Memphis Grizzlies (08/09 Record: 24-58)
I’m excited about the 09/10 Memphis Grizzlies. I can’t remember the last time I had this much anticipation for a basketball team. It isn’t so much the product that’s going to be on the floor that interests me – this team is more likely to tear each other apart than the rest of the league – it’s the drama of seeing four incredibly selfish players have to share one ball (not to mention one locker room). I expect, and even deep down hope, that this team comes together like the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks have in Afghanistan – that is violently.
The most high profile of Memphis’ “big four” is former MVP Allen Iverson. Honestly, I’ve never had a very god opinion of Iverson. I’ve always seen him as a selfish, ball-dominating, undersized two-guard who didn’t really make his teammates any better. I felt that he was a tough player and a surefire hall of famer whose ego prevented him from competing for the NBA title and securing his spot among the ten greatest players of all time. This view seemed to be vindicated when Iverson was traded to Detroit for Chauncy Billups just three games into the 08/09 season. While the Nuggets thrived following the trade, making it to the Western Conference finals, the Pistons imploded, tallying 20 fewer wins than the previous season and failing to get beyond the first round for the first time since 2002. Not surprisingly, Iverson was saddled with the blame made all the worse when he sulked about Detroit’s front office “disrespecting his career” by making him a sixth man. Since having to eat humble pie by signing a one year deal with Memphis for even less than the mid-level exception when no other teams were prepared to bid for his services, Iverson has made a point of playing nice and emphasizing his desire to be a mentor on this young Memphis team. Of course, the big question is will he continue to have such a supportive attitude when the Grizzlies see their playoff hopes dashed by January and coach Lionel Hollins hopes to develop his young guards Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo at the cost of the 34 year old Iverson’s shots and minutes? I more than doubt it. Iverson wants to win now and I’m sure he’ll be squawking for a trade by February. Sooner if his role is reduced.
Problem number two is the well-travelled Zach Randolph who will be playing on his third team in three seasons. Though Randolph is a skilled four, averaging around 20 points and 10 rebounds per game over the past six seasons, he’s been a liability on defence, increasingly unwilling to play in the post on offence, and another player who never found a shot he didn’t like. Add to that the negative locker room influence he’s reputed to bring with him everywhere he’s been and you have another player who’s more likely to stifle the development of this young Grizzlies team than help it blossom.
Speaking of Memphis’ young players, they haven’t exactly proven a willingness to share the ball themselves. Rudy Gay, a fourth year small forward out of Connecticut, enters the season looking for a big contract extension. Gay can certainly score the ball (18.9 points per game in 08/09) but leaves a lot to be desired in his assist totals averaging just 1.7 assists in 37 minutes of play per game last season. In fact, Gay averaged more turnovers per game last year (2.2) than assists, a surprising stat for a starting small forward that logs as many minutes as Gay.
Joining Gay on the wings is second-year guard O.J. Mayo. Mayo is another solid scorer who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Though Mayo possesses a quick step, he’s show little willingness to trust his teammates and shown poor decision making averaging a near one-to-one assist to turnover ratio.
Starting in the front court with Zach Randolph will be a platoon of centers in the form of the serviceable Marc Gasol (Pau’s kid brother) and rookie Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet, the number two pick in this year’s draft, is a 7’3″ shot blocking expert. However, given his age (nearly 23) and his limited development while at the University of Connecticut, his potential growth may be minimal and he’ll have a more difficult time averaging double digit rebounds against larger, stronger and more experienced NBA players. While Memphis GM Chris Wallace hopes Thabeet will be the next Dikembe Mutombo, his ceiling may be closer to Philadelphia center Samuel Dalembert. If that’s the case, Memphis will have squandered a number two pick.
Overall, I expect this Grizzlies team to challenge an NBA record for fewest assists in a season, turn the ball over a lot, destroy Lionel Hollins love of basketball and have a fist fight or three. Of course I could be completely wrong and Chris Wallace’s experiment may have Memphis competing for a playoff spot on the backs of four potential 20 ppg plus scorers. For some reason turmoil rather than teamwork will be the catchword for this Grizzlies team.
2009/2010 Record: 27-55