Saturday, December 23, 2006

Grizzlies Lose to Depleted Hornets

Mike Fratello must be closely watching Ohio State games this holiday season. With 2.5 minutes left in OT, Fratello pulled Gasol from the game. Gasol had played over 27 minutes, exceeding his allotted 25 minutes. The chances are slim that Gasol would have been set back in his recovery or injured himself during those 2.5 minutes, and once he left for good, the Grizzlies promptly demonstrated that they needed him.

Gasol dominated against the Hornets' front line throughout the game. In a spectacular play, Gasol dunked over two Hornets players to send the game into overtime. He showed no signs of slowing down or being hampered by his injury.

Still, I'm willing to grant that I know little about sports injuries. Gasol may be at risk to re-injure his foot while his muscles build strength. Further, Gasol may be at risk to injure himself independently while regaining his conditioning. (He didn't look out-of-breathe to me.) Even more, I'm willing to grant that Fratello may have little leeway to decide whether Gasol's rationed minutes may be extended.

It makes sense to err on the side of caution with your franchise player, especially when you have no chance at making the playoffs. While I'm don't subscribe to theories that suggest players, coaches, or management 'throw' games to negotiate their position in the draft lottery, I also don't doubt that this year's strong lottery class makes the decision to slow Gasol's development easier.

I'm willing to forgive Fratello's heartbreaking decision to pull Gasol from the game.

What I'd like to hear more about is Fratello's decision to ration 12 minutes to the Grizzlies' second best player, Hakim Warrick. (I was most excited during the brief stint in the second half when Gasol played along side Warrick. Unfortunately, the results weren't as spectacular as I'd hoped.) When Gasol came out of the game, why was Warrick not immediately inserted?

Warrick is the only player besides Gasol (and Chucky Atkins) who has consistently demonstrated the ability to create his own shot in the paint. In his limited playing time Friday, he attacked the basket with authority scoring all 8 free throws off 4 fouls. Instead of Warrick dominating Marc Jackson in the last two minutes, the Grizzlies called for Mike Miller penetration.

Miller attempted 0 free throws and (while remaining remarkably consistent from the outside) has struggled to convert in the paint in all games I've watched. While Miller does create outside shots by driving and kicking, outside shots are still lower percentage shots. When players are tired at the end of the game, they should take the ball inside and get fouled.

What's more disconcerting is that Fratello opted for Brian Cardinal and Alexander Johnson over Warrick. Cardinal made spectacular (outside) shots midway through the second half, but he was done by OT. He shouldn't have been on the floor, and he proved it during the worst play of the game.

With less than 24 seconds, Cardinal rebounded a missed Grizzlies shot. When you're Pau Gasol or Hakim Warrick (finishers around the basket) maybe you go up for the shot with a rebound deep in the paint with time winding down. However, in doing so, you still give the opposition a chance to win or tie the game. When you're Brian Cardinal, you kick the ball out and reset the offense to ensure you have the last shot.

What happened in actuality was Cardinal tried to score against a more athletic Hornet front line that was in position to defend . It was a rookie mistake from a veteran who hadn't played in the 3 previous games and was too tired to ignore his instincts and make the smart play.

In a perfect world, the referees would have (legitimately) sent Cardinal to the free throw line. However, Cardinal is savvy enough to know that refs are opt to swallow their whistles at the ends of games (especially when it's Brian Cardinal who's fouled).

To compound his error, four Grizzlies allowed Chris Paul to score a layup in transition after the no call. Paul is an impressive talent who can navigate to the basket, but Jannero Pargo could have scored against the defense on that possession.

The result was another disappointment in a game where the Grizzlies were not outmatched.

Where was Hakim Warrick?

UPDATE (12/23 9:58 PST): I saw the last 1.5 quarters of the Utah-Memphis game. I really liked Fratello's rotation. Warrick and Gay played significantly more minutes at the expense of E. Jones, Swift (DNP), and Cardinal. The Grizzlies continue to get destroyed on the boards, but are still making games competitive. They just can't finish.

The Grizzlies (I saw D. Jones, Johnson, and Gasol) had some spectacular blocks. I loved D. Jones' block against Carlos Boozer.

Also, Mike Miller continues to shoot the lights out. He's a great compliment to a low post scoring game. He also provides great ball handling, passing, and some rebounds.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

2007 Free Agent Class Weak

It may be early for most teams to start thinking about this summer's free agent class, but my optimism about the money that the Grizzlies will have when 5 players come off the books this July made me curious about who would be available.

What I found was this summer's free agent class has little to offer.

There are no big names. There are no players who could change the direction of the franchise.

There are a few players who would be a solid investment at 5-6 million. Jamaal Magloire (who embarrassed us last weak) and Danny Fortson could provide the rebounding and the physical presence that the Grizzlies have always wanted (and Tsakalidis hasn't been able to provide). Both have big deficiencies and neither is the missing piece that will take the Grizzlies to the next round. However, for the right price, both could provide something the Grizzlies are missing.

There are other veterans (Desmond Mason, Jeff McInnis, Morris Peterson) who have the potential to be solid contributors, but as I've said before, the Grizzlies aren't lacking in solid contributors.

Similarly, there are some young talents (Darko Milicic, Andres Nocioni) who have an upside. However, many are restricted and accompany a significant risk.

Finally, there are two marquee names: Jerry Stackhouse and Grant Hill. Something tells me they wouldn't be willing to move to Memphis even if they could make Memphis an elite team. Both players a too past their prime for that, and Memphis doesn't need any more former All Stars.

For 2007, the Grizzlies should hold onto their money instead of spending much money in the free agent market. Most players aren't worth more than 5 million, and we've already got Brian Cardinal (who deserves more playing time).

Luckily our most important players are signed through the 2008 season as well. During this offseason (only 4 months away), we'll have to improve through the lottery, trades, rest, and hard work.

For a complete list of 2007 (and 2008 - 2011) free agents, visit

Monday, December 18, 2006

Grizzlies' Payroll Shows Reason for Optimism

(All salary information from this article was taken from

Last week CNNSI obtained the salary information for all teams. The Grizzlies' payroll for the next few years leaves many reasons to be excited.

First, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry are tied up for the next four years, and Hakim Warrick for three. All except Gasol have bargain contracts. (Gasol's is also worth the money.) The Grizzlies have a talented core with a lot of potential.

Second, two bad contracts are coming off the books this year: Jake Tsakalidis and Eddie Jones. I still don't know why Jake gets any playing time. Jones may still be able to contribute, but not at 13 million. I'm glad he got his pay day. He deserves it. I just wish it wasn't at the Grizzlies' cost since they didn't get (much of) the benefit.

Third, the questions long-term contracts aren't too bad. There certainly aren't any Allen Houston/Mike Dunleavy contracts. The first that stands out is Brian Cardinal's. He certainly hasn't contributed 5 million this year, but he also hasn't given reason to believe that he can't earn a good portion of the money left over the next 4 years.

Similarly, Stoudemire may not be able to contribute enough to justify the remaining two years on his contract. However, there's no reason to believe he can't give 20 valuable minutes and win a few games. At 4 million/year, that won't break the Grizzlies' bank.

Mike Miller is one of the best three-point shooters in the league and has demonstrated both that he can handle the ball and that he's a team player. He's a defensive liability and I'd like to see more offensive output at 8 million per year. However, his contract isn't bad.

The best characteristic of Stromile Swift's salary is that it could have been so much worse. Swift wanted a huge pay day when he left the Grizz last year. However, to say his second run in Memphis has been a disappointment is an understatement. He's a solid back-up veteran, and while he's overpaid, his salary doesn't badly restrict the Grizzlies' flexibility.

All four of these players have enough talent to more than earn their salaries on any given night, but so far are probably not meeting expectations. Still, none of their salaries are so huge the the Grizzlies couldn't work them into trades or, if necessary, buy them out.

One concern raised by the Grizzlies' payroll is that three strong contributors all become free agents this summer. Dantay Jones, Chucky Atkins, and Lawrence Roberts have all out-performed their contracts. Jones started slowly, but has proved to be the defensive stopper that Eddie Jones hasn't been (even if he couldn't guard Dwayne Wade).

These three players all stand a good chance of getting a raise. However, none is the missing piece the Grizz need to build upon the first round playoff team the Grizzlies have been the last three seasons. Therefore, the Grizz should only resign these players if it it doesn't prevent them from adding a star talent with the money they'll have summer.

The Grizzlies will probably add another bargain player with their lottery pick this year. Therefore, they should have a good amount of money to pursue a not quite maximum contract free agent to support the solid players who are already locked up.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gasol Back/Carmelo Out

I saw Gasol's second game back. He looked impressive in 20 minutes against the Heat. The team still looked lost without him, and Atkins had a rare terrible game. More exciting was the final minute of the Denver-New York game. Isiah Thomas must have been reminded of the spectacular fights Detroit had with Philadelphia and Boston in the 80s, the difference being that all three teams in the 80s had something for which to fight.

I don't condemn a good brawl in the heat of competition. In fact, attacking assholes in the crowd excluded, the league is probably too harsh on players who throw a punch when tempers flare. However, the Knicks have no excuse. They should take the beating they deserve from any team that delivers it. Once the Knicks establish themselves as a competitive team instead of the biggest waste of money in professional sports, where players go to die, they can start fights (read: hook opponents' necks) with first round exiters like the Nuggets if they want to.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Grizz lose to Portland

I was able to watch the Grizzlies (pitiful) loss to Portland.

They didn't look like a team, though Stoudemire, Atkins, Gay, and sometimes Miller made some nice contributions.

The chief reason for the loss was Mike Fratello.

Fratello's substitutions give the impression that he's watching a stop watch rather than the game. I'm not sure what Jake and E Jones have done in practice to make Fratello think that they deserve 1 minute of playing time, but they certainly don't demonstrate any effectiveness on the court. (It's not like there aren't other players from which to choose.)

Yes Jake is a big body. Yes the Grizz we getting out-rebounded and out bodied badly. But Jake had nothing to offer. He couldn't guard Randolph or Magloire. He couldn't rebound, and he was a huge offensive liability.

I don't remember watching Eddie Jones do anything except throw the ball in.

Stromile Swift also continues to get outplayed and outmanned by bad players.

Why won't Fratello leave Warrick, Gay, Stoudemire, and Atkins in the game?

Please don't take them out for Eddie Jones or Jake. At all.

Reasons to not trade for Iverson

Iverson is a superstar, one of the best in this league. In one of my previous posts, I suggested that the Grizz should trade several of their players for a proven star, and Iverson seems like a great choice. However, abstaining from the Iverson sweepstakes is the right move for the Grizz.

Even with Iverson and Gasol, the Grizzlies won't make the playoffs this year. That means, the Grizz are essentially banking on the following two years with Iverson. However, since Iverson is old, he's likely to decline in each subsequent year so his best year here would end before the post-season.

The Grizzlies are poised to have significant money to pursue free agents in the off-season. taking on Iverson's 20+ million per year would prevent the Grizz from making any significant free agent deal for two and a half years. Therefore they'd be dependent on their current role players and others who'd be willing to sign for the minimum. It difficult (though not impossible) to add contributors by offering the minimum.

The Grizzlies already lose 10-20 million every year. Bringing Iverson would certainly increase revenue temporarily. However, in his first season the Grizzlies would miss the playoffs, and in his subsequent seasons, his level of play would likely fall off. Therefore, he probably wouldn't have time to generate the kind of excitement that would allow the Grizzlies to break even on the deal.

Because of these reasons Iverson isn't the right fit. Two years ago, he would have been a perfect addition. At this point a slightly younger veteran (like Paul Pierce) would be a better investment.

Furthermore, I'd wait until the season ends until trading for a veteran. If a young talent who can contribute for years to come becomes available, we should take him. There's no need to take on the risk of a huge contract/older player when there's no hope of making the playoffs.

Yes, there's no hope of making the playoffs.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

New Ownership Planning to Trade Gasol?

Rumors have been circulating around the internet that Brian Davis plans to trade Gasol if he becomes managing owner of the Grizzlies.

The Commercial Appeal and some national media sources have reported that Davis has privately stated that Gasol isn't popular with fans and is overpaid. Assuming Davis did state this, we can guess that Davis believes other stars, even if they don't perform as well, would sell more tickets in Memphis.

Certainly, other stars in this league have flashier, more athletic games. Jason Richardson's dunks are spectacular. Similarly, other stars have been branded, both by the NBA and themselves, so that they, not their teams, are the big draw when they're in town. No one goes to see the Minnesota Timberwolves when they're visiting. Fans want to see Kevin Garnett.

However, trading Gasol is a mistake.

Gasol has a talent that few players can match in this league. Gasol will win wherever he plays for the next 5 years.

His work during the offseason and his quick recovery from a broken foot demonstrate strong work ethic and a desire to ensure that his team wins.

He's versitile on offense, creating his own shots as well as opportunities for others.

He can score (at a high percentage: > 50%) both facing or with his back to the basket, and can finish with both hands. There are few players in this league anymore at 7 foot who can do that, and many of them are old (Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace).

He shoots FTs at a good percentage, especially for a 7 footer (about 75%).

He is a effective passer. He averaged almost 4 assists last year most of which came when opposing players tried to double team him.

Last year Gasol was an All Star because the focus of the team shifted away from Hubie Brown's 'win by committee' style towards a style where Gasol was the focal point. His minutes were increased and more of the plays were run through him.

Gasol was extremely successful in this role, and the team was as well. They didn't match Hubie Brown's 50 win season (missed it by one win), but they also lost their starting point guard to a season ending injury early.

Trading Gasol for draft picks or a combination of player who will be bought out to reduce expenses will set the Grizzlies back as a lottery team for anther 2-3 years. Trading for an established veteran won't save money and will ensure the Grizz are 'stuck' as a borderline playoff team for 2-3 years.

The best strategy moving forward is to pursue (internally or externally) 5 players that will consistently support Gay, Warrick, and Gasol.

I don't believe Davis will be able to trade Gasol before the off season. Sale of the team won't be final before mid January at the earliest. That gives Davis a month to work something out before the trading deadline, which is a short time frame even for someone set on shipping the franchise player. Even if a deal was proposed, trading the franchise player would probably be perceived as foolish so soon after the purchase.

That gives Gasol until the end of the season to demonstrate to ownership that he is the franchise player that I believe he can be.

Finally, if any deal involves sending Gasol to the Knicks, I'll end this blog and become a Milwaukee Bucks fan.