Saturday, May 3, 2008

Iavaroni Stays - There is Still Hope

So Memphis owner Michael Heisley chose stability (and a lower cost to the team) over more change and confusion. Good decision Mr. Heisley. You made the right call in keeping a bright basketball mind and allow him to develop and show what he has learned after one season as an NBA coach. The decision was lauded by George Karl and Mike D'Antoni as being a smart move so don't just think this is my opinion. After a season of roster shake ups and basically being dealt a roster of extremely inexperienced players it is only right that Iavaroni be given a second chance to turn things around in the Forum. Besides he is one of the best communicators in the NBA today and that is great for Grizzlies fans.

I do have one drawback from the story filed by Ron Tillery.

Apparently Mr. Heisley told Coach Iavaroni that he needed to improve the team's defense dramatically from last season. I had flashbacks of Mr. Heisley's meeting with Mike Fratello two years ago when he retained him as coach despite wide spread rumors to the contrary. At that time Heisley told Fratello he needed to play the young guns more and to be more uptempo. That wasn't what made Fratello successful as a coach. He was good at coaching veterans with a defensive mentality. With Mike Miller, Jason Williams/Damon Stoudamire, Pau Gasol and no true center that was difficult to achieve in Memphis but he did a good job by slowing down the game and minimizing possessions. To demand he move away from his strengths as a coach was a disaster.

The Grizzlies hired Marc Iavaroni to play uptempo and push the ball. The team improved their pace from the Fratello days finishing 7th in the league in that regard. Their effective field goal percentage was 50.0 which put them 13th in the league despite a lineup loaded with young players. So judging from what Iavaroni had and what he was asked to do coming in the season wasn't a total disaster.

Now, like Fratello before him, he is being given another chance with the team but only with the mandate to change what he is comfortable doing. That seems to be a recipe for disaster to me unless massive changes are made to the personnel on the team. Two starters are terrible defenders (Miller and Warrick) and would be far more effective players coming off the bench. The problem is that their backups (Crittenton, Navarro and Cardinal) are either too inexperienced or too weak physically to be starters and if the Grizzlies execute their plan of building threw the draft that isn't likely to change this season.

If there is a bright spot in this dark cloud that has become the Grizzlies it is that Iavaroni was known as a defensive player as a pro and was tutored under the defensive minds of Mike Fratello in Cleveland and Pat Riley in Miami. Of course both of those coaches had dominating centers in the post. Alonzo Mourning and Brad Daughtery allowed their coaches to pressure the perimeter and allow the interior to be attacked because their interior presence could prevent shots from being made. That wasn't the case in Memphis last season. Darko did well defending his man but he didn't show the quickness to impede opponents shots in the lane. Iavaroni's defensive approach was what he had learned. Iavaroni played with Moses Malone and Mark Eaton, coached Mourning and Daugherty and assumed the defensive strategies that worked with those players would work with Darko.

It didn't and it won't unless Darko comes back next season a changed man.

There is little hope of finding a dominating interior defender in this year's draft either. So with an inexperienced but improving back court, a gaping hole in the shot blocking category and a sieve defensively at PF how exactly is Iavaroni supposed to improve the team defensively? DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Love, Randolph and even god forbid Michael Beasley isn't going to provide that for the Grizzlies.

I hope I am wrong. I hope Chris Wallace finds a great defensive player to help out the interior for Memphis. I hope the younger players show a dramatic increase in their ability to stop people on the perimeter. I hope Iavaroni finds a way to combine a slowdown effect to limit teams opportunity to score with an offense that is enjoyable to watch. Mostly I hope Grizz comes back healthy next season from his bout with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

So I guess what I am saying is all I have left is hope.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fall Out from the Gasol Trade

In case you hadn't heard, Pau Gasol was traded to the LA Lakers back in January.

That one trade has done more to disrupt the balance of power in the Western Conference than any other action since Magic Johnson announced he had contacted the HIV virus. Teams panicked on the news of the Lakers acquisition and the result of that panic is now starting to be felt in many interesting places. It has caused normally reserved men like Greg Popovich to cry foul and demand an oversight committee to look into the trade as being anti-competitive and illegal. Of course, I imagine he wouldn't hold his Spurs to the same light of inspection when they acquired Michael Finley, Damon Stoudamire, Kurt Thomas or Brent Barry. That is a different discussion however. One I may have later but not today.

Mike D'Antoni is supposedly out as head coach in Phoenix. Why? There is only one real reason. He couldn't win the title with Shaquille O'Neal at center. Why did he have Shaquille O'Neal at center? Because Steve Kerr panicked and traded away Shawn Marion to get him because the Lakers got Pau Gasol. Phoenix was a relatively young team three years ago. Today they are ancient with Steve Nash (34) unable to stay in front of Tony Parker, Grant Hill (35) unable to stay healthy and Shaq looking every bit the 36 yrs old he is. Sure Amare Stoudmaire is young but Raja Bell is 32, Brian Skinner is 30 and Gordon Giricek is 29. Now the 'Run and Gun' Suns have become the retirement community of the NBA. How long before Phoenix takes dynamite to their lineup and starts all over? I would anticipate it begining around late June personally.

Dallas was up 2-0 two years ago in the NBA Finals before falling to the Heat. They were the best team in the league during the regular season last year winning 62 games. They fell to the 7th seed in the west this year, lost in 5 games in the playoffs, fired their coach and look likely to blow up their team as well. What happened? Look no further than the panic move orchestrated by Mark Cuban to acquire Jason Kidd. The Mavs gave up Devin Harris, DeSagna Diop and draft picks for JKidd (35) only to realize that he is over the hill. Throw in Jerry Stackhouse (34), Dirk Nowitzki (30), Eddie Jones (36) and Erick Dampier (33) and you have an over the hill group of players with very little young talent except Josh Howard who is actually 28 and has admitted to smoking pot in the off-season. The only players who should still have their best years ahead of them in Dallas are Juan Jose Barrea, Brandon Bass and Antoine Wright.

San Antonio is old but still damn good. They dispatched the Suns with relative ease 4-1 but one has to wonder how different that outcome would have been had Tim Duncan not hit the 3 pt shot at the end of the first OT. The Spurs are getting by with Brent Barry (37), Bruce Bowen (37), Tim Duncan (32), Michael Finley (35), Fabricio Oberto (33), Kurt Thomas (35), Damon Stoudamire (35) and Jacques Vaughn (33). That is not including Robert 'Big Shot' Horry who is 38. How much longer can the Spurs continue to survive with 9 players over 30 and Manu Ginobilli and Ime Udoka joining the group this summer when they hit 31? Can San Antonio wait to blow things up with so many competitors getting a head start on rebuilding? I guess it depends on how far they go in the playoffs but it has to happen soon.

Denver is another team looking to blow up the core. Despite winning 50 games, qualifying for the playoffs for the 4th straight season and having three all-stars on their team, George Karl is under the heat lamp for a number of things. Most important is he failed to win a single game against the Lakers in the playoffs. When you have the 3rd highest payroll in the NBA you aren't supposed to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. Heck you aren't supposed to be the 8th seed for that matter. Icing the cake were comments made by Carmelo Anthony that the team quit in the third game. Teams aren't supposed to quit. Players aren't supposed to quit. Coaches don't survive when teams quit in their first home game of the playoffs prior to being swept. Look for Denver to look to move some core pieces over the summer as well and when you change coaches and look to trade all-star players you are blowing up the team.

Throw in Golden St (who has to make some big decisions with Don Nelson, Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and Mickeal Pietrus) and Sacramento (similar thoughts with Ron Artest, Mikki Moore and Brad Miller) and the there is a lot of change going on in the Western Conference. So that is 6 teams out of 15 that are looking to renovate their rosters over the summer if not completely gut and rebuild their houses. Not all of the change is directly related to the Gasol trade but a lot of it is. When that much turmoil is around interesting things are likely to happen. If you think the people in charge aren't going to make bad decisions I just point you to the trades that resulted in Jason Kidd and Shaquille O'Neal returning to the Western Conference. When people are under pressure to win right away people make bad decisions.

So who has benefitted besides the Lakers from the trade? You have to assume Portland with another lottery pick, all that youth and still waiting for Greg Oden to suit up should see an immediate benefit from the teams at the top collapsing. Houston, if they can hold together another season with the team they have, should step up into the top 4 but probably can't surpass New Orleans as the elite team in the Southwest Division. Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler are just entering their best years and Julian Wright looks like he will be another big contributor if Peja or MoPete slip in production. Utah looks solid and should remain among the best in the West as well.

Then comes the 2nd tier teams. These teams aren't serious contenders yet but could move up over the next year or two, depending on how manic some teams get about their rosters. Seattle is young, have another early lottery pick and will be cheered by fanatic fans if they go to Oklahoma City. Minnesota is young and talented and also should find a starter from this draft. Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, Rashard McCants and Ryan Gomes is a good core of young players and all they need is a big and a true PG in this draft. They should be able to find that in the top 6 picks.

And then there is Memphis. The Grizzlies have young talent, many draft picks over the next few years and cap space almost every other team in the league dreams of having. Chris Wallace is the GM and he has been a good drafter of talent, if a questionable judge of that same talent in trades. The good news is Memphis wants to build via the draft. The need is to increase the overall talent on the team. From what has been made public the team isn't looking to bring in over the hill players who won't mature with the core and they aren't looking to spend money that doesn't correspond to butts in the seats so don't expect them to overpay for unknown players no matter how talented nor trade for 28+ players no matter how well known. That is not the strategy Heisley wants to pursue. Having Wallace in charge under this scenario is actually a positive for Memphis. Positives are something that Memphis has been in short supply of the last few years.

So how will Memphis prosper in this era of turmoil and turnover in the West? First, the team has some assets for teams looking to rebuild. Mike Miller is obviously on the wish list for a team looking to stretch a few more seasons from their current lineup and want a scorer off the bench. San Antonio, maybe Phoenix and possibly Dallas could look to offer something to Memphis in the way of expiring contracts and draft picks. Golden St, Phoenix and Denver could have interest in Hakim Warrick. He is an active PF who can run the court after all and defense has never been a major concern for those teams. Memphis is loaded with young PG's that might intrigue Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio.

Second, and far more likely and important, Memphis has young players already in place. As long as they hold onto the talent and allow them to develop the team should be in a strong position to pass the current teams that have to start over. The Grizzlies will have to be smart with their moves both from the draft, free agency and trades, but they have some intelligent people working for the club and an owner who is finally interested in making the team successful.

It won't be easy but Memphis may actually benefit from the turmoil they created in trading Pau Gasol in ways the club never imagined.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Season in Review: Mike Conley

Mike Conley had a tough rookie season. The season opened with him not in the regular rotation and ended with him starting but in between were many ups and downs. Mostly downs in his injury filled season.

The Grizzlies nearly lost more games through November (10) than Conley did in college and high school combined (11). Various injuries caused him to miss 29 games during the season including a nasty shoulder injury that nearly ended his season. Had surgery been required it would have been the 2nd consecutive year a rookie PG had been lost for the seaso due to injury for the Grizzlies. In the 53 games he did play Conley started 46 and looked remarkably calm running the point for a 20 yr old. As the season progressed he became more comfortable being aggressive with the ball and by the end of the year Conley was putting up big numbers averaging 14.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 4.3 apg in April.

Due to some interesting substitution patterns and the shoulder injury Conley didn't make his first regular season appearance at FedEx Forum until January 6th but he made a good first impression in his first appearance in front of the home crowd with 11 pts, 5 rebounds and 7 assists against Miami, his old AAU buddy DeQuan Cook and former Grizz PG Jason Williams. An impressive start to say the least. However the grind of the season, another injury and rookie hesitation caused him to become somewhat erratic and often tentative as the season progressed. It seemed like Conley was more concerned about not making a mistake rather than making a play.

This was most obivous in March. It is rumored he sat down with Coach Iavaroni durin gthe month and discussed his situation. Supposedly Coach I told him that he was going to play the player who was producing and Lowry was producing. He is rumored to have told Conley that when Mike decides he wants to be more aggressive he will get more playing time. Whether or not this rumor is true is unknown but Conley became more aggressive after that point of the season. Mike scored in double figures in 7 of the last 10 games 5 straight games to end the year. He set his career high in points with 25 against Phoenix on April 12th.

Outside of the injuries the real concern with Mike was his defense. Mike is undersized at the point and struggled with more physical PG's like Deron Williams and Chris Paul who can post him up. Mike's leaping ability (40 inch vertical) will allow him to be effective rebounding long misses but he is not built to bang with more physical players like Kyle Lowry is able to do. The surprise was his lack of tenacity on the perimeter however. Conley is blazing fast yet averaged less than a steal a game. With his quickness Mike needs to become more aggressive in passing lanes and harassing slower PG's off the dribble. Perhaps the injuries made him tentative, perhaps the pace of the game but regardless of the excuse Mike will need to creat more turnovers to earn greater playing time.

I suppose you could say Mike needs to be more aggressive on offense, like he showed in April, and on defense which means he either suffered from the traditional rookie wall or is just too tentative as a person. Judging from his performances in the NCAA tournament last year I don't believe Conley is too tentative. Conley routinely stepped up at Ohio State in pressure situations. Perhaps playing with Greg Oden, his best friend aided that confidence but he will need to become more aggressive at this level to be considered a success. Only time will tell if that happens.

It is obvious that Memphis is rebuilding their team with youth and at this point Conley is definately part of the plan for the future. When comparing Conley to other short, quick PG's in the league as rookies the picture is not bleak. Conley averaged 9.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg and 4.3 apg this season. He shot 43% from the field and 33% from the arc. Tony Parker averaged 9.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg and 4.3 apg as a rookie in San Antonio and he had David Robinson, Manu Ginobilli and Tim Duncan to pass the ball. Parker shot 42% from the field and 32% from the arc. Parker also has developed into one of the most imposing PG's in the league and won the MVP award for the NBA Championship last year.

I think most Grizzlies fans would be content with Conley developing along those lines.

I had to put this hear. It is just too cool to watch!

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coaching Carousel

File this one away under the "General NBA" category, but since Zack broached the subject last night, I think it is fair game for me to delve into.

As teams fall one-by-one and leave the postseason landscape, the coaches get handed pink slips too. Today, the Suns fired Mike D'Antoni and the Mavericks fired Avery Johnson. There are rumors that the Raptors are going to let Sam Mitchell go as well. First, let me look at whether or not these coaches are truly at fault for their teams' shortcomings.

Sam Mitchell is a defense-first, grind-it-out coach, which doesn't gel with the "Suns North of the Border" scheme that Colangelo wants to build. Making the playoffs last year is what saved his job. However, this year's first round exit will be enough to allow Colangelo to justify showing him the door, especially with the news that Mike D'Antoni is now available. I'm not sure where a guy like Mitchell fits in, so it might be a few years before he gets another head coaching job in the NBA.

Mike D'Antoni is not at fault for what happened in Phoenix this season (or last season), but he has been tabbed as the scapegoat. Age, injuries and Steve Kerr are all more at fault than the coach who was the darling of the league the past few seasons for his free-wheelin', frenetic pace that brought casual fans back in droves. The advancing age of Nash, Hill and Shaq slowed everything down. The injury to Hill left the Suns without anyone capable of playing great inside/outside defense on Ginobili and Diaw. The deal that brought Shaq to the desert was the ultimate "Do or Die" move for Steve Kerr. Guess what -- they died. To echo the thoughts from a recent post by the guys at Hardwood Paroxysm: The Suns didn't get the break they needed this year or last year. That's not D'Antoni's fault. D'Antoni would be a good fit in Toronto, given that Colangelo loves his style of play, but I believe that the Tom Skerrit lookalike could go to Chicago and have the Bulls at contender status in as little as two seasons.

Avery Johnson. The Little General. The blame for the Mavericks playoff struggles go beyond the carcass of the player formerly known as Jason Kidd. After all, Kidd wasn't on the roster last year when they got bounced in the first round by the Warriors or the year before that when they let championship dreams slip through their fingers against the Miami Heat. Johnson's playoff record is a well-publicized 23-24, which is a fine effort for a coach that takes over a team that is making the transition from lottery to playoffs to contender. But Johnson took over a team that was already a title contender and racked up that record, including two first round exits in the last two postseasons. I think the players deserve a lot of blame (as they always do, since they are the ones actually out on the floor), but in this case, the coach is as much at fault as they are, which means his firing was justified, in this blogger's opinion. His future could include the New York Knicks.

Now, with that said, there has been a lot of talk about the apparently uncertain future of the Memphis Grizzlies own coach, Marc Iavaroni. In fact, there are those on the Grizzlies Messageboard -- as well as this very blog -- that say Ivy should be fired if Avery Johnson would be willing to come to Memphis. I cannot stress just how much I disagree with this opinion on so many levels. First, there is the already mentioned lack of postseason success. Next, there is the fact that the Mavs players went ahead and held a practice after Johnson had already canceled it, which is nothing short of a mutinous action. He lost his team's respect, period. Finally, there is the very obvious question of why AJ would want to come to Memphis to begin with? Is there one viable reason? Anyone? Bueller? Didn't think so. Let's put this ridiculous "not-even-developed-enough-to-qualify-as-a-rumor" idea to bed.

Marc Iavaroni might not be safe just yet, but after putting up with the Larry Brown and Scott Skiles rumors emanating from New York writers, do we really need the team's own fans coming up with their own far-fetched stories about improbable scenarios? Give Ivy a more talented team to coach and you might be amazed at how much better a coach he becomes. After all, even Phil Jackson has missed the playoffs before. So have Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich, just for the record. How about if we all exhibit the tiniest bit of patience with a young team, a young coach and a new GM? Or is that too much to ask?

Update: Some helpful info from Chip about some pretty good coaches who had limited success as rookie head coaches.

Mike D'Antoni:
1st season as Head Coach-Denver 14-36
1st season as Head Coach-Phoenix 21-40

Byron Scott:
1st season as Head Coach-New Jersey 26-56
1st season as Head Coach-New Orleans 18-64

Jerry Sloan:
1st season as Head Coach-Chicago 30-52
1st season as Head Coach-Utah 40-25

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"I'm Back" Top 10 List (including what future unemployed coach we should try to hire)

1. I'm back...sortof. I haven't posted on 3 Shades of Blue since sometime in March, I think. Maybe February. Quite frankly, after the Gasol trade, I was bored with the team. At the time when I described my apathy towards the rest of the season as being "bored", 82% of Griz fans agreed with my sentiment. I still watched most of the games after the all-star break, but I just didn't want to get all wrapped up in posting and analysis of games that for all intents and purposes were meaningless. Sure we have young players and this was a great opportunity to see them grow and develop. I really enjoy watching young players develop into better players on the court. But I just kept being reminded of Tarence Kinsey, circa Spring 2007. I thought I was watching him grow as a player into a quality NBA player. He was an undrafted rookie, who battled through a broken eye socket, made the team, and then when presented with playing time, played well and got better with each game. Now Kinsey is somewhere in Europe playing and is a distant, albeit painful, memory for most Griz fans. I learned 2 lessons from last year. First, don't over-react and over-analyze the performance of players on the worst team in the league playing in meaningless games. And being a die-hard fan, that was going to difficult to do, so I decided at the very least, I shouldn't go publishing and putting my analysis of essentially meaningless games on record. And second I learned that more meaningful development and growth in the game of young players is probably done in the offseason and not in games for a team wanting to obtain the best lottery odds as possible.

And besides, since I've been on hiatus, Chip has been killing it. That interview with Heisley was great. He's really been making this site award winning. He may have raised the level of expectation on our posts here at 3 Shades of Blue such that my ramblings come up a bit

As the draft approaches I'd like to post more. But I'm pretty busy, as I am preparing to defend my doctoral research this summer and am in the midst of trying to secure post graduation employment. Heck come next year, I may be providing Griz analysis from an NBA city other than Memphis. Enough of this rambling, how about I share some of my Griz and general NBA thoughts with our three readers who have the ability to trick the Sitemeter into thinking there were hundreds of unique hits.

2. After Avery Johnson is fired, we should look to hire him. Of course that would mean canning Iavaroni, which although I'm not necessarily in favor of, I'm not necessarily against either. I like Avery as a coach. He's obviously went awry in Dallas, but that wouldn't stop me from giving him control here in Memphis. I think the future would be brighter with him at the helm than with Marc. I think Avery has a philosophy and system he is actually committed to implementing and that he believes in (I'm not sure that Iavaroni is convinced he knows what his philosophy is yet). And I bet Avery would love to get the chance to stick it to Dallas by coaching in their division.

Although I want the Grizzlies to find some consistency on the bench (Rudy has had like a billion coaches already), I don't think keeping consistency should be a strong argument to stick with Iavaroni and his coaching staff next year. I think being reasonable in a critique of Marc's job performance this year puts him on a hot seat on shaky ground. He had questionable rotation patterns (more on that in a bit). It did not look like he had a system he was trying to build with. His words and actions about a commitment to defense and his defensive philosophy didn't match up. There were rumors he did not mesh well with most of the players. Basically, the more and more I think about it, Iavaroni should feel lucky if he is the coach again next year. But I have one point that I feel argues the best for him to stay. The growth of Rudy Gay. No matter how well Marc handled the other 15 or so players on the team throughout the year, he was the head coach overseeing and directing Rudy Gay's coming out party. That should count for something.

Anyway I'm digressing. Avery is going to get fired this week. When he does, I hope Heisley contacts his agent. If there is serious interest there, I hope they work out a verbal agreement, then fire Iavaroni, hire Avery, and get Avery and Chris Wallace together to figure out how to shape this roster to fit Avery's preferred style.

3. Attention outside world: Javaris Crittenton does not play Point Guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. Holy crap, I don't think I could say that enough times. Chip and all his link-worthy posts on here have brought in readers who aren't necessarily Griz fans. For those of you actually reading this, file this nugget of information away. Crittenton did not play a single second as the "point guard" this season for the Memphis Grizzlies. He was only an "off-guard". Sure he would occasionally bring the ball down in transition situation because we were usually trying to push the ball as fast as possible. But even then he looked like an "off-guard" handling the ball.

When outsiders analyze the Grizzlies roster, they usually spend a fair amount of time on our point guard situation. And they always speak in terms of if we have a 3 (or even a 4) man battle for PG minutes. This is simply not true. Since Conley returned from his mid-season injury, there wasn't a single second of time that Conley or Lowry wasn't on the court as the primary ball handler. We never once this season had Crittenton or Navarro fighting for PG minutes. This myth has just been building all season and it has finally made me snap. I think this was the exact article that I snapped on. By Steve Aschburner from SI...

Conley was the fourth player selected overall, the only point guard among the draft's top 10 picks. But he arrived in Memphis as the third point guard on the team's depth chart and, even with veteran Damon Stoudamire gone, still vies for playing time with Kyle Lowry, Javaris Crittenton and Juan Carlos Navarro. And they aren't even the most celebrated point guards in the city -- that would be Derrick Rose, freshman at the University of Memphis and likely no worse than the second player picked in this June's draft.

Sorry Steve, Crittenton and Navarro never once vied for playing time with Conley. In other words, Conley never once lost even a second of playing time to Crittenton or Navarro. Lowry? Sure, he lost lots of playing time to Lowry. That argument is valid and is what Steve should have stuck with and would have backed up his overall point. But including Crittenton and Navarro in there gives the wrong illusion of our actual situation.

4. Most Under-reported Story of the Year: Heisley tells Iavaroni to quit playing Casey Jacobsen before the January Laker game. First, go here and look at the game log for Casey. Look at how much his playing time dipped starting with the 1/8 Laker game. Not long after that Laker game, Chris Vernon (best sports time radio host in Memphis) told me about this story. Heisley told Iavaroni before the Laker game to quit playing Casey and start playing Hak. Marc obviously followed orders. At the time, the rumor was still underground. It wasn't in the papers yet. I don't believe Verno had mentioned it on his show or blog right away. Later, Verno did talk about it frequently on his program and put it on his blog I believe. We then started to allude to it on here a number of times after that. Then surprise, surprise, on-the-ball Griz beat writer, the great Ronald Tillery, was the last to get in on the act on April 2nd and finally reported the story in the paper (typical Tillery M.O. this season: after Verno breaks Griz news or talks about a certain Griz situation either on his radio program or his blog, the great Tillery then writes about it later in the paper and frames the presentation of the information as if it is brand new and has never been reported previously).

Anyway. I find the story of our owner deciding Casey playing too much was worth his time to intervene with and tell his new head coach who he should and shouldn't play quite interesting. The story didn't get enough attention, in my opinion.

5. Uncertainty thick in the air. I think if there is anything certain about this offseason, it's that nothing is certain. Except for that Rudy Gay will be wearing #22 for us next season. Who knows if our starting PG will be Conley, Lowry or Derrick Rose. Who knows if Miller will still be on the team. Who know if we re-sign JC Navarro. Who knows if Marc Gasol will come over and play for us. Who knows if Hak will start at PF, be stuck to the end of the bench or get traded. Who knows what Darko will be like if he returns. Who knows if Iavaroni is still the coach next year.

I think just about anything is possible this offseason. We may stand pat and just add a few draft picks. We may turn nearly the whole roster over. I think where we draft and then who we draft will have a huge amount of influence on how we shape or re-shape our roster. Wait, if my point in #3 comes true, Avery Johnson being our new coach will have an even greater influence. Ok, whatever, the point is that the only thing I know to be true about the 2008-09 Grizzlies is that Rudy Gay will be on the team. Beyond that, who knows.

6. My Draft Board. I'm dreading May 20th. By 8pm that night I will undoubtedly be very pissed off. That is of course the night David Stern will just dig the knife in a little deeper when he announces we are picking somewhere between 4 and 7. So in light of that, here is my current top 7 draft board for the Grizzlies Lottery pick. I'll probably update it again after the Orlando camp and we start having private workouts.

1. Derrick Rose
2. Michael Beasely
3. Danilo Gallinari
4. OJ Mayo
5. Anthony Randolph
6. Eric Gordon
7. Nicolas Batum

My preferred outcome is for us to draft Derrick Rose either at 1 or 2 and then trade Conley to Portland. Wait, I guess if we got Beasley, I still wouldn't mind us trading Conley to Portland. Let's just move on from that point for now. We have a whole summer and likely another full year of Conley vs Lowry debate. : )

Since I'm taking the pessimistic side of this year's draft lottery, my best case scenario is that we get either Gallinari or Mayo at #4. I don't care if Gallinari plays the same position as Rudy technically. I have seen most of other guys enough to have too many negatives on each, the unknown of the "Italian LeBron James" has me currently won over.

7. Free Agency plans. I think like most Griz fans, I understand that who we draft with our lottery pick will likely determine what kind of player we target in Free Agency. Regardless of who we draft, I think we should (in some fashion and to some degree) implement this free agency strategy: Go for Broke and Force teams to overpay their players.

Here is what I would do, knowing full well that we will not net a big time free agent and will eventually settle for a second tier player or nothing at all:

1. At 12:01 on the first day of free agency, I present Josh Smith with a Max Contract. Within 7 days, the Hawks will match.
2. As soon as the Hawks match Josh Smith, I move onto Iggy if he is still un-signed. I then watch Philly match his Max Contract.
3. Then I move onto Monta Ellis and then Loul Deng. I sign them, not to Max contracts, but darn near. And watch their teams match both of them.
4. By then it will be late into Free Agency. The period where players get over-paid would be over (and we would have been the cause of many over-valued contracts). Then we either sign some second tier player for a reasonable Darko like deal (like Josh Childress or JR Smith or Ben Gordon) or we simply re-sign Navarro and bring Gasol over and save our money for the next year. Who knows, maybe we get lucky and get Josh Smith (even with a max contract).

8. Game of the year: Rudy officially becomes our guy. This is the game I remember the most. This will probably be the only game I remember in 5 years. In this game, Rudy made it perfectly clear that trading Pau and building around Rudy was the smart move. Enjoy that moment again:

9. NBA Playoffs and go read Hornets247. The playoffs are pretty good so far. I enjoyed seeing the Mavs lose in the 1st round. The Cavs-Wizard series has been really good (and physical). I'm currently over-joyed watching the scrappy Hawks going toe-to-toe with the Celtics. That Suns-Spurs double OT opener was almost as good as it gets (and in the case of the Suns was essentially when they lost the series). And as for our good friend Pau, unfortunately I don't have much good to say. I'm rooting against him. I get sick when I see the Nugs big guys play patty cake with Pau now while he plays for the Lakers, after all those times of playing the school yard bully on him when he played for us. I feel bad for thinking and saying it, but I hope the Lakers are out of the playoffs as soon as possible and that Pau plays bad in their defeat. Sorry to our Spanish readers for that. I'll make it up to you and cheer for Spain to win the Olympic Gold, ok?

If the playoffs have done anything for the NBA, it has made NBA Blogs even more relevant. Things are getting out of hand. There is too much NBA related stuff to read on the internet right now. I'm overloaded. Luckily, I've found that many of the big Blogs seem to be mirror images of each other and I end up just reading virtually the same thing. That is were team-specific blogs come in. And if you aren't reading Hornets247 right now, you are missing out. It is a great thing to see a up and coming young team emerge as a surprise Championship Contender and at the same time see a blog devoted to covering that team follow lock-step in the ascension upwards. Truthfully, if the Hornets weren't so good this year, I probably wouldn't be reading Hornets247. But the Hornets are good. And Hornets247 has been even better.

10. Me and my poor ole Tigers. I will end this blog post with this. Even now, I am totally deflated about the Memphis Tigers losing grip of OUR national championship. For at least one week after that devastating night, I couldn't watch ESPN or read any sports related website. And for me that is saying something. I didn't read a single word in the Commercial Appeal. I have no idea what any local or national sports writer wrote after the game. I couldn't stomach to read it. While I write this I am still a mix of steaming mad and dangerously depressed about not winning. I want to pick up something, anything and throw it through the wall in frustration, followed by throwing up into the newly created hole in the wall and then falling to the ground crying. I still just can't believe we didn't win. I'm not sure how I will be able to stomach watching DRose or CDR or Dorsey play next year in the NBA. It's going to be hard. I will never get over that game I'm sure. The bitter taste of a crushing defeat that ruined a darn near perfect year where I saw myself invest my emotions into a team like never before, is just too much for me to take. I'm not sure if I will ever be able to click on the "Mens NCAABB" link on any site ever again.

That's all. I might not post again for a while. Just too busy. Hopefully I'll be able to chime in with joy and elation at our lottery luck on May 20th, but I'm not holding my breathe.

BallHype: hype it up!

Carmelo Anthony to Memphis?

Ever since Bill Simmons wrote this column last week, Grizzlies fans have been abuzz with the thoughts of acquiring the "star player" that they missed out on in the much-ballyhooed 2003 draft. Again, even though I am loathe to do so (and because this is the kind of thing that the Sports Guy loves to criticize bloggers for doing), I have to take exception to his suggested trade proposal:

The Bernard King Award
To Melo for (what's soon to be) another quick playoff exit, another dicey off-court incident and an inevitable summer of trade rumors. Remember, Bernard battled drug/alcohol demons and bounced around for his first few years before eventually landing with (cueing up the Marv Albert voice) ... the New York Knickerbockers. It's unclear how to define Melo's problems beyond the whole "you can take the kid out of Baltimore, but you can't take the Baltimore out of the kid" joke, but clearly something is going on, and during an era when younger stars are much more personable and squeaky-clean, Melo seems to be a throwback to the mid-'90s, back when young players still made dumb mistakes and were surrounded by a swollen entourage at all times.

I don't see him spending his entire career in Denver, much less next season, and there's a 98.7 percent chance he'll become the focal point of every trade rumor this summer. For instance, what if the Grizzlies get the No. 2 pick and decide they want to take hometown kid Derrick Rose even though they already have three point guards on their roster. If you're Denver, do you trade Melo for Mike Conley Jr., Hakim Warrick and Mike Miller, chop a few million off your payroll and hope Miller and Linas Kleiza can replace Melo's numbers (which, by the way, they would)? If you're Memphis, wouldn't you sell tickets with Melo, Rose and Rudy Gay? In other words, aren't those two teams a match? What if Minnesota got the No. 2 pick? If you're Denver, would you offer Melo to the T-Wolves for that pick (plus expiring contracts) and take Rose? See where I'm going here? If the Nuggets can turn Melo into a point guard, cap space and/or something else, don't they have to think about it?

(Of course, Melo can vanquish the previous two paragraphs by putting the Nuggets on his back and torching the Lakers for the next few games when they don't have a single guy who can defend him. Let's just say I'm not keeping my fingers crossed.)

Let's break this one down point by point, shall we?

1. Carmelo Anthony is a SF. Coincidentally, so is Rudy Gay. I know that Rudy played some PF this season and that if he improves his ball handling ability over the next few seasons he'll probably wind us at SG unless the Grizzlies draft/sign/trade for a high-level player at that position. But the fact is that the team's two best players would play best at the same position in that scenario. In addition to that, Rudy Gay's sophomore campaign produced better stats than Melo's. Higher RPG, SPG, BPG, FG%, 3PT% and virtually the same PPG, APG and TO. In other words, isn't it possible that Rudy is going to be as good as (if not better than) Melo in another season or two? Consider that Strike 1.

2. Yes, in all likelihood, a lineup that included Rose, Gay and Anthony would sell tickets in Memphis, which is a concern in these parts. However, the real question is this: Will they win playoff games and playoff series? Memphians have seen regular season success before and it no longer impresses them that much. I know that Melo was the best player/leader on that Syracuse team that won a national title, but has he been that player in the NBA? According to most fans, we already had one alleged franchise player that couldn't make a difference in the postseason, despite posting quality numbers in the regular season and postseason. Do we really want to travel down that road again so soon? Melo has made the postseason all five seasons in the NBA.....and has yet to advance beyond the first round. I realize, of course, that basketball isn't a one-man game (unless that one man is named LeBron), but that's what we in the business call a "pattern". It was a pattern for Kevin Garnett (who needed an All-Star season from Sam Cassell to finally get over the hump) and it continues to be a pattern for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Some players just don't have it in them to be "The Man" in the NBA Playoffs. Lack of postseason success (and an apparent lack of concern about that result) equals Strike 2.

3. To follow up on being "The Man" in the playoffs, we now come to this issue: Is Carmelo Anthony a Superstar? (Note the capital "S") I say no. Is he a star? Absolutely. He's a great scorer and has displayed the ability to be clutch beyond belief -- even on par with Kobe and LeBron. However, a Superstar elevates his teammates in addition to being the go-to guy on offense. Oh, and a Superstar makes more than marginal effort on defense -- not that Melo even does that. If Melo isn't a Superstar, then why should the Grizzlies trade away a solid offensive option (Mike Miller) and one of the top PG prospects in the last few seasons (Mike Conley) for a guy that is very, very good, but ultimately isn't great or a true difference maker? I realize that Simmons hates the Grizzlies (as evidenced by the fact that he is constantly trying to move them to another city every other week) and really hates Chris Wallace (and not just for the Gasol trade that made the Lakers a championship contender for the next 5 seasons), but for Pete's sake, we do want this team to experience some playoff success in the future and eventually make the leap to contender. Does this trade accomplish that without Rudy Gay and/or Derrick Rose becoming All-NBA level players? I don't think so. We'll call this one a foul tip to keep him alive for one more point.

4. Salary cap structure. This is why the team traded away Pau Gasol for draft picks and cap space, remember? Taking on Carmelo's salary means that they once again have a max contract taking up space. So when the time comes for Rudy Gay to get his max-level extension, guess who is sitting there making $17 million or roughly 30% of the salary cap? That's right - Melo. Then when Derrick Rose is ready for his extension the year after that, guess who has a player option for $18 million? Newsflash Sports Guy: Boston might be able to afford 3 guys making max money, but Memphis cannot. If they could, then Pau Gasol would still be here...and Allen Iverson or Vince Carter probably would as well, but that's another story for another day. Ring him up, because that's Strike 3.

Carmelo Anthony to Memphis? No thanks, I'll pass -- even though he doesn't.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Season in Review: Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry is a pit bull in an basketball jersey. He's the heart that pumps a softer than desired team. He's the little engine that could.

And, like the little engine that could, Kyle constantly has a tough mountain to climb that most people believe he can't make over.

He turned pro as a sophomore off of a college team loaded with bigger named talent like Randy Foye and Allen Ray. He wasn't considered the best PG on his team much less the best in the draft. Many people questioned his deserving a 1st rd pick when Jerry West made him his last draft pick as the Grizzlies GM. In a draft with PGs like Foye, Rajon Rhondo, Quincy Douby, Mardy Collins, Sergio Rodriquez and Jordan Farmar, it didn't seem like a great choice at the time.

But Kyle told himself 'I think I can, I think I can...'

His rookie year began with a bang. Opening night Kyle came in and nearly rescued the Grizzlies as he grabbed 10 boards to go with 6 pts, 3 assists and two steals as the Grizzlies fell in triple OT. Unfortunately Kyle's season ended 9 games later with a broken wrist. A very slow to heal broken wrist that frustrated fans anxious to see the little man go. Two surgeries and 6 months later Kyle still struggled to do trivial activities with his wrist. That slow recovery may have influenced the Grizzlies decision to draft Mike Conley with the 4th pick in the draft.

But Kyle kept telling himself 'I think I can, I think I can...'

Now Kyle had a new mountain to climb. Not only did he have to prove that his wrist was healthy, beat out veteran Damon Stoudamire for playing time but also maintain his spot ahead of Mike Conley in the rotation. Many people felt he wouldn't be able to accomplish this.

'I think I can. I think I can.'

The wrist injury appears perfectly healed and that time off allowed him to improve his mechanics on his shot. Damon, who never recovered from his own injury, was moved on and the final battle between Mike and Kyle is still being debated but one thing is for sure. Kyle Lowry belongs in the NBA.

'I know I can. I know I can.'

So what kind of season did Kyle Lowry have? He improved his shooting percentage from 36.8% to 43.2%. 43.2% isn't great but it is respectable. He struggled all season with his outside shot (only 25.7% from behind the arc) which allowed teams to play off him to deny penetrating drives but Kyle still managed to come within 29 pts of averaging double figures despite only starting 9 games all season. Kyle achieved his first double figure assists game against Washington in January and played a career high 50 minutes against New Orleans in December.

But you can't appreciate Kyle Lowry's game simply by the numbers. Numbers don't describe the harassing defense he plays, the tempo he brings to the game or his emotional leadership. Kyle is an intangible player. It isn't what you see on the stats sheet per se (although Dave Berri's Wages of Wins does have him producing the 2nd most wins on the team this season) but it's what you see on the court that best defines Kyle Lowry. It's his effort, his passion and his dogged determination that forces the rest of the players to follow him to success.

Does Kyle have the type of skills to be a starting PG? Is his outside shot going to improve enough to force teams to respect his shot? Will he become better at passing out of trouble to open men for easy baskets? Right now we don't know but I wouldn't bet against someone with his attitude and determination. I wouldn't be surprised to hear one day that the answers to these questions is simply.

'I knew I could. I knew I could.'

BallHype: hype it up!