A TEAM that ranked29th in offense signs a career 27.1-points-per-game scorer on the cheap in theoff-season. Good move, right? A team without a low-post presence picks up a20-point, 10-rebound power forward for a spare part. Makes sense, yes? Well,no. Because the team in question had been trying to trim payroll and patientlyrebuild with youth, and both acquisitions are past-their-prime veterans betterknown for putting up numbers than for helping teammates boost theirs.
Still, theGrizzlies are counting on Allen Iverson to add punch to a backcourt rotationthat includes Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo, and on Zach Randolph to complementdefensive-minded centers Marc Gasol and Hasheem Thabeet, the No. 2 pick fromUConn. Memphis G.M. Chris Wallace hopes that Iverson (who signed a one-year,$3.1 million deal) and Randolph (who has two years and $33.3 million left onhis contract) will speed his team's development merely by keeping it incontention longer. "Players just don't grow with minutes," saysWallace. "There has to be some meaning to these games or else the regularseason starts to look like summer league."
The risk is thatMemphis still won't have enough talent to make the playoffs and that theme-first approach of Iverson and Randolph will not only disrupt the locker roombut also distract the core players, who appear to be on the right track. Mayoimproved his ballhandling in the off-season and can handle both guard spots,Gasol came to camp 25 pounds lighter, and wingman Rudy Gay is looking to buildon an impressive performance at this summer's USA Basketball camp.
Mayo supports themoves, believing that Iverson and Randolph (acquired from the Clippers forQuentin Richardson) have raised the team's basketball IQ. "We have enoughfirepower to get to the postseason," Mayo says. "We don't have time forany nonsense."
PROJECTED STARTINGFIVE with 2008--09 statistics
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
KEY BENCH PLAYERS:G Allen Iverson, 17.5 PPG; C Hasheem Thabeet (R), 4.22 BPG; F Sam Young (R),19.2 PPG; F Darrell Arthur, 4.6 RPG • New acquisition • (R) Rookie, collegestats
COACH: LionelHollins (second season with Grizzlies) • 2008--09 RECORD: 24--58 (fifth inSouthwest)
POINTS SCORED:93.9 (29th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 99.3 (14th in NBA)
Assists per gamefor Mike Conley after Lionel Hollins took over as coach on Jan. 25, ranking him19th in the NBA during that span. Before then Conley had averaged 3.0 assistsand was ranked 73rd.
ENEMY LINES | ARIVAL SCOUT ON THE GRIZZLIES
Allen Iverson willnot be a good influence on their young players for three reasons—his off-courtdemeanor, his work habits and his need to have the ball in his hands.... O.J.Mayo has an Iverson mentality: If you don't score once or twice when I pass youthe ball, then I'm going to keep it because I know I can score.... ZachRandolph hasn't been consistent since he was in Portland and Rasheed Wallacewas there, staying on his butt. He's extremely talented, but when he's screwingup, what do you tell your young guys? ... Their decision to draft HasheemThabeet with the No. 2 pick will haunt them. His biggest problems are onoffense, but I don't think he has the anticipation that he needs defensively.He gets compared with Dikembe Mutombo, but Thabeet looks more like ManuteBol—you bring the shot to him and he'll block it, but he won't go somewhere toblock it.... I think Rudy Gay can be an All-Star if he gets on an establishedteam. Send him to the Rockets for Tracy McGrady and—even though he's not asgood as Tracy—they'd win just as many games.... I wasn't sold on Mike Conleyhis rookie year, but he improved his three-point shot, and he's so fast withthe ball.
ZACH RANDOLPH Acquiring the big-time scorer was a huge gamble.