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Know Thy Enemy: Memphis Grizzlies

September 20, 2006 | 11:49 am

Memphis Grizzlies: 49-33, 5th in the Western Conference
Big Gains:
Drafted Alexander Johnson and Kyle Lowry, traded for the rights to Rudy Gay along with Stromile Swift, resigned Chucky Atkins.
Big Losses: Shane Battier, Bobby Jackson, Lorenzen Wright

By now, those of you who have followed the blog know I'm a big fan of Shane Battier.  While I understand the logic behind Jerry West's decision to move the former Dukie to Houston- Rudy Gay has enormous potential, moving Battier helps open up some serious cap space heading into next summer, and the Grizz needed to get younger at key positions- in the short run it will not make the Grizzlies a better team.  Nor, really, does importing Stromile Swift for a second go-round in Elvistown.  He'll replace Lorenzen Wright, at least in roster slotting terms.  Frankly, I get those two confused all the time.  Lanky dudes who have never really fulfilled their potential.  It's an easy mistake to make.  But with the young talent they added in Gay, Kyle Lowry, and Alexander Johnson (who, for what it's worth, looked like a seriously bad man in SPL play) to go with Mike Miller, Eddie Jones, and Damon Stoudamire, losing Battier might be something Memphis could overcome.

After all, they've always got Pau Gasol. 

Oops.  What's that they say about the best laid plans of mice and men?

No, Gasol is not out for the year, but the four months he'll be on the shelf after breaking his foot playing for Spain at the World Championships will be more than enough to knock the Grizzlies down a peg or two (or three) in the West.  After all, most good teams suffer when they lose their best player.  When that player leads the team in scoring (20.4 ppg), rebounding (8.9), blocks (1.4), field goal percentage (among those who played legit minutes, 50.3%), mountain man beards (#1 in folicle density) and is second in assists at 4.6 a game (behind Stoudamire's 4.7), it means the Grizz are set up to suffer more than most.  Not that he was a scorer, but this is just the sort of storm that a guy like Battier could help a team weather by picking up the slack in other areas.  Oh well.  By the time Gasol comes back and is at full strength, say Decemberish or perhaps into January, there's a good chance Memphis will have some serious ground to make up, and an even better chance that the fifth seed they held last year will be out of reach. 

The silver lining?  Gasol's injury will undoubtedly give more PT to Mike Fratello's kiddie corps.  Lowry and Gay are #1s this year.  Johnson could see time, as could Lawrence Roberts and Hakim Warrick.  The early playing time could hasten their development and make them stronger once Gasol returns.  And it won't hurt for a team that has been seen by many as Gasol and a cast of invisible parts to stand up and distinguish themselves.  But that's just a silver lining.  Which means clouds, which likely means rain, and considering the top to bottom strength of the Western Conference, rain is bad. 

Even with Gasol on the shelf for the first months of the season, Memphis still has enough talent to compete for a playoff spot.  Miller, Jones, and Stoudamire, along with some talented young players should keep them afloat.  Unfortunately, they'll need a strong inside performance from Swift, who is not known around the league as a glass eater.  Quick development from their trio of rookies (okay, just one, two if they want to be greedy) will help, but you can never count on that in the NBA.  Put all that together,and a team that likely would have won 50+ last year had it not been for the tremendous incentive both Memphis and the Clippers had to lose near the end of the season, is going the wrong way in a tough Western Conference.

FINAL VERDICT: The Grizz were probably a game or two weaker after the Battier deal.  Losing Gasol for a couple months will make it nearly impossible for them to equal their win total from last year.  By the end of the season, they could be a pretty good team, but they won't be one with a better record than the Lakers.