BEAR NECESSITIES The Grizzlies will wrap up their second season in Memphis when the final buzzer sounds Wednesday night in The Pyramid. Regardless of the final score between Hubie Brown’s Griz and the playoff bound Minnesota Timberwolves, it’s been the most successful season in the eight-year history of this franchise. Here are a few thoughts on the team’s future, near and far.
  • Hubie Brown can coach. There were plenty of nay-sayers back in November when the 69-year-old Brown was handed the task of re-birthing a team that had started 0-8 (again) under Sidney Lowe. Somehow, a man with an ABA title on his resume managed to connect with millionaires almost a half-century his junior. As promised, the Grizzlies played better defense under Brown, they were more disciplined offensively, and somehow grew deeper (the bench production from Earl Watson being a primary example).
  • Ever seen a point guard with six arms? I still have to be convinced the Jason Williams-for-Mike Bibby trade was a win for the Griz. Can’t help but wonder where the team would be with Bibby’s clutch shooting and steady hand. But with that said, you just can’t argue with the improvement J-Will showed under Brown. He’s near the top of the league in assists and, more impressively, assists-to-turnover ratio. And he seems to have learned that he’s not the club’s best shooting option at the buzzer. Backed up by Watson and Brevin Knight, Williams gives this team the best trio of point guards in the NBA. (There may be better pairs -- Dallas’ Steve Nash and Nick Van Exel come to mind -- but no better trio.) When Knight is healthy, this triple playmaking threat is the Grizzlies’ single greatest weapon. Here’s hoping all three are back for 2003-04.
  • Pau Gasol has to grow up. If the facial contortions and arm-flailing after every perceived uncalled foul continue, this guy’s gonna be mistaken for Bill Laimbeer. And he doesn’t have two NBA titles to his credit. Gasol has two years under his belt now. He’ll be 23 in July. If he continues to put the work in, he’ll be the backbone of this team for years to come. Which means he needs to grow into a leader. His touch within 10 feet of the basket is breathtaking in this age of dunk-or-nothing inside play. He’s an above-average passer for a player of his size. Which makes it all the more troubling to witness his whining when the going gets tough. This is the NBA, Pau. Every player is fouled on every shot. It’s simply a matter of which fouls get called by which ref. As Sir Paul McCartney himself would say, let it be.
  • Geography matters. Oh, to be a member of the Eastern Conference. Take the number of games Memphis played against the NBA’s Big Four (the Lakers, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Dallas) and cut them in half, from 16 to 8. Add a pair of games against each of the following: Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Miami, and Toronto. All of a sudden, instead of closing in on 30 wins for the first time in franchise history, the Grizzlies are near .500 and have an outside shot at a playoff berth. Unless there’s a divisional shakeup (don’t hold your breath), Memphis is looking at a decade of facing the Spurs and Duncan, the Mavs and Nowitzki, the Rockets and Yao, the Timberwolves and Garnett. Makes for nice ticket sales at the FedExForum . . . and some heavy lifting for playoff wannabes.
  • Give Shane Battier a lifetime contract. And I mean lifetime. In eight or nine years -- when the Grizzly swingman is ready to hang up the hightops -- give him his tie and cuff links and send him straight to the front office. He may not have Jerry West’s jumpshot, but he embodies the same All-American (All-Good Guy) qualities Mr. Logo has come to represent. Battier will never win a game by himself, but he sure won’t lose any either. He contributes on the offensive end, where he can handle the ball and drop an occasional trey. And on the defensive end, he can match up with both small forwards and big guards. The irony with Battier is that you’ll know the Grizzlies are near playoff contention when he’s no longer starting games but coming off the bench, night in and night out. Sign him . . . for life.
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