Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What Are They Doing: Memphis Grizzlies

While the Celtics' lottery misery may have gotten more press, the Grizzlies' crash from the top three in spite of the worst record in the league was an equally crushing blow for a franchise facing great uncertainty. With Jerry West retiring three days after the draft and ownership yet to decide on a successor, the Grizzlies also have the most front office uncertainty of any team. New coach Marc Iavaroni was hired away from Phoenix and has stated a desire to bring a similar up-tempo style to Memphis, while the most frequently named GM candidates are the Celtics' Chris Wallace (huh?) and former Knicks/Pacers point guard Mark Jackson. Even with the presence of Pau Gasol, one of the big men (Horford, Yi, B. Wright) might be too tempting to pass up. But given the reliance of the Suns' offense on Steve Nash, a top-shelf point like Mike Conley might be exactly what Iavaroni wants, while Jackson might also place a premium on a point guard given his experience at the position.

  1. Who's available? The big vs. Conley debate will be a lot easier if the Hawks decide to take Conley third. Virtually all the mocks have Memphis taking Horford, and it appears Atlanta is currently leaning towards Yi or Wright (huh?), so he's likely to be there unless Atlanta comes to their senses, which is never something to gamble on. Corey Brewer has been mentioned as well, but swingman isn't a particular area of need. Mike Miller quietly had a career year (18 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg), while Rudy Gay will be looking to build on an inconsistent rookie season. Also of note is Tarence Kinsey, who came out of nowhere to be a garbage time all-star, averaging nearly 20 ppg over the last month of the season.
  2. Is Pau Gasol their franchise cornerstone or trade bait? Gasol spent most of last season as the most available star in the NBA, but remained in Memphis perhaps mostly due to John Paxson's reluctance to break up his young core to acquire him. He's not asking for a trade at the moment, but stay tuned. Even if the Grizzlies want to keep Gasol, it certainly doesn't preclude them from taking a defensive, skilled big man like Horford to complement Gasol's more offensive mindset. While the Grizzlies are reportedly high on second-year PF/C Alexander Johnson, he's yet to prove himself as a long-term answer. Hakim Warrick stepped up as a valuable contributor in his second season, but also isn't a pure PF and former second overall pick Stromile Swift gives them depth but won't ever be more than a solid 4/5. A Horford-Gasol combination looks good on paper, but for a young team that's coming off the worst record in the NBA, they could also be willing to gamble on a higher-ceiling project like Yi or Brandan Wright (at least that's my hope from a Bucks perspective).
  3. Who's calling the shots in Memphis? It's unclear how big of an impact West will have on draft night, but it's expected Iavaroni will have input on the GM search as well as the draft. If he's serious about bringing a Phoenix-style offense to Memphis he'll probably be interested in upgrading from Kyle Lowry and Damon Stoudamire at point guard. Lowry was the team's first rounder (24th overall) last year, but played only 10 games last season because of a broken wrist. More importantly, Conley would likely represent an immediate upgrade in addition to having a much higher ceiling. Player Personnel Director Tony Barone seems to acknowledge that needs at certain positions could impact the Grizzlies' pick, and no player would provide a more obvious boost from a need perspective than Conley.
Looking at their team it seems like Conley makes an awful lot of sense, but it's also tough to go wrong with Al Horford, whose game would nicely complement Gasol's. Whichever player doesn't get taken could be the favorite to land with the Bucks, especially given that Boston would be unlikely to take Conley if the Grizz and Hawks pass on him. Horford falling to six is my dream scenario, but at this point it seems he's the odds-on favorite to end up in Memphis, and if he doesn't it's certainly possible the Celtics might grab him at five.

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