Monday, January 15, 2007

Returning Thoughts

As you may be able to tell, I've changed a few things up around here. Most notably, you'll find these are new words you're reading. Outstanding though my analysis of the Grizzlies/Knicks opener was (and it was outstanding indeed), I suspect you may want some new words at the top of the blog. Well, I shall fulfill that desire.

First things first. Irrespective of Eli Savoie's, Rob Fischer's, or Ron Tillery's opinions of the Grizzlies' situation, here are my thoughts. This situation has been mishandled from the very beginning. All things being equal, Mike Fratello should never have begun this season as Grizzlies head coach, since the desire to play entertaining, uptempo basketball apparently outweighed everything else. Fratello is incapable of coaching in that style. It is like asking water to be dry. Can't happen. Even when Fratello was in Atlanta and scoring a lot of points, his style wasn't particularly uptempo considering the era. Everyone was runnin' and gunnin' in the 80's, baby!

So a young coach -- your Iavaroni-type -- should have been in place to start the season. But Michael Heisley chose to remain loyal to Fratello because of his regular season success, which is hard to dispute. The Brian Davis fiasco didn't help either, as the team was handcuffed in making moves that would cause any significant addition to payroll (hiring a new coach while paying Fratello's contract would certainly qualify). Thus, Fratello stayed.

As is his wont, Fratello tried to win in his way -- even though Pau Gasol was out of action. It was a dismal failure. Though the team fought hard for the first month or so and dealt with a brutally difficult schedule, the record was terrible. Towards the end of December, the team just quit on Mike Fratello. Just like they had quit on Hubie Brown. Just like they had quit on Sidney Lowe.

And that's where the real problems start.

Though the players cannot be excused for quitting and being less than professional, I think the problem goes beyond the locker room. It goes beyond the coaches office. Think about it: the players have changed, yet three separate coaches have been quit on. What hasn't changed? Upper management. Stability in a franchise flows from the top -- and the top of this franchise is wishy-washy and unsettled. Therefore, the players are too.

The Grizzlies decided to move Director of Player Personnel Tony Barone, Sr. into their interim head coaching slot for the remainder of the season. I have nothing but good things to say about Tony Barone on a personal level. He is a very friendly guy who has an engaging personality and is a lot of fun to be around. All of my interactions with him have been positive.

However, to insinuate, as Geoff Calkins did in a pair of columns and many TV/radio pundits have done in their reports, that he was the obvious choice is lunacy. And make no mistake -- that was the tone. Here's the quote from Geoff's column: "Barone was just the obvious guy for an extraordinarily hard job." So there you go. The obvious guy would have been Lionel Hollins, the lead assistant for many years who, by the way, has actually coached in the NBA before and who has been in every practice since the beginning or training camp. Or, failing that, maybe Mitchell Anderson, who has coached the Grizzlies summer league teams the past couple of years. Or maybe Rick Adelman, who has an extensive resume and an ability to communicate with fractured teams (he won with J-Will AND Chris Webber...together). Any of those would have been an obvious guy.

Barone wasn't. Which isn't bad in and of itself, it's just true. If I were a member of the current coaching staff, I would feel a bit slighted that I was overlooked for this position. Even if it is just to babysit for the rest of the season, it is still a job that could certainly be done by one of them. Maybe they wouldn't have just rolled the ball out to halfcourt and let the players run up and down without discipline, but haven't we seen after this weekend that the undisciplined running approach isn't the magic formula some may have thought? Plus, those coaches have all been in the locker room, on the plane, and in practice all season long -- Barone wasn't. That wasn't his job. He was scouting.

Anyway, that train has left the station. Tony Barone, Sr. is the coach. He made it abundantly clear that he was going to run, run, run 'til the players dropped, and offense was going to be the order of the day in Memphis. On the surface, everything appeared great -- it's uptempo, it's not Fratello, it's run n' gun! Look out! It was like Halloween when you were a kid -- candy, candy, candy! Remember? You ate all that candy and it was so sweet and delicious...if some is good, more is better. So you kept on eating.

Until you got sick.

Right now, the Grizzlies are sick. They had their sugar rush of undisciplined offense, but they're now coming down off that high and it is ugly. Unfortunately, the reality of their new style is that it has to this point involved no defensive effort. Tony Barone knows this and has said as much, going so far as to bench Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay during Friday's game due to lackluster effort. And that's all that I had been saying on the issue from the get go. After the Grizzlies beat the lakers last Tuesday, I said, "If they play defense with that kind of effort, then I have no problem with this new style." They haven't, so I do.

Here's the facts: teams are averaging 117 points per game against the new-look Grizzlies. That's insane. Six of the eight games have been at home. Also, each team the Grizzlies have played under the new regine, with the exception of Minnesota, have been without at least one of their top three guys.

Toronto: missing Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford
Houston: missing Yao Ming
Golden State: missing Jason Richardson and Monta Ellis
Boston: missing Paul Pierce
San Antonio: missing Tony Parker
Los Angeles: missing Lamar Odom
Chicago: missing Ben Wallace and Andres Nocioni

Despite that, the Grizzlies are still allowing mind-numbingly huge amounts of points, partly because the tempo has increased and everyone is scoring more, but mostly because the defensive effort has disappeared. Jump shots are largely uncontested, penetration is commonplace, and interior defense (excluding Alexander Johnson) has been porous. As Eli Savoie pointed out, typically teams choose to play an uptempo style because they have more athletic and more skilled players (like Phoenix). Those teams know that the more possessions there are in a game, the more likely their talent will overcome mistakes. The Grizzlies lack that talent. Maybe Fratello knew what he was doing when he slowed this team down?

I know, I'm a hater and too negative. That's simply not the case. I just refuse to be blinded by offensive flash and sizzle. There's not one team in the NBA that has ever won consistently without playing at least a little defense. And yes, I want this team to win. This year, next year, whenever. It is better for this city, and for me professionally, if this team wins. Losing sucks. Losing is no fun. Watching a performance like the one in Chicago on Saturday night kills a fanbase.

Let's take stock of where we are. Pau Gasol, the Grizzlies' superstar, was quoted on Saturday thusly: "The deal is we don't know what the heck we're doing. A lot of guys are lost. We take too many bad shots. We have to play together." We don't know what the heck we're doing? Pau was clearly angry and frustrated after being benched against Minnesota, and now he's clearly angry, frustrated, and lost. He appears to be disconnected from this team. In addition, Rudy Gay is totally lost on offense and defense, and is making it hard for Barone to play him. His minutes have not exactly skyrocketed under Barone, despite claims that Gay would play until he was exhausted.

Rudy Gay's Average Minutes Per Game:

In Mike Fratello's Last 8 Games: 19.1
In Tony Barone, Sr.'s First 8 Games: 24.0

Quite a jump. Rudy's just not getting it at this point. He's still got a long way to go, and will likely get much better as time progresses, but early indicators aren't too good on Gay. Hakim Warrick is an afterthought and there have to be serious doubts about whether he and Pau can play together. Neither can play much defense and they're pretty redundant -- only Pau is much better. Alexander Johnson looks very good so far -- a steal at the 40th spot -- but you can't keep him and Lawrence Roberts. They're essentially the same guy. Will the team resign Dahntay Jones? Good defender most of the time, but the offense is very suspect.

And that brings me to my point. I'm very sorry to those of you who were turned off by my insistence on observing reality. I know it's not as much fun. I'd rather eat candy all day, too. Candy is more fun than vegetables. But as sweet as it is, you won't grow stronger and better by only eating candy. In fact, you'll get sick.

Do you really think if this continues that people will continue to be mesmerized by the fact that the scoreboard now says 110 under Grizzlies rather than 80? I don't. Not if Memphis is the basketball-savvy town everyone has always said it is. The Grizzlies have still not addressed the key issues that face them -- Jerry West's future (Barone as next year's GM?), the coaching situation, the lack of talented personnel, a disgruntled Pau Gasol, and the franchise being on the market while losing a lot of money. And that's why it's hard for me to be extremely positive about what we've seen so far. I suspect after this past weekend, it's hard for you to be positive, too.

1 comment:

Eli Savoie said...

Welcome back to the blogging world...I have corrected my Barone spelling and I think you summed things up very well.