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CAVEAT GRIZZLIES

CAVEAT GRIZZLIES

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So Memphis has its own professional sports team. Yippee. Now what the hell are we going to do with it? One suggestion is to watch a couple horrid seasons as the team wins less than twenty games a year. The Grizzles organization seems to like this course of action. Exhibit A: The team drops star player Shareef Abdur-Rahim for an untested draft pick in Barcelona’s Pau Gasol, a less than productive (albeit stable) Brevin Knight, and, of course, Memphis native Lorenzen Wright. Ok, look. Knight isn’t terrible though he has never produced impressively. Wright has improved his game in a big way over the last couple of seasons. Gasol might be an NBA star someday. Might. Someday. All that said, why would a team drop its biggest star for a never was, an almost, and a maybe? The Grizz are more interested in starting over than in building on a solid nucleus. Speaking of nuclei, Exhibit B: the Grizzlies also gave away Mike Bibby. Bibby was only two years in the league and already a leader in assists and scoring among point guards. So the Grizzlies instead ship him off to the Sacramento Kings, making better one of the best teams in the Western conference -- the same conference in which the Grizzlies are supposed (supposed) to compete. In return, the Grizzlies get É Jason Williams? He’s a flashy point-guard whose theatrics are fun to watch though he isn’t exactly ol’ reliable. Case in point, while the Kings were busy getting run over by the L.A. Lakers during the playoffs, where was Williams during the fourth quarters? Typically on the bench with a towel on his head while his back-ups took over. Williams is as young as Bibby and so could conceivably grow into the role of a productive starting point guard in the NBA. Then again, Bibby was already a productive starter. Williams might need two or three seasons if he decides to start playing serious ball. If. And so now we come on Exhibit C: Trade rumors abound as the Grizzlies talk to the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix? Wait É doesn’t what’s his name play for that team? That talented fella’ who was something special in a Memphis Tiger uniform. What was his name? Oh yeah, Anfernee Hardaway. Here’s the deal: the Grizzlies give away shooting guard Michael Dickerson and center Bryant Reeves for Hardaway’s contract. It’s not such a bad deal in that Hardaway is a former (former) all-star and Reeves has the deserved title of biggest dead-weight on any team in the NBA. However, the Suns also want Stromile Swift, the Grizzlies second pick from last year’s draft and a human pogo stick with lots of potential. In return, the Suns would send over former (again, former) all-star Tom Gugliotta who probably still has the goods, if he can keep his aching body together. Just keep the super-glue handy for both Hardaway and Googs. On one hand, maybe Hardaway and Gugliotta have something to give. On the other hand, Dickerson has been a terrific surprise, flourishing in his personal game with the Grizzlies. And Stro’ is decidedly a big part of this team’s future with tons of that coveted “upside.” It would seem another two steps back for a team that would give away, again, one of its legs. The Grizzlies act like a team fresh out of the gates; as if the Memphis Grizzlies were a new franchise and not a team moving from another city. Trading away all the established talent in exchange for hometown and NBA personalities is a great way of getting fans in the seats but it’s a bad way to go about winning a championship. Maybe it’s because this town has to learn. It needs to see what’s it like to lose over and again before it earns the right to demand success. Or, from a business perspective, maybe the management knows that it can get away with losing because the newness will mean tickets for two or three years and then the new arena will increase interest once again. After the new wears off and the fans (and newspaper columnists) want more out of NBA life (say, 30 wins a season), maybe management will start making some decisions for the good of the team and not for ticket sales. Here’s a question: Why can’t we skip all that first part and start making some good decisions now? The Tennessee Titans organization doesn’t seem to be hurting too much for its early Super Bowl appearance, selling out its tickets this past season in record time. Would it really hurt to go ahead and make some good basketball decisions from the start rather than just puttering around for a few years? Seriously, does anyone really want to be the L.A. Clippers? Is that in the arena lease or something? But also a word of caution: Caveat Grizzlies (aka Grizzlies beware). This is not a town taken with losers. Former U of M football coach Rip Scherer may be the exception (turning one win over Tennessee into contract extension gold). Don’t imagine that new coach Tommy West possesses the same length of rope. No, this is the town that dismissed even hero Larry Finch after a time. This was a Memphis guy who was a star player and coach. Will Memphis prove the most ardent of basketball towns? Sure. But its heroes must earn that right and keep earning it. As has been the case from the beginning, Mayor Herenton at least has that right. At the Peabody Place celebration he uttered aloud and into the cameras and microphones the very expectation that should be put on this team from the beginning. Bring the world championship to Memphis. It’s not good enough to have the team. It’s not enough for the team to entertain us and to pack the seats. It is enough to field a team that has its chance at the whole darn thing. Every year. This current roster, even with all its flash and dazzle, does not come close to fitting that criterion. Michael Heisley et al had better wake up quickly to this, or else that new house they are building will soon be a cool place indeed.

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