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.

Bulls’ Kris Dunn shoves Russell Westbrook, scuffle breaks out (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook has a way of getting under an opponent’s skin.

Monday night it was the Bulls’ Kris Dunn‘s turn.

While moving over in position on the strong side, Westbrook and Dunn made contact, and after the whistle blew for a foul (with the ball handler), Westbrook made a grand gesture of pushing Dunn off him. Dunn responded with an outsized shove. And then it was on.

There’s more stuff to break down here than the Zapruder film.

• Jeremi Grant of the Thunder came in and tried to go at Dunn a little, in front of Westbrook (protect the star).

Bobby Portis tried to slide Grant out of the way, but…

Robin Lopez came in and went at Grant getting in his face, so Grant basically throws Lopez into the first row.

• Which just made Lopez even madder, leading to a meme-worthy angry face.

• Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen gets Grant in a headlock and pulls him out of the situation.

Steven Adams calmly makes sure Portis is out of the picture, then walks back over to Lopez and then Adams and Lopez get separated.

• In the end, the officials handed out for technicals: Westbrook, Dunn, Grant, and Lopez.

A few minutes later, Lopez blocked a Grant shot, decided to taunt him, and that got Lopez a second technical and he was tossed (Lopez is a veteran, he has to know the officials are going to call everything tight at that point). Watch Adams pat Lopez on the back as the Bulls’ big man makes the walk to the locker room.

James Harden scores 47, including sinking dagger into Jazz (VIDEO)

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Utah and Houston met in a battle of the disappointing early season Western teams — predicted by most to finish 2/3 in the West, they came into the night 10th and 13th — and in the tight West these kinds of games matter.

So James Harden turned it up a notch.

The reigning MVP looked every bit that guys scoring 47 points and adding six rebounds, five assists, and five steals in what was a Houston win, 102-97. It was Harden that sank the dagger into Utah.

That’s four wins in a row for Houston as they try to climb out of the hole they dug themselves early this season.

Taj Gibson helps defend drive with one shoe on, one shoe in his hand (VIDEO)

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In the first quarter Monday night, Timberwolves veteran Taj Gibson was working in the post on the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica, Gibson got the bucket but lost his shoe.

He picked it up, ran to the other end with one shoe in hand, and then defended a Bjelica drive well enough that Karl-Anthony Towns would come over and get the block on the play.

Somehow, Tom Thibodeau is going to get credit for this new defensive style.

Thunder reportedly pick up final option year on coach Billy Donovan’s contract

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At 18-10 to start the season, the Thunder went into Monday night’s action in third place in the tight Western Conference, pulled there by the best defense in the NBA and enough offense from Russell Westbrook and Paul Gorge to get by.

That the team is doing this with a thin roster, and by putting some role players in strong positions to succeed, and by playing so cohesively has guaranteed coach Billy Donovan one more year as coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Donovan has done well to help the Thunder find a new, winning identity after Kevin Durant left a few years back.

Next season (2019-20) will be the final one on Donovan’s contract. Teams often extend a coach before that, feeling that a “lame duck” coach may have trouble getting some players to fall in line (or the team will struggle recruit free agents, because a good player with options doesn’t want to walk into uncertainty). It will be interesting to see how the Thunder handle that.