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Original Issue

14 Memphis Grizzlies New digs, a flashy point guard and two talented rookies still won't end the woes of this success-starved franchise

His new hometown of Memphis appears to have inspired heretofore
inconceivable changes in NBA bad boy Jason Williams. After being
sent to the Grizzlies (along with Nick Anderson) for Mike Bibby
(and Brent Price) in a draft-day swap of point guards, the former
King arrived in the resting place of the King and proceeded to:
buy a house; become a first-time father (he had a son, Jaxon,
with his girlfriend in September); grow out his scalp stubble
into respectable short brown fuzz; and--break out the Dockers and
the Amstel Light!--take up golf, often hitting the links with team
owner Michael Heisley.

Driving this conversion from White Chocolate to white bread is
Williams's giddiness at having left Sacramento, where his
penchant for wild passes and matador defense endeared him to fans
but not to coach Rick Adelman, who preferred the steadier Bobby
Jackson late in games. In Memphis, country-club JDub will be
given the reins to the offense, free to pull up for crazy threes
and generally incite on-court chaos. Whether he is the Grizzlies'
long-term answer at playmaker is unclear--he signed a six-year
contract extension last week--but he should at least sell tickets
and make games interesting. "I'll miss the guys in Sacramento,
but I was ready to move on," says Williams, 25. "It was time for
a new start."

The same could be said of the Grizzlies. During six seasons in
Vancouver they set an NBA standard for awfulness by becoming the
fastest franchise to amass 300 losses. (It took a mere 377
games.) Last spring Heisley U-Hauled the operation to Memphis,
where a $250 million arena and a name change are expected by
2004. The Grizzlies also tore apart their roster and
rebuilt--again--by dealing their two best players, Bibby and
forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. In return they got Williams, No. 3
draft pick Pau Gasol and three role players in swingman Anderson,
point guard Brevin Knight and center Lorenzen Wright.

By "going young," as general manager Billy Knight curiously
describes Memphis's trade strategy--Abdur-Rahim and Bibby are all
of 24 and 23, respectively--the Grizzlies have ensured at least a
few more years of being blown out regularly. Indeed, the only
drama at the 20,142-seat Pyramid this season may well be which of
its tenants, the University of Memphis or the Grizzlies, will
have more victories. (The Tigers won 21 last year and the Grizz a
franchise-record 23, so things don't look good for the latter.)

There's hope, though. Gasol, a 7-foot forward from Barcelona, may
well turn into the franchise player the Grizzlies need. Memphis's
other prized rookie, Duke forward and all-around Human of the
Year Shane Battier, played well in the L.A. summer league and is
a natural leader; he was barking out defensive positioning to his
veteran teammates on the first day of training camp.

On offense, coach Sidney Lowe plans to take advantage of the
Grizzlies' young legs by having Williams push the ball, something
that bodes well for the team's main question mark, 21-year-old
forward Stromile Swift, the second pick in the 2000 draft. Unless
he was finishing on the break, the almost freakishly athletic
Swift looked confused as a rookie. After spending the summer
playing in two leagues, training with offensive specialist Kiki
Vandeweghe in Los Angeles and attending Pete Newell's big man
camp in Hawaii, he's in excellent shape and will get every
opportunity to step into Abdur-Rahim's old starting spot. "He had
a good summer," says Billy Knight. "Now he needs to bring it on
the court every night."

To be competitive, Memphis also needs Williams to bring it every
night--and not heave it into the third row. Even if he reverts to
his old ways and the losses start piling up, the Grizzlies can
still fall back on one surefire crowd-pleaser. Can anyone say
Elvis Bobble-head Night?


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO MAKEOVER The new-look Williams has even taken up golf, but for the Grizzlies a last- place finish will again be par for the course.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Grizzlies

"You don't want to give young and eager teams like the Grizzlies
a chance to stay in the game, particularly on their floor. Jump
on them, try to break them right away.... They'll have trouble
scoring in the half-court because Jason Williams gets panicky as
the shot clock goes down. He was a good pickup in terms of
selling tickets and bringing excitement, but in the long run
he's not going to get it done. It's a telltale sign when your
starting point guard's not on the floor for most of the fourth
quarter, which is what happened to Williams in Sacramento.
Brevin Knight will end up helping these guys a lot.... Several
years ago Pau Gasol was a guy who stood around and launched
shots from the outside, but the veterans he played with in
Barcelona wouldn't let him be a baby and toughened him up. He's
got great skills, and he'll be a real factor for them. Their
other big European rookie, Antonis Fotsis, has skills but he's
not ready.... The key guy is Michael Dickerson--he's just a
solid, solid player. He's not really a runner, but if he gets a
step on you, he can finish. And the Grizzlies don't need another
runner; they need a guy like Dickerson who can defend and, at
the other end, come off screens and shoot it.... You team him up
with Shane Battier and you've got the start of something real
nice. Battier's a big guy who can step out and make shots--Matt
Harpring with more offense. Then you add in that he's a solid
person, like Dickerson. But Memphis is still a few years away,
down there at the bottom with the Nuggets."

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 23-59 (seventh in Midwest)
Coach: Sidney Lowe (second season with Grizzlies)

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Shane Battier (R) 19.9 ppg 7.3 rpg 2.26 bpg 2.10 spg 47.1 FG%
PF Stromile Swift 4.9 ppg 3.6 rpg 1.03 bpg 0.78 spg 45.1 FG%
C Lorenzen Wright 12.4 ppg 7.5 rpg 0.89 bpg 0.59 spg 44.8 FG%
SG Michael Dickerson 16.3 ppg 3.3 apg 3.3 rpg 0.89 spg 41.7 FG%
PG Jason Williams[1] 9.4 ppg 5.4 apg 1.22 spg 40.7 FG% 31.5 3FG%

PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

F Pau Gasol (r) 10.9 ppg 5.2 rpg 0.8 apg 54.9 FG% 34.9 3FG%
G Brevin Knight 6.3 ppg 5.9 apg 3.2 rpg 1.91 spg 37.5 FG%
C Bryant Reeves 8.3 ppg 6.0 rpg 0.72 bpg 0.57 spg 46.0 FG%
F Grant Long 6.0 ppg 4.2 rpg 1.3 apg 1.09 spg 43.9 FG%
G-F Nick Anderson 1.8 ppg 1.2 rpg 0.6 apg 24.6 FG% 25.6 3FG%

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
(r) Rookie (statistics from Spanish league)

"With Dickerson and Battier they have the start of something
real nice."