Walking In Memphis?

Posted by Kelly Dwyer
By now, we're comfortable with Darko Milicic in Memphis. I learned of the signing while dashing inside a dashing sports bar known for a varied selection of chicken wing sauces while grabbing some takeaway for my girlfriend at 11:30 PM - Chad Ford broke the news, and Ric Bucher is reporting that 22-year old lefty signed with the Grizz for three years and 21-million bucks. That's enough for just about every fan of every team in the NBA to feel comfortable with; more than any other team could offer (a few million over the MLE), and less than eight figures a year.

Will it work? Several outlets have described new Grizzlies coach Marc "No Baloney" Iavaroni as the perfect sideline presence needed to bring the best out of the Serbian big man. Honestly, just about any coach with a head on his shoulders would work at this point. Larry Brown submarined this kid's career starting in 2003, Milicic never was a fit for Flip Saunders' offense (though I've no issues with the way Saunders treated him), and Brian Hill needlessly killed his own team's chances at rising to the ranks of the mediocre by limiting Milicic's minutes over the last season and a half.

Darko, even working at half-speed and paying attention to six out of ten possessions, would still contribute more than the quite-cognizant Tony Battie; who constantly topped Milicic in the minutes battle. Good for karma, rewarding Battie was, but horrible for Orlando's future. I realized that was a half-paraphrase of your typical Yoda delivery, but you have to believe me when I tell you that I've seen exactly two Star Wars movies in my lifetime, and didn't really have the best of times sitting through them.

So he's off to Memphis, where his latest YouTube mix will feature Carl Perkins ("Put Your Cat Clothes On," hopefully) as the musical accompaniment, and I'm more than cool with that. But will Iavaroni run with his pair of talented bigs? Hard to say.

Yes, Iavaroni has worked under Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix over the last few seasons, helping to prove that aesthetically-pleasing basketball can also be winning basketball. And, yes, interim Grizzlies coach Tony Barone made the biggest jump we've ever seen in terms of pace dalliances last season - Memphis was continually near the bottom of the ledger in terms of possessions per game under Mike Fratello, and Barone had them running nearly as much as Phoenix (the Grizzlies finished 8th in pace factor, up from 30th in 2005-06) even after Fratello enforced a strict "no running" policy during 2006-07's first two months. So Iavaroni won't really be blowing any minds. They know how to run.

I'm just not convinced that he'll approximate D'Antoni's out and out offensive blitzkrieg. For starters (he'll have the carpaccio, and then ...), he'll have Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley running the show. Lowry was brilliant in limited minutes last year, but he did his damage in Fratello's half-court attack. Conley looks like a gem, but he'll have just turned 20 when the season starts, and he'll need a season to figure it out. And as much as Iavaroni contributed to the Phoenix running game over the last few years, he was also a prominent member of Mike Fratello (from 1997-99, in Cleveland, with Cedric Henderson) and Pat Riley's (1999-2002, in Miami, Duane Causwell was around) coaching staffs. Those teams were 17th, 25th, 26th, 28th, and 29th in a 29-team league in pace factor. They walked. They won, but they walked.

So, Darko will play, and darn well, for the Grizzlies over the next three years. The guy is six months younger than LeBron, two and a half years younger than Al Thornton, and per game averages of eight points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in just 24 minutes a contest bode well for a guy having to battle a Battie for minutes. He'll give Pau room to work down low and Mike Miller product to use for his hair. More or less a best case scenario, as far as I can tell; and the signing allows for fans of 27 other teams outside of Detroit, Orlando and Memphis to stop wondering if Darko would slum for 5.5-million a year for their favorite teams and get on with their lives.

They have Mikki Moore to wonder about, now.

(Update: I do love the line Clutch from Clutchfans.net -- the longest running and finest fan site out there -- threw out upon hearing about the Darko signing. He thinks it's swell that Memphis finally got it's lottery pick back. You know, the one they sent to Detroit back in 1997 for Otis Thorpe.)