Given how hislast stint in Memphis ended, Stromile Swift is surprised to be wearing aGrizzlies uniform again. But rather than sulk, as he did at the end of the2004--05 season and into the playoffs because of a lack of playing time, he'sdetermined to make the best of his second tour. "When they decided to bringme back, I had to put all that behind me," says Swift, a forward-center wholast year signed as a free agent with the Rockets after five seasons with thefranchise that drafted him.
Looking for apotential scorer to play alongside star Pau Gasol, Memphis traded Shane Battierto Houston in June for the draft rights to Rudy Gay. Getting Swift back as partof the deal was a bonus. "Stro's ability to protect the goal," sayscoach Mike Fratello, "will make people think twice about whether or notthey want to attack the rim."
Though knownprimarily for his shot blocking, Swift will assume a greater role in theoffense this time, with Gasol sidelined for at least three months (he broke hisleft foot at the world championships). The 6'9", 230-pound Swift is anable, if inconsistent, scorer whose wiry frame, innate athleticism (a tattoo ofJesus holding a basketball drapes his left shoulder and is framed by the wordsa gift from god) and leaping ability serve him best near the basket.
This reliance onSwift is an abrupt reversal from the end of the '04--05 season. Now,ironically, Swift can carve out the leadership position he has long covetedwith the very team he fled. "Hopefully," he says, "I can come inand make a difference and be better than I was when I left."
ProjectedStarting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 49--33(4th in West)
Points scored:92.2 (27th in NBA)
Points allowed:88.5 (1st)
(third seasonwith the Grizzlies)
G CHUCKY ATKINS
F RUDY GAY (R)*
F HAKIM WARRICK
G JAKE TSAKALIDIS
G DAHNTAY JONES
(R) ROOKIE (COLLEGE STATISTICS)
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Grizzlies
They'll miss PauGasol, who's grown more assertive and tougher to defend every year. He'simproved his leadership, he's more effective at drawing double teams andgetting the ball to shooters, and he no longer has as many of those stretcheswhen he lets up on defense or is slow getting back in transition.... With Gasolout, they're going to need more scoring from Jake Tsakalidis, who came onstrong at the end of the season.... Mike Miller became one of the toughestmatchups in the league last year. He can post up a little, and he shot the ballbetter than ever. If you guarded him close, he could drive by you either way,and he also made plays with his passing.... Rudy Gay has All-Star potential,but he can be in and out of games without ever leaving the court. If theycommit to running, it's going to work to his advantage.... There's amisconception that Mike Fratello can't or won't play up-tempo--how can everyoneforget his high-scoring Atlanta teams in the 1980s? A bigger question iswhether his being in the last year of his contract will hurt him.
Pau Gasol led theGrizzlies in points, rebounds and assists in 12 games last season, and he wasone of only three players in the league to finish as his team's leader in allthree categories.