BY FRANK MURTAUGH | JUNE 25, 2007
With the pining and whining over Greg Oden and Kevin Durant finally behind us -- or is it? -- the time is right for breaking down the leftovers, er, hidden jewels of this week's NBA draft. Just whom might the Grizzlies take with the fourth selection in Thursday night's main event? I've heard and read more opinions on this subject of late than I have on the 2008 presidential field. (The most informed, if you ask me, is my colleague Chris Herrington's.) Just so I don't feel left out, here's a look at the four players -- in ascending order -- who I feel would fit best in Memphis for 2007-08 and beyond.
4) Brandan Wright (forward, North Carolina) -- James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, Kenny Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter: The track record over the last quarter century of NBA stars from Chapel Hill is too impressive to ignore. While UNC has given us an Eric Montross here or a George Lynch there, the Tar Heel alumni wing of the Hall of Fame is worth a glance when considering the merits of Wright, even if he spent but a single season wearing powder blue. A quick, versatile forward with a body type that doesn't appear prone to excessive weight gain (see Hakim Warrick) is a commodity any NBA team will value. (Some muscle would do Wright good, though, as upper body strength is generally considered his biggest weakness. Consider, however, that he's no more slight than Durant.) Among the players listed here, Wright would require the most patience from Memphis fans. He could be a star by, oh, 2011-12.
3) Joakim Noah (forward, Florida) -- Tried and true Griz fans see the same thing in Noah I see: Pau Gasol with a ponytail. Which is why Noah would be the perfect pick for Memphis . . . if they trade Gasol. A rangy -- "long" -- forward with a nice offensive touch and shot-blocking skills, but a little shy in the strength department, Noah would be a cheaper version of Gasol, should the Grizzly brass find the right taker in a deal involving the current face of the franchise. What I like about Noah is another attribute he shares with Gasol: supreme confidence at a young age. Noah will take his bruises against the likes of Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. But there won't be any backing down. He would also bring some rare emotion to the floor for a team that allowed Mike Fratello's game face to rub off a bit much.
2) Acie Law (point guard, Texas A & M) -- Two words from the hoops dictionary I adore: "tough guard." It's highly unlikely no, not even remote -- that the Grizzlies would spend the fourth pick on a guard, much less one like Law, who comes without the "superstar upside." But what about dealing the fourth pick and grabbing this warrior a bit lower in the first round? The Grizzlies have put some good teams on the court, solid defensively if not electric offensively. But they've never been called tough. (When James Posey is the toughest player you can remember . . . . ) Look at what Deron Williams has done for the Utah Jazz. A tough guard who wants the ball with his team down in the last two minutes, that's a rare commodity. And I'm convinced Memphis would get a healthy infusion of this kind of grit should the Law come to town.
1) Al Horford (power forward, Florida) -- Charles Oakley and Brian Grant had long careers as lunch-pail tough guys for solid teams. Not quite perennial All-Stars, Oakley and Grant did the muscle work to support stars like Jordan, Ewing, and Mourning. I see Horford playing a similar role in the NBA (as he did for his more star-quality teammates, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer). Horford's size and strength would complement Gasol's interior finesse game, and likely draw the attention of defenses that have clamped down on Gasol in recent years. Add Horford to a youth mix that includes Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay, and Warrick, and you have what could be a formidable unit three years from now, if not sooner. Best of all, in adding Horford to the roster the Grizzlies would infuse an expectation to win. Two national championships in college will do that to a player. And that kind of winning is a hard habit to break.