NBA Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

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Last season: 40-42, which was a revelation because going into the season with Zach Randolph, OJ Mayo and Allen Iverson many expected no passing, followed closely implosion and disaster. But Iverson was shipped out and the team coalesced, Marc Gasol took a huge step forward, Randolph had a career year and they were about average. They may have overachieved expectations more than any team in the league last season.

Head Coach: Lionel Hollins, who deserves credit in part for that turnaround in record. He did it by having a tight rotation of the few guys he could trust, but on a team without much depth that’s how you win.

Key Departures: Ronnie Brewer (who was let go so they could offer Rudy Gay a max deal… just like Kevin Durant got), the ability to sneak up on teams who don’t think they are any good.

Key Additions: They kept Rudy Gay at five years, $82 million. Max deal. These contracts often have one of two impacts: Guys play better because they are both driven and now want to live up to that money; or they think they’ve made it and can coast. No predictions on Gay here — he played well for USA Basketball this summer — but we’ll see which way he goes. Or maybe he just stays who he is.

Tony Allen is the new Ronnie Brewer (solid signing), also on board are rookies Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez.

Best case scenario: This team takes the next step forward into one of the lower playoff spots in the West.

For that to happen: The dreaded internal improvement — everyone on the team that took a step forward last season needs to do it again, and other guys need to step forward so Hollins can trust his bench more.

That can happen, but it’s rare.

It starts with Rudy Gay, who needs to be a leader for this team now. And that starts on the defensive end — the place he was weakest. We know he can be dynamic on offense and particularly in transition, but if the Grizzlies are really going to improve it has to start with their 19th in the league defensive rating. Wing defense was particularly sad. Gay can lead by example here. OJ needs to follow and needs to be himself on offense, as well.

The other key is Mike Conley at point guard improving, he needs to become better at creating shots for those talented post and wing players around him. He is the key to their offense getting better, and in a contract year we’ve seen amazing things happen. Not going to bet on it, but it could happen and it’s key.

Zach Randolph can continue to just shoot and rebound. The Grizzlies need to feed him on the low block every time he gets good position (he is one of better post scorers in the league). They need to use Marc Gasol as the roll man on the pick and roll more. These two need to remain one of the better front lines in the league. Hasheem Thabeet has to give them some depth along the front line. Quality depth, not what he did last year.

They have to get contributions from Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez right away, giving them needed depth.

More likely the Grizzlies will: Look a lot like last year’s Grizzlies, nice but not thrilling. That’s what happens when you don’t really address your flaws (say, point guard). Potential is there but will remain untapped in a real way. A team that can post you up but one you can run on.

To expect players to make those kind of steps forward seen last season — even young players — in consecutive years is asking a lot. To expect it across the board is foolish. Some on the Grizzlies will continue to improve, others will remain stagnant or fall back. But it will not be consistent, and neither will the Grizzlies be.

Prediction: 38-42, which leaves them in the NBA’s no-mans land — not good enough to make the playoffs, too good to get a high lottery pick to jumpstart the franchise. You’d say maybe the team could spend a little or make a smart personnel move, but with Michael Heisley as owner nobody should expect it.

Double number retirement fitting for Kobe Bryant

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Kobe Bryant’s career truly occurred in two acts.

He was Shaquille O’Neal’s super sidekick for three championships. Then, Kobe led the Lakers to another two titles himself after Shaq departed.

He was an athletic, high-flying slam-dunk-contest champion. Then, he became known for his cerebral play and footwork.

He faced trial for rape in Colorado (the case was ultimately dismissed, and he settled civilly), blame for Shaq getting traded and criticism for being too selfish when the Lakers struggled in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure. Then, Kobe – still beloved by his fans – again became a socially acceptable marketing force.

His 2007 trade request serves as the more accurate intermission point, but his 2006 jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24 works well enough. He had a Hall of Fame career in No. 8 then a borderline Hall of Fame career in No. 24. Think Tracy Mcgrady’s career followed by Bernard King’s – but it was just Kobe followed by Kobe and with far more postseason success.

Here are the win-share leaders with a single franchise during Kobe’s career:

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So much about Kobe is excessive – his accolades, his shot selection, his reputation as clutch. He had an all-time great career, but the myth outpaces reality.

Yet, Kobe becoming the first player with two numbers retired by the same team – which the Lakers will do at halftime tonight – feels incredibly appropriate. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, Kobe had time to succeed then succeed again in an extravagant way only he could manage.

He was dedicated and disciplined, flashy and fastidious, No. 8 and No. 24

Warriors will watch Kobe Bryant’s numbers get retired, Lakers might not

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The Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 at halftime of their game against Warriors tonight.

The road team won’t miss it. The home team might.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Lakers coach Luke Walton, via Harrison Faigen of Lakers Nation:

“I hadn’t thought much about [watching the ceremony],” Walton said Sunday. “We’re still deciding how we’ll approach halftime.

“Our first priority is still the job that we have. I’m sure there’s going to be some halftime adjustments we need to make against the Warriors. We’re toying with a couple different ideas to let guys at least see part of it.”

Kerr seems like a pretty cool guy, someone who understands what truly matters. This will be a historic moment, and that can take priority over watching video for one night in a long season.

But he also has the luxury of coaching an all-time great team. Even with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston injured, the Warriors are favored.

Walton has a young team that needs every break it can get. But he too should embrace the significance of the ceremony. His franchise is.

After reportedly initially being scheduled for pregame, the ceremony will occur at halftime. The NBA implemented a hard 15-minute limit on halftimes this season. Any team not ready will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty. So, lengthy speeches tonight could hinder the current team on the court. And that’s well worth the cost of doing business.

In the same regard, current Lakers watching Kobe’s ceremony would gain pride in being a Laker. There’s real value in that, probably more than in going over adjustments for a December game during a season very likely to end outside the playoffs regardless.

George Hill nails half-court buzzer-beater with less than a second to shoot (video)

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I bet this made George Hill happier.

The Kings still losing to the Raptors, 108-93, probably didn’t, though.

Phil Jackson to miss Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement Monday

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For one last night, Staples Center will belong to Kobe Bryant on Monday.

Sure, the Warriors are in town to take on the Lakers, but Monday night the Lakers are retiring Kobe Bryant’s numbers — both 8 and 24 — in a halftime ceremony. It’s been the hottest ticket in Los Angeles, with celebrities, luminaries, and regular Lakers fans shelling out a lot of cash to see the Laker legend be honored.

Except, Phil Jackson will not be there, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Jackson has been in touch with Bryant in advance of the ceremony to congratulate him, sources said. But he was unable to travel from his Montana home for the ceremony in Los Angeles.

No reason was given (nor does one need to be made public, that’s between Kobe and Jackson).

Jackson coached Kobe to all five of his NBA titles, and while their relationship had its ups and downs — remember Jackson called out Kobe as almost uncoachable in one of his books — they remain close.