been there and it isn't enough.

Since the Gasol trade people have wondered what exactly a youth movement means for the future of the Grizzlies both in Memphis and in the NBA. Is this an attempt to sell the team? Is this a new way of describing the Clippers/Donald Sterling strategy of being profitable for the owner but not successful on the court? Is this actually a strategy that will lead the team to a higher level of success in the future?

Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963), "Texts and Pretexts", 1932

Not many NBA teams have succeeded in turning things completely around with a pure youth movement. Recent exceptions could include Chicago and Portland. Chicago went from one of the worst teams in the league for 6 years to a playoff contender and then right back down when the lack of maturity and some poor management decisions caused the team to fall apart right at the point where it appeared they would join the ranks of the elite teams in the league. Portland is still an unknown but the team has many serious decisions to make going forward if they expect to continue to grow from their recent success.

What usually happens in a youth movement is that instead of learning how to win NBA games, the young players learn how to lose NBA games. Losing can be especially difficult on a young player and as losses pile up, effort drops down. Attitude deteriorates and players want out at any cost. Pau Gasol is a great example of this. He appears to be a player reborn after getting away from a losing franchise. His numbers are no better in LA than they were in Memphis but his body language has definitely improved.

It is human nature after all. To overcome the apathy induced from losing a team needs a strong leader both on the bench and on the court. Right now it could be argued that Memphis has at most one and more likely neither. The team will need to find an on-court leader and develop their leader on the bench. Experience is called the great teacher. Well if that is true then we have set in place the building blocks for a great leader from this past season.

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.
Vernon Sanders Law

Iavaroni has been given his test. So has Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry for that matter. For Memphis to make meaningful improvement next season, and by that I am not saying playoff improvement, these people will need to show what they learned from last year's test. Will Iavaroni improve his ability to make good decisions from the bench? Will Conley take the next step forward in controlling the pace of the game and his outside shot? Will Rudy become the type of player that elevates his teammates play as well as his own? Will Lowry become a team leader instead of a momentum changer?

The leaders for next season most likely won't come from this draft. That is not a slight on those players either. It is extremely rare for a rookie to step into this league and be able to lead veterans. The refs don't give you calls. The travel and long season take a heavy toll. The speed of the game needs to be adjusted for. And the rookies entering the league now are not men yet. Most likely the Grizzlies draft pick will not be able to celebrate his selection with a glass of champagne!

So as Memphis enters the first full season of their youth movement it should be interesting to see who learned the lessons from last season and improved and who were beaten by them.

And a little luck on Tuesday wouldn't hurt either.

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