Tuesday, May 03, 2005

All Falls Down

To say the Grizzlies season fell apart over the weekend would be a massive understatement. It collapsed, burned, and is charred beyond recognition right now. Let's examine some of the reasons why:

1. A complete lack of communication--this is the reason I have been talking about for the past few days, and I think it's by far the most important one. In any job, be it accounting or postal work, employees need to be able to communicate with their bosses; they need to know what their tasks are, if they are performing up to standard or not, and if the boss is upset with them (and if so, why). This is just basic information, really--any discussion on improving employee/employer relationships will involve communication to a large degree.

It is becoming more and more apparent that the communication between Mike Fratello and his players was nonexistent at the end of the season. In my conversations with several players, they all revealed that they had no idea why Bonzi Wells was out of action for Games 2 and 4, and they had not really been informed about his absence ahead of time. You can understand how this would be unsettling for a team--one of your key guys, someone who is very much needed on the team for his offensive firepower, is all of a sudden out of action for Game 2 (and out of the arena for Game 4), and you don't really know why? There's a reason the bench was so inconsistent throughout the series--they didn't know whether or not their offensive force would be a part of the game.

Think about this: Mike Fratello sits Bonzi Wells for Game 2, offering no real explanation. Fratello then inexplicably holds Bonzi out until the 3rd quarter of Game 3, and when he was asked (by Eli Savoie) about the move, he called it "just a substitution". Of course it was. It was so common to see Bonzi held out until the 3rd quarter. Give me a break. Between Games 3 and 4, Fratello then says that the rift between him and Bonzi is just a myth perpetrated by the media. Then, before Game 4, Bonzi is not only suspended from the game (he was apparently 5-10 minutes late to film study), he is BANNED FROM THE ARENA. Have you ever heard of that happening before? A coach banning his own player from the arena? Whatever credibility Mike Fratello had was shot down after blaming the problem on the media, then having to get security to keep his own player out of the arena just a few hours later. It just made Fratello look terribly deceitful.

The worst part of the whole thing is that the players still haven't gotten a good explanation for what happened. Still. Pau Gasol told me yesterday that he was looking forward to finding out the whole story. You've got to be kidding me.

At the end of the season, the players lost confidence in their coach. They lost confidence in the system, and they were baffled by his substitutions. I'm not sure any of the players had any idea how much they were going to play on a given night, and since players were sometimes removed from a game despite hot shooting or good play, I'm not sure they knew what was expected of them on a night to night basis. It's no way to run a team. The communication problem between Mike Fratello and his players was real, and explains a lot about why this team looked so bad at such a key time.

2. Immaturity--I'm looking at you, Jason. And you, Bonzi. The players are not without blame in this mess, either. Jason and Stromile's "tribute" to Bonzi during the game (wearing Bonzi's armbands) was misguided and immature. It served no purpose other than to deepen the rift between coach and players--surely there are better ways to spend your time before a critical game than thinking of ways to honor a teammate who is barred from the arena. Bonzi's had his share of immature moments, too--he's made it clear that he wasn't thrilled with some of Fratello's decisions earlier in the season. Bonzi knows what to say to the media, and how to say it, but his actions off-mic and off-camera tell the story of his frustration with the coaching staff.

3. Leadership vacuum--This was a team crying out for a locker room leader, a guy to step up and call a players-only meeting to straighten things out. That guy did not exist. No one on this team was capable of being that locker room leader that was needed. Your best player, Pau Gasol, is probably the worst candidate for being a leader. Lorenzen Wright is vocal, but he's not really a leader. Jason and Bonzi are really intelligent, but clearly they are as far away from leadership as night is from day. Shane Battier likes to leade by example. No one else would even be qualified to do it. If this team had that veteran leader, I think a lot of the situations that led to the ugly end of the year could have been handled a long time ago. Perhaps they'll add that presence in the offseason.

Unfortunately for Grizzlies fans, it's probably going to get worse before it gets better. This team has overpaid for good players, and doesn't really have any great ones. Reshaping the roster is going to be difficult, given the financial restrictions this team faces.

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