Is there a player whose profile more closely mirrors his team's than swingman James Posey? Just as the Grizzlies finally gained traction in 2003--04, winning 50 games and reaching the playoffs for the first time in their nine-year history, Posey had a breakthrough season, starting every game and making a strong case that he's their best player. Just as the Grizzlies are firmly ensconced in Memphis--they have a sparkling new 18,400-seat arena, FedEx Forum, to prove it--Posey has proved he's a journeyman no more, having found a comfortable fit on the banks of the Mississippi. "James has a high basketball IQ, comes to play every night and has no problem sacrificing for the team," says team president Jerry West. "He is exactly what we want."
And just as Memphis's success was somewhat overlooked last year, so too was Posey's. He can still walk down Beale Street without fear of being accosted, and to all but the most ardent NBA fans he remains an unknown commodity in spite of credentials that make him an All-Star candidate. "I don't worry about being recognized, and I'm not really flashy," Posey says softly. "I just try to be a professional and do what the coaches want."
West signed the 6'8" Posey to a four-year, $22.5 million offer sheet in August 2003, which Houston declined to match. Expected to be a defensive stalwart, Posey was the team's second-highest scorer (behind Pau Gasol), shot a career-best 47.8% and slid seamlessly between positions. He also relished playing in coach Hubie Brown's 11man rotation, though it limited his play to 29.9 minutes a game. "I would run through a brick wall for coach Brown," says Posey, 27. "He shows confidence in us, and we play together and play hard."
Spoken like a true company man.--L.J.W.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Grizzlies
They're not going to match their 50 wins of last year. Houston, Denver and Utah made big improvements over the summer, while the only major move the Grizzlies made was to sign Brian Cardinal, a superior shooter who can produce at both forward positions while Shane Battier swings between small forward and shooting guard.... Mike Miller has dominant size and an excellent stroke, but--don't ask me why--he doesn't make enough jump shots. Maybe at 24 he simply needs more experience to become reliable. Bonzi Wells should remain Miller's backup; he's a post-up guy who needs to be inside 19 feet to make his jumper.... Lorenzen Wright and Jake Tsakalidis are so limited that Hubie Brown has to give Pau Gasol minutes at center. Against other power forwards Gasol's an All-Star in the making; he has the length of a center with the versatility to face up from 18 feet, take you off the dribble or post up. Even though Gasol's not strong enough to defend at center, playing him there opens time at the four spot for Cardinal, Stromile Swift and Bo Outlaw.... Starter Jason Williams and backup Earl Watson form the best point-guard combo in the league. Williams is as skilled as anybody in the NBA, a guy who sprints full speed and pulls up on a dime to make a three. His turnover-to-assist ratio is among the best, but he still makes mental errors. Watson makes better decisions, but he's just not good enough to start.... The NBA is hard on a young coach, so imagine what it's like for the 71year-old Brown, who had a fainting spell last year. This has to be his final season, and if his health is affecting his coaching--or vice versa--he may leave earlier.
The 2003--04 Grizzlies led the league by winning 94.6% of the games in which they led after three quarters, and by rallying to win 14 times in the fourth quarter.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 50--32 (6th in West)
Points scored: 96.7 (7th in NBA)
Points allowed: 94.3 (15th)
Coach: Hubie Brown
(third season with the Grizzlies)
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
JONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES