Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview

Projected Starting line-up
G Mike Conley
G Rudy Gay
F Mike Miller
F Pau Gasol
C Darko Milicic

Hakkim Warrick
Juan Carlos Navarro
Kyle Lowry

Last season
International players treat playing for their respective counties as an honor, more so then in the United States. When growing up in North America, I would assume that the kids who play ball dream about making it into the NBA. Internationally though, I think that dream is to play for your country. Trying to stop Pau Gasol from playing for Spain in the world championships would have been a challenge. Of course, in retrospect, it might have been a challenge that Memphis management should have attempted, as Gasol broke his foot in that tournament and was out for the first 23 games of the season. No wonder GM's cringe when watching international basketball. Without Gasol, the Grizzles went 5-17 and effectivly ending the season just as it got started. Without defensive specialist Shane Barrier, who they traded to Houston for Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift, and with out Gasol, Memphis had no chance in the rough Western Conference. Damon Stoudamire was a shell of his former self due to an injury from the previous season. And coach Mike Fratello refused to change the style of play going into the season. It was argued that with the players on the roster (Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick and Dahntey Jones to name a few), a faster pace style of play would be more successful. Fratello though stuck with a slow it down pace and was fired after 30 games. Tony Barone Sr. was put in as a interim coach. After 30 games, the team was lottery bound. After the switch at the coaching position, and with Gasol back and playing at 100%, the Grizzles did increase the offensive production of the team, averaging close to 110 PPG in the second half of the season. Of course, having some defense on the other side of the court would help, but again this team was lottery bound so losing a few games to increase the chances of Greg Oden wouldn't hurt. Having your star player request a trade on the other hand would hurt. And that is what Gasol did early in the year. How close were we to seeing Gasol in a Bulls uniform, I have no idea, but he is still a Grizzly today. Would he become a happy Grizzly?

Signed Darko Milicic
Lost Chucky Atkins to free agency
Traded a future 1st round pick for Juan Carlos Navarro
Drafted Mike Conley

With the need for a new coach, Memphis was able to secure Phoenix Suns assistant coach Marc Iavaroni. Largly considered to be ready to step up to the plate, Iavaroni will bring his experience working with the up-tempo Suns to the Memphis Grizzles. He is also considered to be strong at teaching the big guys in the league, which will come in handy with Darko Milicic. Darko always had the excuse in Detroit of why he was a joke of a number 2 pick, but in Orlando, he did have more of an opportunity that slipped away. Third times a charm? Something tells me that he might just suprise everyone in this situation, still not #2 pick in the 2004 draft type of play, but at least he will earn some respectability here. Spain basketball has been a source of some great talent, and now 4 players from the World Champions play on 2 teams in the NBA, (Jorge Garbajosa and Jose Calderon on the Raptors, and Naverro and Gasol on Memphis) If Navarro produces like he does for Spain, then this is a very nice pick-up made by Memphis. And Mike Conley at point guard was a great pick up for a team that needs help in that position.

Basement teams should take notice, as Memphis showed what to do after a horrible year. Of course, we know that Memphis did have the talent, and were just dealt some bad cards last year with the injury to Gasol. And while that might have helped them get Conley, it was Memphis who went out and got one of the top free agent coaches on the market. It was Memphis who went out and got a player from a wold championship team with Juan Carlos Navarro, who is also good friends with Gasol which in turn makes your franchise player happy. It was Memphis who got a potential big man at cheap cost with Darko Milicic. Mike Miller will have some new confidence just getting off a summer with the U.S. basketball team. Rudy Gay got a lot of playing time and shots last year, which should help speed up his growth coming into year 2. Hakkim Warrick showed that he has potential to be a solid cnotributor in the rotation. Truth be told, these Memphis Grizzles have a lot of potential this year, and are one of the top teams to win the "Toronto Raptors" award of being the team to flip everything around so quickly. Now of course, they are still in the West, so even with as much potential they seem to have, it is still hard to say playoffs. But if they get a little luck, see some other teams in the Western Conference being dealt the injury bug, Memphis has the pieces to take advantage of any bad luck other teams might recieve. It would only be fair for Memphis to have some good luck after last year.

What to watch for
1) Darko - Last chance for him to not become a joke
2) Drastic difference - They will be better then last year. In the tough West, how much better?
3) Happy Gasol - He asked for a trade last season. Will he be happy this year?

I have good feelings about this team, although how quickly they can adjust and come together will be the big story. They have the talent, and a coach who has experience even though not at the head coach position. The league overall has improved though, and I just don't know if they can get together quickly enough for playoffs. But this team should be a tough one on the schedule for the other 29.

Between 35 and 39 wins this season with a 10th place overall in the West

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