PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2006-07 statistics
SF RUDY GAY
PF PAU GASOL
KEY BENCHPLAYERS: G Juan Carlos Navarro (R), F Hakim Warrick, F-C Darko Milicic*, G KyleLowry, G Mike Conley Jr. (R) *New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 22-60(15th in West) Points scored: 101.6 (6th in NBA) Points allowed: 106.7 (29th)Coach: Marc Iavaroni (first season with Grizzlies)
On June 2, threedays after being named coach of the Grizzlies, Marc Iavaroni boarded a planefor an urgent business trip. He flew not to a college town to scout a hotshotprospect but to Barcelona to introduce himself to his new team's franchiseplayer, 7-foot Pau Gasol. For three days the two walked the city. They dinedtogether. Gasol laughed as Iavaroni tried to speak Spanish. Iavaroni watched asGasol worked out.
The visit notonly helped the two become acquainted, but it also renewed Gasol's faith in thefranchise. "He has a passion for winning," says Iavaroni, who had beenan assistant with the Cavaliers, Heat and Suns. "And he wants to know thatthe people he's working with share that passion."
Gasol didn't feelthat passion last January, when he privately requested a trade to a contendingteam--just one of many discouraging developments during the season. Gasolmissed the first 22 games with a broken left foot. Promising rookie Kyle Lowryplayed in only 10 games before breaking his left wrist. Coach Mike Fratello wasfired after a 6-24 start, and sale rumors cast doubt on the future of thefranchise in Memphis. The result? An NBA-worst 22-60 record, after threestraight postseason appearances.
Enter Iavaroniand new G.M. Chris Wallace, who replaced Jerry West in June. The Grizzliessigned a big man, free agent Darko Milicic; drafted a point guard, Mike Conleyof Ohio State, at No. 4; and acquired the rights to a combo guard, Juan CarlosNavarro, who also happens to be Gasol's best friend from Spain. Thechanges--particularly bringing in Navarro, which Gasol suggested duringIavaroni's trip to Barcelona--have satisfied Gasol. For now.
"I'm allabout winning," he says. "If we win, I'll be the happiest man on earth.If we don't, then that's when the problems start to come up."
An opposingteam's scout sizes up the Grizzlies
I get theimpression that the Grizzlies want Pau Gasol to be something he isn't. He isnot a tough guy, and he is not a physical presence. He's more of a finesseplayer who will get his share of rebounds because he happens to be tall. . . .Darko Milicic can be a starter for a playoff team. He's a 7-footer who hasgotten wider, and he can catch and shoot. He doesn't play hard enough at bothends, and he's not an instantly aggressive player, but if you run a play forhim, he's tough to stop. If he gets fouled, he can shoot free throws. He's alsoa very good passer. . . . Their biggest weakness last year was at point guard,but with Kyle Lowry healthy and Mike Conley¬†Jr. on board, they have aninexperienced but talented pair they can draw from. I don't see DamonStoudamire as the answer there. Unless he recovers all of his quickness, hewon't be able to go by anybody, so you can play on top of him and take away hisshooting. And a long-armed defender can suffocate Stoudamire's passing and makeit difficult for him to make plays.
Last seasonMemphis opponents padded their defensive stats in games against the Grizzlies,who had their shots blocked (5.48 per game) and the ball stolen (8.3 times pergame) more often than any other team.
STARTING LINEUP: SEAN DAVIS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (3); JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (2)
NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
ON THE RISE Second-year forward Rudy Gay could have a breakout year.
JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (OPPOSITE)
After Gasol grilled his new coach in Barcelona about the future of thefranchise, he came away convinced that he should stay with theGrizzlies.