|Friday, July 26
West risks reputation in rescuing Grizzlies
By Chad Ford
Editor's note: ESPN Insider's Chad Ford breaks down what last season's NBA lottery teams need to do to get to the playoffs. ESPN.com's "Fixer-Upper" series continues with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Jerry West, you've got some big ones, my friend.
You leave "Showtime" for misery. Rings for lottery balls. Shaq and Kobe for Pau and White Chocolate. You use your first lottery pick in ages to draft a kid many think doesn't have a position. You use your free-agent money on kids no one has ever heard of before. And you promise to break the curse that seemingly won't leave the woeful Grizzlies alone.
Like we said, some big ones. While everyone else respects West as the premier evaluator of talent in the NBA, he may have met his match in Memphis.
After watching his team get dismantled by the Lakers' summer squad, West lamented about the state of his lowly Grizzlies -- even their summer league team. Despite all of the promising young players on this squad, Memphis still takes a beating.
"I'm behind. No question I'm behind," West said. "I didn't have the chance to focus on the (draft), and we could have done a better job bringing in summer players. We need to be able to put a representative team out there, and right now we just aren't good enough to compete ... the secret to winning is talent, and we don't have enough."
West then promised fans that the days of 20-win seasons are behind them.
"We can't put a team out there that wins 23 games," he said. "It's not acceptable to me and nor should it be for the fans. But we need to have better players if we're going to compete at a high level."
He is The Logo. His eye for talent is legendary. A brief mention of your name by West will likely lead to guaranteed dollars somewhere in the league. But can he turn the Grizzlies, a team that has never won more than 23 games, into a respectable NBA team, let alone a contender?
He's got his work cut out for him. He inherits a team that is already in luxury-tax land. The Grizzlies are filled with raw, talented -- but in many cases troubled -- players who don't have a clue what it takes to win. Pau Gasol is the team's diamond. Shane Battier will always play his heart out. And Gooden has been as impressive as any rookie this summer. But West knows that it isn't nearly enough.
Jason Williams still cares more about no-look passes than assists. Stromile Swift has never met a practice he liked. Michael Dickerson didn't play at all last season because of a hernia. And the Grizzlies' only significant additions this summer include an undrafted center from Poland, a washed-up shooter who couldn't find minutes with the Cavs and three second-round picks who are far from proven products.
Can the Grizzlies ever make it to the playoffs? ESPN.com pored over depth charts, trade rumors, salary-cap information and even sought advice from a few NBA general managers to give you the five things the Grizzlies must do to get into the playoffs in two years.
Some raised their eyebrows when word leaked that the Grizzlies were talking with the Heat about reuniting West and Eddie Jones. Wasn't it West who kicked Jones to the curb in L.A.? Sure, but that's much easier to do when you have Kobe Bryant waiting in the wings. Right now, the Grizzlies have Dickerson and not much else. The Heat, at this point, would probably be willing to take a package of Dickerson, Swift and Brevin Knight for Jones and Vladimir Stepania in a sign-and-trade. Jones had a bit of a down year, but he's still a tenacious defender and a proven scorer at the two guard. And Miami wants to move him.
West has said he'll be patient with Williams, but you know he won't let the leash get too long. Williams had another erratic season for the Grizzlies and West knows that his team will go only as far as Williams leads them. "I thought he played well last year. But there are some things he needs to do better. He needs to do certain things that fulfill his potential," West said last week. The problem with Williams is you never know when he'll melt down. Right now, the team's two backup point guards, Knight and Earl Watson, are nice, but neither has the ability to keep the team running smoothly over a long period of time. The Grizz have already used about half of their mid-level exception. Adding a seasoned veteran like Travis Best would not only provide great insurance but it would push Williams to stay focused in fear of losing his job. With the market continuing to contract, Best may be willing to take the money.
Is Gooden a three or a four? Is Gasol a three, four or five? Is Lorenzen Wright a four or a five? Is Battier a two or three? The Grizzlies have added a number of versatile players to their roster, but figuring out how to play them together is the question that needs to be answered. Several GMs told Insider they were surprised West took Gooden because both he and Gasol have similar games. Gasol spent a lot of time at the three last year, but he's not a threat to sink the long ball. Neither is Gooden. Both players are comfortable playing with their backs to the basket or facing it. Neither player is a terrific defender yet. Too often roles get confused and frustration sets in (see Antawn Jamison in Golden State). Figuring out how to mesh their two games will be key. Given that Gasol is a top-rate shot blocker, expect him to get the nod in the post.
Battier had a phenomenal rookie year, but the Grizzlies will have to keep one of their stars on the bench. Dickerson (or Jones if they get him) should be the starting two guard, and the Grizzlies will want to get plenty of minutes for Gooden. Battier, because of his leadership and versatility, is perfect as the first guy off the bench. He can play either the two or three, is a leader on the floor and has the maturity to take the demotion in stride.
Those moves would give the Grizzlies this opening-day roster:
Step 5: Don't get too cute with the diamond-in-the-rough stuff.
Chad Ford writes the daily NBA Insider column for ESPN Insider. To get a free 30-day trial, click here.