Trading Questions on the Grizzlies

With the Hornets locked in combat with the Grizzlies for the tail end of the playoff picture, I thought it would be nice to get more insight into the Grizzlies by hammering Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue with questions about Gay, Randolph, Gasol, Conley, and it strays to what happened with Allen Iverson to start the season.  Good stuff, enjoy:

Hornets247: Rudy Gay has always been a remarkable athelete, but he’s always seemed too willing to take long jumpers rather than drive, and too disinterested in defense to be a franchise player.  Is that an inaccurate observation this year?  Has his game changed this season?

3 Shades of Blue: Rudy’s body, mental outlook and yes his overall game has changed this season. Rudy spent the summer working out in Las Vegas with the US Olympic team and put on about 20 pounds of muscle, improved his ball handling skills and the importance of playing at least some defense. Coach Hollins followed that summer work with the guiding hand to slow Rudy down on offense and let the game come to him instead of trying to force things. That is why Rudy is scoring at his highest rate while also setting career highs in FG%, 3 pt%, rebounds and assists.

Of course we can’t discount that this summer Rudy is a restricted free agent also. It isn’t out of the ordinary for players to have career years when new contracts are on the line. Has Rudy made the next step or is he simply trying harder for a new contract? That question won’t be answered until next year but for now Memphis fans are just happy to see him playing this way.

Hornets247: The Grizzlies started out 1-8.  What changed?

3 Shades of Blue:Allen Iverson is the answer. KInd of funny double entendre but it’s true. Allen Iverson’s presence was supposed to bring leadership and scoring off the bench. What he actually brought to the team was an out of shape old man who expected the world to be laid at his feet. When it wasn’t he balked and acted like a child. Not exactly the form of leadership the Grizzlies had envisioned when they signed him this past summer.

The funny thing is that while he was here the team was on pins and needles. After he was finally banished the team had a players only meeting and while I can’t claim to know exactly what was said I can say that Rudy and Zach Randolph took the lead and the message was we are in this together. We can go down like Allen said or we can bind together and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Iverson was officially released from the team and they have become the 3rd best team in the NBA since that point.

Now I don’t want to sound bitter about Iverson’s time here in Memphis. In many ways he is the reason the team grew up and became the team the talent suggested they could become. Instead of playing 5 different games of individual ball they are passing, setting picks and doing the things that great teams do. I can honestly say if Iverson hadn’t been here I doubt this would have happened. Iverson was the spark the team needed to grow up.

Hornets247: If you were told you had to pick between Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, which would you keep?

3 Shades of Blue:Today I would say Zach Randolph. He’s in the prime of his career at 28 yrs old and playing his best basketball. However I suspect your real question involves next summer and the theory that the Grizzlies owner Mike Heisley won’t open his pocketbook up to resign both players.

I would like to say that I’ve talked with Mike and he has made it clear to me that he will do what is necessary to keep the Grizzlies front line, one of the best in the league, together. The idea that it has to be Rudy and Marc or Rudy and Zach but not all three simply isn’t the way the team is thinking right now. Heck, some people don’t even expect Heisley to re-sign Rudy this summer and Heisley has clearly stated that it is his first priority to sign him this summer. Heisley is willing to pay for a winning franchise just not for a losing one and when he traded Gasol for cap space the team was already the worst in the league. It was only 5 years ago the Grizzlies had one of the highest payrolls in the league after all.

Now if push comes to shove and the team simply can’t be kept together financially, that happens from time to time and with Mike Conley and O J Mayo also up for extensions it can’t be ruled out completely, then I hope the franchise thinks long term over the short run. Next summer Randolph will be turning 30 years old. At 6-9 with a lot of miles on his body that hasn’t always been in the best of shape you have to wonder seriously how long he can continue to perform at this level. Randolph has been healthy for the first 44 games this season but his history is to suffer injuries and the risk of injury makes signing him to a long term deal a risky proposition at best. If he demands top dollar he could price himself out of the market. Having the ability to offer more money for a longer time isn’t exactly an advantage in Z-Bo’s situation.

Gasol on the other hand is a bigger crowd favorite, will be 24 next summer and is entering the prime of his career not leaving it. He will likely never be a 20/10 player but he gives you the flexibility to play either Center or Power Forward with his reduced weight and can become a consistent double-double player. HIs upside is probably a Chris Kaman or Brad Miller type of player but with 6-8 years of quality play ahead of him he is simply the better risk for a long term deal.

Hornets247: Is Conley a starting point guard?

3 Shades of Blue: Yes. He starts for the Grizzlies.

Now if you are asking if he’s an elite point guard I have to say no. He’s only played 170 or so games in his 2+ seasons and was two years younger than Chris Paul when he came into the league so his start has been slow. Injuries, a poor outside shot and an immature physical development has slowed his progress in the NBA. Honestly he should have stayed in college one more year to develop before coming to the NBA but he was picked fourth so can you really blame him for not taking the risk of injury and turning pro early?

Now he is finally growing into his body. He’s put on muscle that has allowed him to take more bumps and still get to the hole or hold his position better than in previous years. He’s been working hard on his outside shot and is now leading the league in 3 pt shooting in January and making over 40% of his attempts for the season. His assist number looks weak but that has as much to do with playing on a team that doesn’t have any jump shooters per se as anything else. Rudy and O J both prefer to dribble before shooting and that kills assist numbers. Zach isn’t exactly a high flyer (I believe he’s dunked the ball three times this season) and neither is Marc Gasol. That doesn’t mean Mike isn’t running the team well, controlling the tempo and doing the things you want from a point guard. He may never be an all-star but on a team with four potential all-stars for the next two years that type of production isn’t needed. Mike runs the team well enough and has the trust of his teammates. That for now is enough.

I expect Conley, who’s only 22 now after all, to continue to develop his game, improve his defense and better utilize his speed on defense. He can still improve and has shown the willingness to work on his weaknesses.

Hornets247: Jamaal Tinsley was a solid point guard(when healthy) in Indiana.  Has his long layoff from basketball really eroded his skills, or is he still a solid contributor?

3 Shades of Blue: Well some people would say that Tinsley was never a solid contributor. After all Indiana preferred to just have him stay away from the team rather than have him on the bench.

If you are asking if he can still play at the level he played at earlier in his career then the answer is no. He’s 30 yrs old, has been away from the game for 18 months and missed the entire training camp. He’s trying to play himself back into game shape while running around the country playing games every other night. His play has been poor at times and adequate at others. Rarely have we seen even glimpses of the player who started for years in the NBA.

Bu that isn’t what the Grizzlies brought him to the team for anyway. With Iverson’s departure the team had hardly any experience at the point guard position. Mike Conley was inexperienced and Marcus Williams had hardly played at all in his NBA career. Tinsley has brought the voice of experience to the point guards and been a great teacher helping Conley and Williams both see the game through the eyes of a veteran. Conley’s play was horrible early in the season with AI’s mental games having a noticeable effect on his play. Tinsley has calmed down Conley and got him focusing on what he does and not what he isn’t. That alone has justified his position on the team.

You also have to factor in the Grizzlies bench when evaluating Tinsley. The bench has four players making somewhat regular appearances. Three of them are rookies and then there is Tinsley. Marcus Williams is likely the better pure point guard right now but Tinsley brings a calm and confidence to the bench that Marcus simply can’t produce. The Grizzlies bench is a disaster but it would be much worse if not for Tinsley’s work.

Important game tonight against the Grizzlies with Paul questionable for the game.  Maybe Collison can revive the magic from earlier in the season.

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