As the NBA preseason marches on, Ball Don't Lie looks at all 30 teams, outlining off-season transactions, projecting win totals, spinning tracks, and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Next, the Memphis Grizzlies.
Last Season: 22-60
Key Players Added: Quinton Ross (free agent, Clippers), Marko Jaric (trade, Wolves), Adriana Lima (trade, Wolves), Antoine Walker (trade, Wolves), O.J. Mayo (draft-trade combo, Wolves), Darrell Arthur (draft-trade, Hornets, Blazers, Rockets), Hamed Haddadi (free agent, Iran), Brent Petway (D-League!)
Kelly Dwyer's Endless Grey Ribbon: If the Rockets are an NBA junkie’s best championship hope, then the same fans of under-the-radar hoops will probably adopt the Grizzlies as their lottery-bound date for the evening. I know I have.
But boy howdy is it intriguing.
Finally healthy, after adding a few pounds if not shedding a few backups, Mike Conley gets to run the show. O.J. Mayo gets to run and get paid, legally, and you can’t help but be interested in this guy as an (there’s that phrase again) under-the-radar prospect, after years of showing up on everyone’s radar.
Rudy Gay dunks, quite often in fact, and Hakim Warrick is lithe and intelligent enough to leave assuming that something quite special is just a few seconds away revealing itself. It rarely does, BUT THAT IS NOT THE POINT.
If it sounds like I’m being flip, it’s because I am. But while I’m being facetious, it’s just sarcasm on top of sincerity. I’m not lying. I truly like this roster, a lot, and can’t wait to watch these guys play.
For one, there are no holdovers who will be taking big minutes. Plenty of rebuilding teams too often have a starter or two or rotation troika that is too old to be taking minutes from the youngsters who will (eventually) be turning the franchise around, and yet they have to play in order for their (justifiably, because these players are older) larger contracts to be justified. And also because coaches don’t often have the job security to start five guys who can’t buy beer.
The Grizzlies don’t have that problem. Yes, Antoine Walker is around; but he’s been around for a few years, now, and we’ve grown accustomed to ignoring him. I’m guessing Marc Iavaroni will be doing the same.
In the meantime, providing the skinflint ownership group signs off on things, this team has plenty of trading options. Between Walker and Greg Buckner, GM Chris Wallace has a little over 13 million dollars in expiring deals to toss around, because both players have contracts that aren’t guaranteed beyond 2008-09.
Darko Milicic’s deal expires in 2010, a prime investment for a team looking to clear more space for that year’s free agent bonanza (remember, these teams don’t have to sign LeBron, Wade, or Bosh; there are heaps of great free agents available that summer), and the Grizzlies are still well under the salary cap.
This means they can take on about nine million in salary in any trade, just as long as the trade isn’t for Zach Randolph. Because any trade that brings Zach Randolph into Memphis should be outlawed based on sheer principle alone. Beyond that, the Grizzlies still have Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton, voted "Most Likely to Be Traded" two years running.
Scarily, the moves are going to be left up to the ownership. Owner Mike Heisley has been rumored to be dealing with money issues since he bought the team eight and a half years ago. And though he spent huge gobs of money buying the advice of a litany of NBA greybeards (Chuck Daly, Dick Versace, Jerry West … all employed at once), and three pennywise but pound-foolish (though entertaining and appreciated) playoff runs, this team’s moves smack of working on a low budget.
They also smack of working on developing cap flexibility, and that’s good (and rare in this league, actually), but hallmarks of cheapness can also work in concert with prudent fiscal leanings.
As far as the team goes, well, we hope there will be running. That starts with defense and rebounding, and those things might in a slim supply, but things should improve with Gasol’s beard involved. The other Gasol-beard. The Grizzlies were the seventh-fastest team in the NBA last year, but we have to take that up a notch. Maybe five or six notches. I’ll be watching.
In the meantime, don’t expect much. We trust Chris Wallace with the rebuilding process, honestly, and always like a young, cheap, talented team with options and room to grow. But things won’t be pretty in 2008-09.
That’s bum news for fans of a team that — excluding its three-season playoff run from 2004-06 — has won an average of 20.112 games per year (!, and we pro-rated the lockout year to 13.12 wins; and have a hard time either rounding up to 21 wins a year, or 14 wins in 1999). But the team has potential, and it won’t bore you silly. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Expected Record: 25-57
A Flawed Equation Involving Michael Phelps, Teen Wolf and Hamed Haddadi:
Real Talk, Blog Talk (aka excerpts from other blogger team previews):
3 Shades Of Blue: "This team lacks experience. In all likelihood, only one starter will be older than 23 at the beginning of the season and the depth behind those starters isn't entirely tested either. The players with real experience (Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner) are on the downslope of their careers and are mostly viewed as contracts moreso than players to the majority of the fanbase. Fortunately, these young guys will get plenty of playing time to remedy that weakness, which everyone hopes will lead to some much-needed maturation. This franchise is on a 3-year plan to return to playoff levels, so talent and experience are the two key ingredients. They are working diligently on the first one, but the second will take some time."
Deadspin: "The thing about youth and athleticism is that it often comes hand-in-hand with foolish inexperience. So expect mistakes. Lots of them, probably. And that excitement gets a little hard to sustain in the midst of a 30-win (or less) season. The Griz have six guards on the roster, and five of them are PGs. Who's going to play the point? And who's going to be shoehorned into a backup SG role? Furthermore, Memphis is a little lacking in the size department, which could mean that Gay will have to slide over to the PF position at times ... and that does not suit him."
Andre Gomes: "The frontcourt of the team seems to be their weakest link just like last season. The team finished in 26th last season in terms of rebound margin with -2.89 reb/game and they lack powerful players in the paint, especially when they have opponents on their division like Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and David West. However, the Grizzlies have a new player for the paint: Pau Gasol’s younger brother, Marc. But I need to make one thing clear: Marc is no Pau, but he will be important for the team improve a little bit on the paint and gain a couple of more rebounds per game. Marc is physically more powerful than Pau, but he doesn’t have Pau’s scoring ability, even though he has improved a lot in this area recently. It seems likely that Marc will start for the Grizzlies already on the beginning of the season."
Associated Wax: The Kinks, Low Budget
Michael Bay's Twitter Season Projection: