This is the 3rd and final segment of the Chris Wallace interview. In part 1 he discussed the accomplishments of the last season. In Part 2 he discussed in greater detail the players on the team. That discussion continues in part 3 as well as some talk about how the team will take the next step forward this coming year.
3SOB: You keep talking about the team improving when Rudy returns. What do you think Rudy has learned from watching the team in the playoffs, because the team played great without Rudy down the stretch and in the playoffs, that will help him take that next step up in his career? Many people have said the team is better without Rudy.
CW:I don’t believe the team is better without Rudy.
We were 12-3 in the 15 games prior to Rudy’s injury. Yes we did play good basketball in his absence. We did have success in the playoffs without him. But he’s a guy who was coming into his own. He’s been with us for 5 years and we have a lot of sweat equity built up in him. At the time he was injured I bet he was in the top 3 in players that had made game winning or game tying shots. He had three of them. Consider that the Miami Heat have made a single shot in that situation this year and they were favorites to win the NBA championship heading into the finals.
And not just this year but in the past. He’s a guy that can hit a game winning shot. That down the stretch of a playoff game you could easily see him scoring 25-30 points and you can go to him with the shot clock running down. He can make a jumper. He can spot up for a three point shot. He can get to the rim and make a play over the top of people. There aren’t many guys who can do that in the league. His defense was improving. Back to the three point issue he was leading the team in threes at the time of his injury. I don’t buy the fact that we are a better team without him.
Now I’ve not played at this level but guys who have say that often times you can learn from watching. He had the benefit of having played a substantial bit of time over four and a half years and now stepping back, now it’s not his preference to step back nor ours, but there are positives that come from stepping back and watching playoff basketball because your basketball computer is over there processing what you see. You start thinking in that situation I used to do that but maybe I should do this instead. So there is a growth that every players goes through from watching in this league.
I think that will help him. He’s also had a little less wear and tear on his body except for the shoulder, but he’s a big time competitor at a clean up hitting position. The off guard. small forward position is a big time position. He’s a guy that can give us 15-20 points a game. He’s at the height of his career. Now he’s at a point in his career where his maturity is catching up with his physicality and ability.
3SOB: Rudy set career highs in steals, blocks, rebounds, assists, 3 pt%, FT% and FG%. He just seemed to come into his own this year.
CW: Yeah. You saw how San Antonio and Oklahoma City after game 1s tried to clamp down on Marc Gasol and Randolph and we had players on the perimeter who could score but they weren’t knock down shooters. It would have been much more difficult for both of those teams to implement that strategy than they did if Rudy is out on the floor. You not only have to worry about him hitting the three but he can go mid-range and elevate over people for his shot and he can go all the way to the rim and throw it down on people. So that’s another quality that they have to seriously game plan against.
So I am very, very excited about his return.
3SOB: The other guy we are waiting to return is Xavier Henry. he seemed to be coming into his own in the starting lineup when he replaced O J Mayo and then he hit what looked like the rookie wall which turned out to be a season ending knee injury right when it appeared he was ready to take off. What should we expect from him?
CW: Well, first things first. Xavier has got to get fully healthy. Get over the top on his knee injury. Then have multiple months of physical training and conditioning working on his offensive skills, speed training and all that. If he can get that in before next season then he has a chance to help us.
He had what, 19 points against the Lakers? Unlike a lot of young players he doesn’t have to build his body up to an NBA level. He came in with an NBA body. He got the ability to eventually expand his shot. That would help us from 3 point range. He got fouled at a high rate. He can rebound the ball. Anybody coming into the league his age is going to have some lessons they have to learn defensively. It’s an entirely different game than even the highest level of college on the defensive end.
But he’s got a great attitude, high character, a tremendous athletic family he hails from, so we have a lot of enthusiasm about him. But the first thing is he’s got to get on top of the injury. Then put several months of strong workouts behind him.
3SOB: It sounds like you believe this team is still on the way up. That the Grizzlies haven’t reached their full potential yet.
CW: I don’t feel they have. I don’t feel that way at all. I mean, look at some of the things that we just talked about. We played 40 something games without Rudy. He’ll come back. Xavier is a potential addition. We’ve got this pick (19th in the second round). We’ve got other moves we can make. And then there is the internal improvement.
We had away more players improve individually this year than declined. And that is a testimony to Lionel Hollins and the coaches. Look at the improvement Conley made and Gasol. I put Randolph, Allen and Battier on the side because they are older players but there was Darrell Arthur. Look at the contributions Haddadi made. He’s developed to a point where you can put him into a game and he can make a positive contribution offensively, on the boards, with his shot blocking and that’s just a few.
I thought OJ in the playoffs stepped his game up. Greivis for a rookie who missed basically the entire summer workout time and the training camp, the exhibition schedule but he comes in and produced. If you had watched the summer league you would wonder how he was going to step and contribute this year. You definitely didn’t think in October that this guy would come in and swing Game 6 against the Spurs in our favor.
That’s why you have to be careful not to be too harsh on your judgments of players. I’ve seen this so often over the life of my career. Guys come from the outer reaches of the roster but when they get an opportunity due to injury or a slump or foul trouble in a game unexpectedly and wow! They make a better than expected contributions. Then they get a little traction. Now they are getting more regular minutes on a sustained basis.
This happens all the time. We have guys who want to make those type of contributions. They are talented. The team gets along well together. So it’s no shock to me when Greivis comes in and steps up or Haddadi comes in plays well against the Spurs in a reserve role. Or when Darrell Arthur stepped up. And I think these guys still have several more years of improvement ahead of them.
3SOB: Three and a half years ago, after the Pau Gasol trade, you had a Chalk Talk with the fans and I remember very clearly you saying that the fans had to realize the team was embarking on a journey that would take 3-4 years to get back into playoff contention but the team would be in a better position at that time not only because they team would be stronger than we were even a few years earlier. Then you said something that shocked me. You said the teams leading now would be coming back to the pack. I was thinking at the time these teams had been on top for 10-20 years. They don’t rebuild. They reload.
CW: Well I wasn’t totally correct in that prediction with Dallas winning the NBA Finals.
It’s just a truism. Age is something you can’t outrun. I don’t care how talented an athlete you are. How hard working you are. You can’t outrun Father Time. I mean, Jordan couldn’t. John Stockton couldn’t. Shaquille O’Neal as we found out last week couldn’t. Now players are producing at a higher level for longer times now, into their 30s, longer than they were in decades past for a variety of reasons. Still it’s a matter of time. If you have a team where virtually all of your rotation players are 29 and above, these guys aren’t going to play forever. Their going to come back to the pack at some point. Now some teams can rebuild on the fly and the teams may not miss a beat, but I would rather gamble on facing them down the road than facing them in their prime with first ballot hall of famers who make the all-star game every year and the playoffs know what to do when they get there.
So some of that has already started that I alluded to a couple of years ago. The age creep should continue with the teams that have been on top for some time over the next few years.
3SOB: Utah has come down. Phoenix has fallen back. Houston seems to be stuck in the middle right now. San Antonio’s average age is, I think, 49 now. You look at these teams and even with Dallas in the finals they are still a very old team. They even admitted that this was likely their last chance with this team to make a run. You don’t know how this team will come back. Maybe someone will say we won the Finals and that is all I had left to accomplish in my career like a 38 year old Jason Kidd. There’s a change occurring just like you predicted. Who is going to…
CW: You saw Oklahoma City make the conference finals. No one would have predicted that at the time I made that statement. Normally that young at team like Oklahoma City would have hadto go through more of a playoff initiation than just have them in their second year in the conference finals.
And we can’t rest because there are other teams behind us. You talked about Houston and Houston has played without Yao Ming and been able to win 40+ games the last couple of years and they play very hard. They are a talented offensive team. Sacramento, to give you and example, was a team that we had to beat and it got hairy. They really played well down the stretch. They’ve got some talented young players. The Clippers got Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. I would have hated to be in a position where, back to back, had to go in there and win that game in LA to get into the playoffs. That would have been a hard game. Golden State has got Curry, Ellis and Dorrell Wright. They’ve got new ownership and Jerry West coming on board. Portland is Portland. They’ve been a very talented and successful team and have dealt with injuries but they have LeMarcus Aldridge and he’s getting better and better.
Virtually every team behind us is, if you’re a fan of those teams, has a reason to be optimistic. I could see several of those teams winning 10 or more games more next year than they did this year.
3SOB: Don’t forget Minnesota who just signed Ricky Rubio. They have Kevin Love and Michael Beasley and a top 4 draft pick…
CW: They have two top picks. Since I’ve been in the NBA , mostly in the Eastern Conference, I can’t remember a time, yeah the Miami Heat have Wade, Bosh and James, where the talent has been more dispersed throughout the league. That doesn’t mean every team is going to will tie with 41 wins but there is reason for optimism in virtually every city. And there’s players that, if I put a fans hat on, are on teams that I would be excited to go out and watch.
You go out on the road in these places there is nothing guaranteed. If you are not focusing you could lose at home against these teams. The Clippers came and got us in March. The Nets did in December and we were a very successful home team. So I see more, well the Miami Heat are obviously going to be the team to beat in the East, NFL style parity where there are exciting teams that are in cities that haven’t been that way and teams in established markets are getting older right now.
And that is why I felt that a year ago you would need to win 50 games. That’s what it took Oklahoma City to make the playoffs. But this season I felt there was enough competitiveness in this league that you could get in with a 44-46 range.
SOB: What about next year?
CW: Next year I don’t see it going up. It might even go down a little bit. There have been a few Eastern Conference teams getting in with 40-42 wins. I just don’t see that making it in the West.
3SOB: Do you see a team winning 60 games in the conference?
CW: It’s going to be tough to have a 60 games winning team. I mean you just have to point at scheduling dynamics and every team has those stretches during the season. You’ll have injuries to deal with to players. There’s talent all over the league and it can ignite against you on any given night. It’s going to be tough to win 60 games.
That concluded the interview. We want to thank Chris Wallace again for taking the time to talk to us and wish him and the team the best of success in the draft, during the summer and especially next season.
3SOB: In the Western Conference there is not a “weak” team. The Timberwolves have had problems but they are building something just like we did a few years ago. Sacramento is on the way up. The Clippers are on the way up. These are not easy teams.