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.

Greg Monroe says he’s working on shot to help Raptors space floor

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Last season, Greg Monroe took zero three pointers. Not one in Phoenix, nor Milwaukee, and zero in Boston. He’s not a guy known for his shooting range, last season 90 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket.

That’s not what is going to get Monroe more run in Nick Nurse’s unleashed offense in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry can drive into the paint, but they need shooters around them to space the floor and finish the shots they create. Monroe gets it.

 

We’re not going to nickname Monroe “Curry Jr.” but if he can do anything to space the floor it will help. It also would help Monroe’s longevity in the league.

That said, we’ll fully buy in when we see it. This is not some flip-the-switch change to make.

Stephen Curry, want to finish your career a Warrior? “For sure I do. This is home.”

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There’s been an assumption in some quarters of the league that after his current contract — which runs out in 2022, when he is 34 and the Warriors are likely winding down — he might go finish his career, for a couple of seasons, in his hometown of Charlotte. That Stephen will play where his father Dell is a legend.

The younger Curry isn’t thinking that way at all he said on The Bill Simmons Podcast (hat tip Yahoo Sports.)

“I love the Bay Area, man. The only reason I go home now is if my sister’s getting married or to go play the Hornets for that one game, so I haven’t really been back much. I haven’t put my mind there.”

Does Curry want to be a Warrior for his entire career?

“For sure I do. This is home. This is where I want to be, for obvious reasons.”

Will Curry feel that way four years from now? Who knows. That’s several NBA lifetimes away. Curry has said in the past he has thought about playing in his hometown, but obviously he’s not thinking about leaving these Warriors now.

In the same way I liked Kobe Bryant playing his entire career for one team, I would like that for Curry (who was drafted by the Warriors in 2009). He likes that idea, too — going down as the greatest Warrior player of all time. But the lure of home could change all of that in a few years.

Kemba Walker on his future: ‘I just can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey’

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When Mitch Kupchak came in as GM in Charlotte it led to a lot of speculation — and a lot of other GMs calling in to check — were the Hornets going to blow it up, trade Kemba Walker, and start to rebuild?

No. Walker is still there, Tony Parker is now backing him up, and new coach James Borrego is talking about upping the pace, getting the Hornets on the run. Walker, heading into the last year of his contract, has consistently said he does not want to leave Charlotte.

That has never stopped fans from his native New York from begging him to come home and lead the Knicks. Walker, talking to Don Amore of the Hartford Courant, reiterated he does not want to leave Charlotte.

“I’ve been hearing it for years,” Walker said Thursday, after working with youngsters at the National Basketball Players Association summer camp. “Every time I come home, ‘When are you going to come home and play for the Knicks?’ I know it’s a special place, I was a Knicks fan growing up, always rooted for the home team. But I just can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey, only because I’ve only been in one jersey.”

“I just want to do something special in Charlotte,” Walker said. “I’ve been there eight years now, and we haven’t really been consistent as far as winning. I just want to try to establish that culture at some point. That’s what I want to do, I just want to make it a winning organization.”

This season, the Hornets are going to try to win, be a playoff team and a threat once there. In a smaller market (one that took owner Michael Jordan a long time to rebuild after what the previous owner had done there), rebuilding can be hard on the bottom line, and the competitive MJ does not want to go there. He wants to keep Walker and build a steady playoff team, and Kupchak has said the same thing.

However, if that doesn’t happen this year, the calculations for the organization and Walker could be different next summer. Could.

For now, Walker just does not see himself if blue and orange.

Stephen Curry entertained by Draymond Green, Steve Kerr arguments

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Steve Kerr and Draymond Green have had their come-to-Jesus meeting (or, meetings) and have found their way to a place of mutual respect.

That doesn’t mean they don’t still argue. Plenty.

All this amuses Stephen Curry, who talked about it on The Bill Simmons Podcast when asked about his favorite Draymond story. (Hat tip Bleacher Report.)

“Probably the times him and Coach Kerr get into it,” Curry said. “And you’re inside of practice and you don’t know whose side to take. Just like, “I guess they’re both right, but they’re both wrong….

“They argue about a play call or maybe something Coach Kerr has been thinking about for a couple games. … And [Draymond’s] like, ‘Don’t over-coach. We know what we doing.’ And coach is like, ‘Well, I know you know what you’re doing, but let me just help you as I’m supposed to do. That’s what my job is, to point out things that could be important for us to win a championship.’

“But they have a real—the respect level between those two is at an all-time high, but they have their moments and it’s just amazing entertainment to watch in practice.”

It’s a long grind of a season, you’ve got to take your entertainment where you can find it.

Green’s passion is a challenge for Kerr, but he can’t snuff out that flame because Green would not be the same player without it. It’s about managing it, showing Green the coach has his back, and Green maturing (something he said happened more quickly after his 2016 Finals suspension). It’s worked the past two years and led to two more rings.