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At this time of year many families watch the Christmas classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’

It tells the tale of how one man touches the lives of so many others. A man who sees his life a failure is given the opportunity to see the world if he had never lived. He despises the changes he sees and ends up begging to go back to his troubles only to find that the impact he had on his friends is so great that they come to his aid in his time of need. It’s a really touching story that makes you thankful for what you have in your life.

In the spirit of the season, I decided to take a “Wonderful Life” view of an event many people have wanted to change in the Grizzlies past.  Would it have been better or worse if the 2009 Hasheem Thabeet draft pick had never been made and the Grizzlies chose Tyreke Evans instead?

Why now?  Well on Wednesday the Grizzlies released Ish Smith who was acquired from Houston along with Shane Battier for Hasheem Thabeet and DeMarre Carroll, the 26th pick of the Grizzlies in that draft. Shane left the Grizzlies to sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat earlier this month. While the Grizzlies potentially owe Houston their draft pick this summer as well assuming the team isn’t in the lottery, the effect on the team is pretty clear now. It seemed timely in that respect with the holidays and all.

So what could the Grizzlies look like today if they had chosen one of the leading candidates with the 2nd pick if the Angel 2nd class Clarence had come down and allowed Michael Heisley to make a different decision and would it end up better for the team?  Let’s pretend I have my wings and take a look at what the Grizzlies could have looked like if Thabeet had never been drafted.

June 25th, 2009

David Stern approaches the stand and announces that the Memphis Grizzlies with the 2nd pick in the 2009 draft take Tyreke Evans from the University of Memphis.

The crowd cheers at Madison Square Garden, the FedEx Forum erupts with joy and for the first time since the team came to town everyone is suddenly a Grizz Fan. Not surprising since the Grizzlies have a scoring phenom at SG and now a hometown hero to pass him the ball.

A few days later the L A Clippers, content with giving the power forward job to Blake Griffin trade Zach Randolph, the talented but troubled Power Forward to the Eastern Conference. Heisley was rumored to be interested in acquiring Z-Bo but was too scared to leave the team with only Marc Gasol in the interior. Besides Z-Bo was a trouble maker and not a good defender.

I know what you are thinking. Heisley would have made the deal anyway. Well not in my version of Its a Wonderful Life because Heisley wanted defense first and, without Thabeet, Heisley wouldn’t take the risk. 

What’s worse it that Marc Gasol, not being concerned about the Grizzlies drafting a center in the draft, comes back in even worse shape than his rookie year. The plan was to have 2nd year forward Darrell Arthur at the 4 spot but he tears a muscle in his shoulder and lost for most of the season. That forces the Grizzlies to move Darko to power forward where his poor shot selection and frequent nagging injuries renders the teams interior worthless.

Mike Conley struggles with his confidence with a dominant guard behind him on the depth chart and never develops into a leader on the team. Mayo and Evans have issues on who is running the team. Rudy Gay continues his individual play knowing he would never get a second chance to shoot if he passes the ball.

Without a true power forward on the roster, the Grizzlies reach for Reggie Evans, a defensive minded, overpaid and undersized PF. However they have to sacrifice a future 1st round pick and promising 2nd year player Sam Young to acquire him. He fills a gap but the lack of scoring ability drags the team down and another lottery season faces the team. Heisley fills out the roster with more low cost, low talent players as he struggles to figure out how to get out of this mess he’s created.

The following year in the draft the Grizzlies pass on Xavier Henry for Patrick Patterson (3 Shades of Blue actually wanted Ed Davis but learned later that it was Patterson not Davis the team was deciding on with Henry so we’ll go with the reality in this instance). Arthur returns from his shoulder injury and combined with Patterson dramatically improves the teams play at the four but two very inexperienced PFs in the Southwest division isn’t enough. Duncan, Scola, West and especially Dirk feast on the team and the Grizzlies remain in last place in the division and head back to the lottery. Rumors begin to surface that the backcourt of Mayo, Evans and Conley is having trouble getting on the same page.

Rudy Gay signs the qualifying offer with the Grizzlies not wanting to risk the team matching a contract and being stuck on the team even longer. Instead of rounding out his game with better defensive effort and passing, Gay becomes completely one-dimensional and greedy. He routinely takes ill advised shots in a not so veiled attempt to pad his stats enough to get a decent contract from another team…any team just to get out of Memphis and away from the losing.

Lionel Hollins is not retained after the season since he clearly had lost control and respect of the team. Wallace is also let go since he couldn’t organize a plan to stop the losing.

The team decides the conflict in the backcourt become such a problem that someone else has to go. That someone ends up being Mayo who hasn’t proven to be either quick enough to get to the paint as a PG or tall enough to defend on the perimeter against SGs. Because other teams know the Grizzlies have to make a move to avoid civil war, and since Mayo is on his rookie contract, the best the Grizzlies are able to get at the trade deadline is a journeyman with an expiring contract.

The losing means no fans come out to the games. With attendance dismal, there is no motivation on the team. The Grizzlies continue to be a laughing stock around the league  and when David Stern mentions contraction around the league it is clearly seen as a statement directed at the Grizzlies.

If this was a movie this would be the climactic moment when we as fans tell Clarence to take us back, to put things back the way they were. Of course none of this actually came to pass. The Grizzlies did draft Thabeet, they did trade for Z-Bo, Conley did mature, Marc Gasol did improve his conditioning, Rudy Gay did round out his game and mature as both a player and a leader and the team finally started winning games, bringing the fans back and the wonderful playoff run of last season did occur. All thanks to Heisley deciding to draft Thabeet.

So you see, it really was a wonderful draft after all.

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7 Responses to It Was a Wonderful Draft

  1. GHallNo Gravatar says:

    Why everything happens for a reason. Nice, interesting, entertaining read.

  2. Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

    Chip:

    You left out a paragraph that actually would have made all of this shorter (and probably more tragic):

    “In September 2009, Heisley gives his wife an anniversary gift: He signs former league MVP Allen Iverson to a one year deal. Coach Hollins, eager to have Evans’ size for defense in the backcourt, starts the rookie ahead of Iverson. Iverson arrives at FedEx Forum one day with automatic weapon and screams “What are we TALKING ABOUT??? PRACTISSSS!!!!” Then Iverson opens fire. Fortunately, Iverson was late (as usual) and the team had already left for a road trip.”

    Okay, went a little overboard there. And joking about Iverson, whom despite his troubled past, I’m sure is a nice guy. But I just had to acknowledge the Iverson chapter.

  3. ChipNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t know if I forgot that chapter honestly, assumed with Tyrekeon board we wouldn’t have signed him or just blotted out that tragic two weeks in Grizzlies history.

  4. Luthor RackleyNo Gravatar says:

    Interesting – but raises a question: The draft pick we gave up to get Shane – it was announced as a “future first”. As we traded our “Brewer” 2011 first rounder, wouldn’t the league rules against trading consecutive first rounders be in effect, making that traded to Houston fall in 2013? Presuming of course we won’t be dealing with lottery picks for a few years. Thoughts?

  5. KD LegendNo Gravatar says:

    Wouldn’t you say Rudy does all that anyway now? Anyhow I know I’m critical of Rudy, but I know what I see out there. He has all the potential in the world but does take bad shots routinely. I just wonder if he learned anything when he was hurt and saw how the Grizz played together. About the topic, I still think the Grizz would of been better of with Stephen Curry in that draft.

    • Andy WatersNo Gravatar says:

      Not only did Rudy match his 80-game 2009-10 campaign’s assist total (153) in the 54 games he played last season (a 1.9 to 2.8 per game improvement), but he also improved his field goal percentage from 46.6% to 47.1% while averaging the same number of attempts per game (16.1), which is nearly a shot per game less than he averaged his sophomore year (16.7).

  6. presidentjoeNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t think there is anyway possible to put a positive spin on that draft. The Thabeet pick will go down in history as one of the dumbest of all time. It wasn’t like it was a surprise. The guy had giant bust written all over him and it was a classic case of picking need over quality. It was amazing that Wallace was able to put the pieces together after that disaster.

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