Here’s a question: Why on Earth did the Grizzlies draft Thabeet when they had Gasol?

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Hasheem Thabeet is probably the worst draft pick of the 2000’s. I know you’re going to want to say Kwame Brown. I get that. Bear in mind that Kwame Brown ended up an average center, ten years later. Sure, Thabeet could wind up in a similar boat, it just looks remarkably unlikely. Brown couldn’t put it together. Thabeet has nothing to put together. Also, was Michael Jordan going to take Pau Gasol? Come on. Tyson Chandler took several years to become who he is, nobody saw Tony Parker becoming Tony Parker except R.C. Buford, and Joe Johnson wasn’t a fit either. But Memphis? Memphis could have had Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, really any player except Thabeet.

But that’s not why the pick was so terrible. Let’s say that under the tutelage of the Houston Rockets’ fine developmental structure, Thabeet becomes a solid defensive center capable of making an impact. Let’s say he becomes the very best he can be, which is a B-level Dikembe Mutumbo (and that was his ceiling at draft). It would still be a terrible pick. And if you want the proof, just take a look at what’s gotten the Grizzlies here: Marc Gasol.

Consider this excerpt from an excellent piece from Tom Ziller of SBNation.com today:

Marc Gasol was a treasure, the most Thunder-y player on the roster, and without him, this crazy escapade doesn’t work. He’s the pre-existing make-up call for Thabeet, who was pawned off for a rental of Shane Battier, another Thunderish roleplayer.

via Memphis Grizzlies, The Anti-Thunder, Cheat Death Again – SBNation.com.

The term “pre-existing” there is crucial. It’s not like Gasol suddenly became good. Yes, he lost a significant amount of weight in 2009 which helped him make a leap. But Gasol was every bit the beast in his rookie season. The pattern was there. The potential, production the works. You could make the argument that Gasol’s been more important to the Grizzlies’ playoff run than any other player. Zach Randolph has been magnificent, the best he could be, but you could count on that. You saw that coming. Teams did not expect Gasol to hit them with tough putbacks, crisp passing, and solid mid-range shooting. (All things Thabeet cannot do, by the way.)

And if that was already not only on their roster, but starting for them, why on Earth would they have drafted Gasol? You might theorize that the Grizzlies had plans to play Thabeet and Gasol together, with the younger Gasol at power forward. But then, why would they turn around and trade for Zach Randolph? The short answer is because they’re the Grizzlies.

The point of this post is not to try and bury the Grizzlies as so many, including myself, have done for the past four years when they’re one hot shooting night away from the Western Conference Finals. The Grizzlies have actually done a pretty splendid job in roster creation ever since… the second after they drafted Thabeet. Barring the Ronnie Brewer “let’s trade a first round pick for a player in restricted free agency, then renounce his rights, literally surrendering a draft pick for absolutely nothing” play they made last summer, they’ve put together players that go together, and even managed to turn Thabeet into Shane Battier, without whom their playoff run would have been impossible.

But the point is simply to recognize that Marc Gasol is an incredible young player who they need to re-sign once the CBA is settled. More so than Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, or Zach Randolph, all of whom have received huge extensions, Gasol needs to stay in Memphis. He’s the building block they didn’t know they had. Instead of pouting or flipping out at the selection of Thabeet, he worked harder. He hedges the screen, recovers on the pick and pop, defended Tim Duncan, has a reliable hook shot, can hit the mid-range and managed to find chemistry next to Zach Randolph.

The lesson is: before you go chasing the next big thing, make sure you don’t already have it.

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.