Friday, July 25, 2008

Dancing with the Grizzlies: Linea Wyatt

Continuing the 3 Shades of Blue effort to keep fans informed with what is happening with former Grizzlies Dance Team member we were fortunate enough to run into Linea Wyatt a while back and she agreed to do an interview with us when got back in town. A dance team member since 2003, Linea officially retired this year from the squad. However, that isn't to say that Linea is slowing down.

3SOB: You were a Grizzlies dance team member for many years. What prompted you to try out and why did you decide to retire?
LW: I tried out because I simply could not imagine my life without dancing. I had just graduated from college and was starting Graduate school at the University of Memphis. I had been a part of a dance team since I could remember and was looking for an outlet in which I would still be able to perform on a regular basis. I had a few friends who were on the Grizzlies Dance Team who were also former U of M dancers who encouraged me to try out.

Retiring was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make for myself. Dancing, especially with the Grizzlies had become a huge part of my life. It was my outlet, my stress reliever, and social circle (considering many of my close friends are dancers). I had gotten to a point where I was ready to take the next step of my career and unfortunately that did not leave enough time for being a part of the team. I don’t think most people realize what a commitment it is, or how many hours the girls put into it each week. They don’t just show up at 7pm on game day!

3SOB: You mentioned the time commitment, what is a typical week like for the dance team members?
LW: A typical week would consist of two practices (about 3 hours each), an average of 2 games (about 6 hours each), and probably at least one promotional appearance (about 2 hours). So, I'd say on average each girl devotes about 20 hours per week to the team. Of course there are some weeks where there are 3 or even 4 games, extra practices, or long promotional appearances so it's isn't out of the ordinary for a girl to have dance team activities 5 or 6 days of the week.

3SOB: You were a dancer for both choreographers the Dance Team has had. What were the differences between their styles? Do you think Tamara has the team going in the right direction?
LW: I was lucky enough to work with both choreographers. Though they are quite different, but they are both great ladies with a passion and a gift for dance. Kathleen reminded me so much of my former technique training and I always felt right at home with her style and choreography. Tamara brought to Memphis a fresher, more audience focused style. She has worked with the NBA in many different roles and knows what has been successful in other markets. While less technically challenging, her style is fun to perform, and provided me the challenge of adapting to a new style. I definitely think she has the team moving in the right direction.

3SOB: When did you start dancing?
LW: I started dancing at the age of 3. I studied ballet, tap and jazz until I graduated from high school. Dancing for the Tigers brought me to Memphis. I enjoyed all 4 years of college dancing for the U of M, which taught me about commitment, competition, and most of all hard work! I met some life-long friends there and made so many memories. I also danced for the Redbirds Redhots during summer breaks from the University of Memphis. I auditioned for the Grizzlies in 2003 and was a part of the team until the 2007-2008 season.

3SOB: You said that the Tigers brought you to Memphis. Where were you living before coming here?
LW: I grew up in a small town about 50 miles Northwest of Nashville. It's called Cunningham, TN and is close to Clarksville. I lived there my entire life until moving to Memphis for college.

3SOB: You work now at St. Jude. What is the job like and do people recognize you from your dancing days?
LW: I love my new job! I’m working in National Program Marketing for ALSAC/St. Jude, which basically means that we manage programs that assist other organizations and individuals in raising money for the life-saving work being done at the hospital. I am about 2 months in to my new position, and while overwhelming at times, I think it is going to be a perfect fit. Yes, people recognize me from the Grizzlies dance team all of the time. And, not just new co-workers, I’ve been approached in restaurants, stores, and even in the bank. It’s really nice to know that at least a few people were paying attention to the faces of the girls on the floor, and it was always nice to hear someone say that they enjoy your performance.

3SOB: What are your plans for the future?
LW: That’s a good question? I tend to set more short-term goals for myself, and lately those include surviving my sister's wedding, adopting a dog, and maybe buying a house!

3SOB: Now that you no longer spend time with the Grizzlies dance team at night what do you do for fun?
LW: I'm enjoying spending more time with friends and family, reading and watching TV, traveling, shopping, and I'm volunteering weekly at the Ronald McDonald House. I'm also looking into teaching some classes at a local dance studio starting in the fall.

3SOB: As an owner of 3 dogs myself what type of dog are you looking to adopt? Are you looking for AKC registration or would a good old fashioned mutt suffice?
LW: I would love a mutt, I'm as sucker for a dog that is "so ugly it's cute".

At this point I mentioned something about how my nose gets cold and many people have described as being loyal like a mutt. Linea said that was nice and ended the interview.

I've got to remember to take off my wedding ring when I do these interviews!

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Will Mike Be Like?

We've all heard the phrase 'If I could be like Mike.' Well we at 3 Shades of Blue decided to take a more local look at that phrase and to think 'what will Mike be like' this season?

This topic was discussed on the Grizzlies message board but it seemed to devolve into a typical player fan arguement. I thought I would instead take a more objective view of the situation on the blog.

Does anyone remember how Rudy performed as a rookie and what his statistics were?

I looked it up to make sure I was remembering things correctly. Rudy played 2,103 minutes as a rookie despite fans being critical he wasn't getting enough playing time. I remember one poster in particular complaining about Barone every time he took Rudy out of a game because Tony had said in his first press conference that he would let Rudy 'die on the floor before taking him out.' Rudy averaged 27 mpg and 10.8 ppg while grabbing 4.5 rpg and 1.3 apg. Not bad numbers for a rookie SF.

Conley played on 1,381 minutes as a rookie yet the same poster who criticized the Grizzlies for not playing Rudy enough complained that the Grizzlies played Conley too much. Despite the fewer minutes played in total Conley also played fewer minutes per game (26.1) yet still averaged 9.4 ppg. 2.6 rpg and 4.2 apg. So after playing in fewer games and fewer minutes per game, Conley's numbers looked very similiar to Rudy's rookie season. One should also remember that Mike was a year younger than Rudy when he entered the leauge and two years younger in physical development.

Mike however has not been as dominating in his 2nd summer league as Rudy was in his his. Perhaps this is from the plethora of PG's or PG wanna-be's on the team. Perhaps this is from Conley not pushing the action enough (which could be an off-shoot of the terrible schedule the team has played). Perhaps this is do to the difficulty of playing the point. There is a big difference from initiating the offense and calling defensive sets at the point and simply trying to score from the small forward spot after all.

I don't know why but I haven't seen the progression yet from his rookie to sophomore seasons but all of the above reasons have had an effect. This doesn't mean Conley is incapable of improving according to his position in a similiar manner to Rudy's progression at Small Forward but it probably would require a move in the roster to free up Conley to play up to the mid 30's in minutes like Rudy did his sophomore season. That would involve a roster move to eliminate the person taking those extra 10 minutes a night of playing time. I am not suggesting the Grizzlies actually move Kyle Lowry. I just believe that the Grizzlies can't expect Conely to average fewer than 35 minutes a game and still see a dramatic improvement in his game.

Personally I don't believe Conley will make the same impact Rudy did in his second season. Conley has to contend with Kyle Lowry and OJ Mayo, both who are extremely talented and want his job, as well as the pressure of being a 20 yr old leader on the court. Rudy was a leader by scoring. Conley has to elevate the games of his teammates and this is much harder to achieve for a 20 yr old 2nd yr player. That is not to say that Conley will be a disappointment. I fully expect him to be a good contributor. I am just unsure he will establish himself among the elite players from his draft by the end of this season.

And that will probably leave some people disappointed.

BallHype: hype it up!

Getting cheap airline tickets to the hawaiian airlines or even the aloha airlines is not a problem anymore, ever since northwest airline got way too expensive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tsunami in Memphis

Wikipedia defines a tsunami as: a series of waves created when a body of water, such as an ocean, is rapidly displaced. Basically what occurs is that an earthquake causes the ocean floor to drop at a certain point, while raising it at another point, causing the temporary displacement of water. As a result of this, the water is sucked back from the shoreline to fill that point where there is a void, revealing areas that are normally completely submerged, only it then returns to the shore, because the water is only displaced temporarily. The incoming water is the tsunami, which destroys everything in its path and often arrives with little to no warning.

I can see people rolling their eyes right now. "First, he talks about astronomy and now we get a lesson on geology and oceanography?" Calm down -- I'll bring it back to the NBA, just you watch.

The Earthquake: Pau Gasol traded to the Los Angeles Lakers

When Gasol was traded, the shock wave was felt throughout the league. Everyone knew that something major had just occurred and that something had to be done as a result of it. Over the next few weeks, Phoenix trades for Shaq and Dallas trades for Kidd in an attempt to keep up. The Grizzlies hunker down to play out the rest of their season amid the chaos they helped to create.

The Water Recedes: The remaining Grizzlies show what they are made of.

When the water pulls back, it reveals portions of the shoreline that would otherwise be submerged, allowing you a better understanding of what was beneath the surface. In the case of some players, they responded positively, as Rudy, Conley, Kyle and Hakim all had productive 2nd halves. Others showed that they are still the same player that they have always been, which was the case for Mike Miller, Kwame Brown, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins. This isn't to say that these are bad players, but there isn't a lot of untapped potential for them to draw on, as there was for the younger players. There are still a few unknowns at this point in Javaris Crittenton and Darko Milicic, but the franchise got a good read on the team overall. This provided the Grizzlies with valuable information that they needed going into the offseason with 2 first round picks and a substantial amount of cap space.

The Water Crests: Draft Night 2008

When Chris Wallace made the two trades on draft night, netting O.J. Mayo and Darrell Arthur, the organization did everything in its power to restore hope to a fanbase desperate for a reason to continue believing in this team. Rather than taking the "safe approach" of drafting Kevin Love and Chris Douglas-Roberts, he took a chance on greater potential, which netted him Mayo and Arthur. At this point, the water has reached maximum stored energy. Now the team is left to release that energy upon the rest of the league.

The Tsunami: Playoff Success

I don't expect it to happen overnight -- or even in the next 2 seasons -- but I do expect it to happen sooner than many might have considered. With another good draft and a smart signing or two, the Grizzlies could release all that stored energy and potential upon the league with the same fury that the Hornets displayed this postseason, making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. I look to what New Orleans and Portland have been able to do by collecting young talent in the draft and making timely signings of solid veterans, while not grossly overpaying for glorified role players. This is the model that Memphis should be adhering to, as they implement their plan to return to the playoffs, not just as a mere participant, but as a team to be reckoned with -- a team that other teams do not want to face in the first round. At that point, they will be an unstoppable force. They will have achieved tsunami status.

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Moving Forward with the Forwards

(Photo by Getty Images)

Matt over at Hardwood Paroxysm emailed me last week to ask me a simple question that has been bandied about on the message boards for quite some time. That question was this: Why not take a stab at Josh Smith? He didn't use my response in his post about the matter, which is great for me, because now I can use it here.

The Grizzlies should probably at least make a cursory call in to his agent for two reasons:

1) To drive up the price that the Hawks eventually sign him for. Nothing better than making other teams overpay for their own free agents.
2) To make the Grizzlies fanbase believe that they might have intended to spend some of their cap space this offseason, even though they have said repeatedly that they were targeting the 2009 offseason to spend it.

Now, as far as them making a legitimate play for him -- this is problematic. Since he's a restricted free agent, the Grizzlies would have had to offer him more than what the Hawks were willing to match in order to actually acquire him. Because they signed Marc Gasol already, the Grizzlies only have about $10 million in cap space for the first year of that contract, which Atlanta would almost surely match.

I don't believe that Josh Smith (or any of this year's young free agents) are max-level players, but that's the kind of contract offer it would probably take to pry any of them away from their current teams. While I'm not convinced that the trio of Antoine Walker, Hakim Warrick and Darrell Arthur will be enough to cover the Grizzlies at the PF position this year, I don't see any reason why they should overpay for Smith either, given that this team is still 2 years away from making any real noise no matter who they choose to go out and sign this offseason.

Besides, there is another possibility that most people haven't discussed. What if Smith (and Igoudala, Okafor, Deng, et al.) decide to just sign the qualifying offer and test the market next summer as unrestricted free agents? Then the market truly sets their real value, rather than having to haggle with an agent, only to see their current team match that offer, leaving you with nothing to show after putting your cap space on hold for a week. This is why the Grizzlies didn't sign Andres Nocioni or Anderson Varejao to offer sheets last year, despite serious interest in them, and instead went after Darko Milicic for a reasonable sum.

Restricted free agency is almost always a fool's gambit. You either overpay, get suckered into a bad deal via trade (Kenyon Martin to the Nuggets, Joe Johnson to the Hawks) or simply waste your time (Corey Maggette retained by Clippers after signing offer sheet with Jazz). The NBA has designed it to favor the "home team" and they certainly succeeded in that regard.

On top of that, even though the Grizzlies would be more exciting and talented if they were able to sign Smith, would they be able to compete with the Lakers, Hornets and Trail Blazers over the next few years with that core group?

Now, as I stated in the email entry above, I'm not sure that I buy into the idea of entering the season with a trio of Warrick, Walker and Arthur, but I know that I don't want Josh Smith as our starting PF for the next 4-5 seasons. I'm a big fan of Smith's style of a SF. That's his natural position, after all. Last time I checked, we already had a decent small forward by the name of Rudy Gay. He needs a backup, but I don't think that's what the fans have in mind when they suggest signing Smith.

I know that a lot of Grizzlies fans (all 11 of us) get a little upset when they consider the ramifications of letting everyone know that we have no intention of making a major free agent signing this offseason, despite the fact that we are the only team with any significant cap space. It sends out a message that seems to plainly say, "we're not going to try to compete this season". I mean, that's what all the media pundits are reporting across the board anyways. I've seen that phrase, or some version of it, on no less than 5 different major media websites in the past week. But just because the Grizzlies aren't throwing cash around simply because they have it, doesn't mean that they aren't being competitive. I'm not saying that I'm on board with what the Three Year Plan represents initially, but given that this is the stated direction of the front office, we might as well accept that and look at moves that fit in with that direction.

Here is my suggestion -- and one that I believe we will be able to see in action over the next two seasons. Why don't we see what we have first? As I noted yesterday, we have two young players at 4 of the 5 positions, with SF being the only one that is without competition for the next season. Conley vs. Lowry, Mayo vs. Crittenton, Warrick vs. Arthur and Gasol vs. Milicic. What if Darrell Arthur -- a consensus Top 15 pick on nearly every reputable mock draft in existence -- turns out to be worthy of that designation, rather than displaying the talent level of where he was actually selected near the end of the 1st round? In other words, what if Arthur proves to be talented enough to be the starting PF as early as next season? Wouldn't that negate the need to go out and sign a player like Josh Smith this offseason? That should be a very realistic possibility, given that he was ranked #14 overall on the Grizzlies draft board and the #4 PF by DraftExpress.

Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

In this piece on, Chris Mannix makes it clear that the Grizzlies front office has very high hopes for Arthur and loves the fact that he has come in with a tremendous chip on his shoulder due to the way that his draft stock plummeted needlessly, taking him from the back end of the lottery to the very end of the 1st round. After all, If D.A. can come in and use that motivation as a positive force (like Paul Pierce did regarding his draft position), then the rest of the league probably won't be laughing at the Memphis Grizzlies much longer. Check back tomorrow for what that future might look like.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Coaching Circles

Chip and I were discussing the recent article by ESPN's Ric Bucher about the need for there to be chemistry between the General Manager and Head Coach in an NBA organization. The fact that the Grizzlies hired Marc Iavaroni prior to Chris Wallace hasn't gone unnoticed by me or the majority of the fanbase. That has long been considered one of the cardinal sins of a professional sports franchise, given how closely the coach and GM have to work together in order to put a successful product on the floor.

Nevertheless, as we continued our conversation, we began to talk about the portion of the article where it stated that Celtics' assistant Tom Thibodeau didn't even receive cursory interest this offseason due to his reputation as a "(Jeff) Van Gundy clone" who is "stuck in his ways". It seems that GM's prefer to deal with coaches that can adapt to a fluid situation, rather than insisting on doing things according to their system, no matter what pieces are given to them. But what successful coaches aren't "stuck in their ways"? After all, I don't see Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan or Larry Brown being lauded for their ability to readily adapt to the changing NBA landscape. In fact, all three of them are known for having a defined system where players can either do what they are told or rot on the bench until they accept that. Greg Poppovich is known for sticking up for his players against the league and the press, but there is no question that his players also know that it is his way or the highway in San Antonio.

Here in Memphis, Hubie Brown was praised for teaching a young team how to win after years of futility. Of course, Hubie also insisted on continuing to run his legendary 10-man rotation, even as it caused fractures in the locker room over playing time, eventually leading to his decision to leave a mere 12 games into the 2004/05 season. This was a familiar pattern for those who had followed Hubie's prior coaching efforts, as he had a well-known reputation for getting results upon taking over a team, only to have the players grow weary of his hard-nosed approach after a few seasons. This is the same reputation that Mike Fratello, the coach that succeeded Brown in Memphis, had also gained over his career. Subsequently, Fratello was also gone in the same span of time (2 years) that Brown stayed. After the interim stay of Tony Barone (i.e. a move that didn't require any extra money to be spent), the team went out and hired the biggest name on the market in Marc Iavaroni last offseason. Is Iavaroni the answer for this floundering team? I think we first have to determine what kind of coach this team needs, which means we need to categorize coaches.

Category 1: Drill Seargents
This coach yells...a lot. They also know how to teach young players how to win. Unfortunately, this approach only works for so long before the players grow immune to it. That typically means their lifespan on one team is only 2-3 years before they have to move on to another team of young players. Of course, on occasion the coach gets a few veterans on his side and they "help" him to keep everyone in line. Examples include Mike Fratello, Scott Skiles, Jeff Van Gundy and Doug Collins.

Category 2: The Motivators
When you hire this coach, you need to "get over the hump". That hump might be getting into the playoffs or achieving further success in the playoffs. This guy gets the absolute most out of his players. He knows how to maximize his team's strengths and minimize their weaknesses just long enough to win a few more games than the team probably should have expected. Like the Drill Seargent, he also tends to wear out a welcome with veterans, but at least he has some success while doing it. Examples include Larry Brown, Hubie Brown, Byron Scott and Jerry Sloan.

Category 3: Eye Candy
Some coaches have just enough success to keep teams interested, but never seem to be able to win "the big one". They look good on the surface, but there's really not enough substance there when it really counts. Typically, these are known as "players' coaches" due to a laid-back approach and a tendency to let things flow, rather than being seen as meddlers. Examples include Rick Adelman, Flip Saunders, Mike D'Antoni and Maurice Cheeks.

Category 4: The Artists
These coaches wind up having carte blance from their teams after taking a tremendous amount of talent and "molding" them into a championship team. These guys usually become legends in the process. They are very good at what they do -- but they also benefit from ready-made situations. Examples include Phil Jackson, Greg Poppovich and Pat Riley.

Obviously, some coaches fit into more than one category or are part of another subset altogether. But by and large, I think that these 4 categories encompass the majority of coaches out there. So what kind of coach do the Grizzlies need right now?

I believe that the team made the correct hire when they tabbed Hubie Brown to become the head coach. He was a teacher, first and foremost. He taught a young team how to win games, which was something they weren't familiar with after a history of epic failure. Sure, they tuned him out after 2 seasons, but he took a 23 win team and turned it into a 50 win team. That is a mini-miracle in itself. However, I think that the team's misstep was to hire a disciplinarian in Mike Fratello as a replacement for the departed Brown. At that point, the team probably needed a more successful "Motivator/Eye Candy" hybrid to take them to the next level after their first taste of the postseason. Someone who had taken teams to playoff success, but had a reputation as a "players' coach". Perhaps someone like George Karl or P.J. Carlesimo -- a "name" coach who might not be able to win the big one, but was able to get his team in position to at least achieve a few playoff series wins.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 and I'm not all that interested in rewriting history. So what does this current team need? I am of the opinion that they once again are in need of a "Motivator/Eye Candy" hybrid. They need someone who can lead them to success while getting the most out of them at the same time. Is Marc Iavaroni that coach? To this point, I have my doubts. I cannot figure out which category Ivy fits in yet. On one hand, he is not a yelling, screaming tyrant (like new assistant coach Kevin O'Neill), so he's not a Drill Seargent. On the other hand, he's not a player's coach either, given that there were rumblings of him having an elitist attitude with an air of superiority this past season, so he's not Eye Candy either, even though he did come in with a lot of hype and disappointing results to show for it. Given his status as a rookie head coach last season (he had never been a head coach at any level), I'm inclined to give him one more season to see what he's made of and whether or not his system (whatever that may be) can be successful. This will also help me to figure out if he and Chris Wallace can make it as partners, or if they will become adversaries engaged in conflict. This is just one more question that needs to be answered as we wait to see what this collection of talent can ultimately achieve.

Here is a post I made on the Grizzlies Message Boards last night that I believe is germane to the situation:

I don't believe that Iavaroni's future with the team is tied to his won/loss record as much as the improvement of the team based on some key criteria:

1) Defensive presence - This team has been a sieve for the past two years on that end of the floor. That has to improve, which is one of the key reasons that Kevin O'Neill was brought in. If they show a good understanding of defensive principles, that will go a long way towards retaining Iavaroni.

2) Sorting of the roster - We have too many "talented" guards and not enough minutes to go around. Throw in the fact that we now have two young PF's and two fairly young C's and we're either looking at a return of the 10-man rotation or some upset players. One way or another, some decisions need to be made about who is the "big dog" between Conley/Lowry, Mayo/Crittenton, Warrick/Arthur and Gasol/Milicic. That's not to say that the "loser" of that battle won't have a place on the team, but clearly defined roles will help the growth of the team over the next 2 seasons.

3. Display of intensity and effort for 48 minutes and 82 games - Too often in the past two seasons, we have been treated to a team that played hard for anywhere from 30-45 minutes, but then fell apart and didn't seem to care about winning at the end of the game. On some occasions, they seemed to take the entire night off, which I know is a reality of a long NBA season, but it happened too often for an organization with a dwindling fanbase. If we don't believe that they care, then why should we? That directly affects Heisley beloved bottom line, so I'm sure that it will be a point of emphasis.

4) Good rapport between players and coaches - We heard too many rumors about Ivy having an "elitist attitude" towards others to dismiss it as nothing. If the players don't respect the coach and believe that he respects them in turn, then there can be no relationship between them. Even though Larry Brown and Phil Jackson get under the skin of many of the players they coaches, they still command respect from their players because of the results they produce and because the players know that their head coach understands how to best utilize them.

Those things, more than an improvement in wins, should be the keys to Ivy's season and future with the Grizzlies. Of course, I believe that if the majority of those things come to pass, the wins will take care of themselves.

Addendum: One of my new favorite blogs is Eric Mussleman's blog. Mussleman is a former Grizzlies assistant coach under Mike Fratello and head coach with Golden State and Sacramento. Today he referenced another site which had the list of Hubie Brown's coaching principles. I hope the Grizzlies fans enjoy it as much as I did.

BallHype: hype it up!