3 Shades of Blue has been participating from time to time in ESPNs 5×5 discussions. In that vein, we felt it appropriate to assemble our own group of writers familiar with the Memphis Grizzlies rather than simply the NBA to discuss some issues germane to Memphis fans.
To do this we asked Chris Herrington from the Memphis Flyer and Beyond the Arc, Matt Moore from CBSsports.com and Hardwood Paroxysm and Tom Lorenzo from Straight Outta Vancouver to join 3 Shades of Blue writers Lee Eric Smith and Red Coleman to respond to five questions of local interest.
1) ESPN ranked the top 500 NBA players this summer and 7 Grizzlies made the top 100 with Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph all in the top 30. How well does that list reflect the Grizzlies?
CH: I would have had Randolph a bit higher and, conservatively, Gay and Gasol a bit lower, but those rankings are fair. All three players are certainly Top 10 and potentially Top 5 players at their positions. They lead a roster that lacks a first-tier superstar (a list that probably goes eight deep at present) but is otherwise as deep and talented as any in the league.
TL: It reflects the Grizzlies quite well. If all goes as planned, the Grizzlies starting five next season will be among the Top 72 players in the NBA, per the list. I can’t imagine many other teams, if any, can say the same thing. It’s a great foundation to build from.
MM: Pretty well considering all were gambles. Acquired Rudy for Shane, Marc for Pau, and added Zach when he was considered a liability. The Grizzlies are a rebuilding team that actually successfully built a core that succeeded. How about that?
RC: I think that it is a very fair rating, based on what each of those players did last season — especially the postseason that Conley, Gasol and Randolph had. My only gripe is having Hamed Haddadi ranked at #384. He clearly should have been ranked ahead of Hasheem Thabeet (#376).
LES: I was watching those rankings as they counted down and with each passing day, I realized that Zach, Marc & Rudy were higher in the rankings and I cheered. We’re tied with Dallas & Miami for with 3 top 50 players; tied with Dallas with 7 top 100 players. In fact, only the Heat, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs & Grizzlies have 3 players in the top 30. And don’t get me started on how high Rudy Gay might be ranked had he played in the playoffs . . . or whether Blake Griffin & Kevin Love actually deserve to be ranked ahead of Zach. The list reflects the truth that is dawning on the rest of the league: The Grizz have elite talent, and are at the edge of being an elite-level team.
2) Assuming no major roster moves can the Grizzlies repeat last year’s playoff success? Can they win their division?
CH: Can they advance to the second round again? Sure, perhaps this time from a #4 seed.
The division? On paper they should be ahead of Houston and New Orleans (despite miracle-worker Chris Paul) and right there with fading San Antonio. Dallas is the favorite, but if things break the right way, the Grizzlies will emerge as the Mavs’ prime competitor.
LH: They certainly can. Obviously, getting Rudy Gay back is a major coup for the Grizzlies, and need I say a major move. Winning the division will be tough, considering the defending champs will likely remain intact. But there’s no reason to think that the Grizzlies can’t not only repeat last season’s success, but do one better and reach the WC Finals.
MM: They can repeat last year’s success. Will they is a whole other issue. We’ve seen a lot of teams go the route of Memphis. Great playoff run, awesome story, young core with a great veteran superstar, and then collapse. Look no further than the 07 Clippers for proof of how things can go terribly bad quickly. That said the Grizzlies have more going for them than that Clippers squad or the 07 Believe Warriors. I would expect them to be about as good as they were last year, maybe better by 5 games. Winning the division with San Antonio and the World Champion Dallas Mavericks is not an achievable goal at this point.
RC: Not only can they repeat their success, but I think everyone expects them to do that and more. The return of Rudy Gay and Xavier Henry — two long, athletic players capable of hitting perimeter shots — makes them a much more dangerous team than the one that made it to Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
LES: No reason they shouldn’t. Scary thing is how much the squad can improve just through player growth. O.J. can’t play that bad two years in a row. Conley still has room to improve. Rudy should be healthy and more focused. As for winning the division, sure they can challenge for it. But it IS the Western Conference, and the defending champs in Dallas won’t go quietly, so I’m not putting money on them winning the division. But I’ll be thoroughly shocked if the Blue Bears don’t have home court for at least one round, maybe two. And if they have home court, I think they can make the West Finals.
3) JaVale McGee recently suggested a lot of players were willing to end the holdout only to have teammate John Wall contradict him. Do you believe a significant number of players are ready to make a deal?
CH: I think it’s as much about wounded pride and imperiled dignity as about math at this point. I suspect if a 50/50 deal with a somewhat less punitive than proposed luxury tax were submitted for a vote it would pass. But that’s just a guess. I don’t have much intel on that.
TL: To keep it short, yes, there are probably more players than we are aware of who are ready to make some sort of deal. In the end it boils down to money. Are you willing to give up bits of a long-term cushion in order to cash that lucrative paycheck today? I believe many players in this league just want to play, earn their paychecks and get on with business as usual.
MM: I think getting 450 people to agree on anything is difficult. I think the players have their own splits, like the owners do. But I think that they are more prepared than at any previous point to last through the start of the year. If this hits February, I don’t believe there’s enough players with the means to go a full year without a paycheck.
RC: I think that the role players are definitely willing to make a deal ASAP. The superstars can sit around and count the money they’ve already made and rely on endorsement deals for more, but the average player isn’t going to want to cut things too close for comfort. They will be the ones to push for an agreement to be made — and the sooner the better.
LES: One thing to think about is that a lot of these players who are still on rookie deals are kinda stuck. They don’t have the largest contracts to start with. And then they haven’t been in the league that long either. So say for instance, a Greivis Vasquez who only made $1.1 million last season, but was flat broke before that? Unless he lived like an NBA pauper his rookie year and put away a large chunk of money, he can’t handle missed games the same way Zach or Rudy can. I think there are plenty of players in that position, so I could easily see some players ready to settle and collect a check. Add in the financial immaturity factor, and I think you get even more.
4) It appears the owners are splitting into two camps as well. Will the small market owners be able to use the holdout as a way to get a better revenue sharing agreement to end the lockout?
CH: Not sure if I really buy the question’s linkage between getting a better revenue-sharing agreement and ending the lockout. The lockout will end based on (even more) player concessions and I tend to doubt the final particulars of the rev-sharing plan will move the needle much on what the (now-overreaching) owners will finally accept from the players.
LH: Sure, that ultimately seems to be the end game for the small market owners. It’s obviously not a “fair” system, as it is currently constructed, which is why there’s plenty of noise about a new revenue sharing agreement. But fairness is in the eye of the beholder — just ask Dan Gilbert, who seems to think the league is no longer fair when you don’t have LeBron James rostered.
MM: Getting a new deal is more about getting a good plan than getting the votes at this point. Buss has signed off on making changes. Where Buss goes, so go the rest of the big markets. The problem is that Wyc Grousbeck presented a plan that was reportedly confusing as all get out. It’s not about getting the owners to agree, it’s about getting a plan together in the first place. And the owners are dragging their heels on that while they continue to squeeze the blood out of the players.
RC: The small market owners (SMOs) not only will be able to get the LMOs to make concessions, but they should. The NBA needs more competitive balance and, as in all things in professional sports, that starts with money being fairly distributed. They need to stand fast, just as the players are, until things are changed for the betterment of all.
LES: “End the lockout” he says. Yikes. Let’s put it like this: I think the owners stand a better chance of getting agreement amongst themselves, than they do with players, and until they get the players on boardLockout.
5) Bryant Gumble made some controversial comments about Commissioner Stern. Do you feel he was fair in his comments?
CH: I thought Grumbles comments were unnecessarily strong, but I understand where he’s coming from. If I know anything about race in America, it’s that there’s a great desire by lots of white people to move past racial issues without ever moving through them, so the finger-wagging reprimands by white writers and broadcasters bothered me more than Grumbles mini-rant. There’s not enough space to really deal with the substance, so I’ll cosign what Henry Abbott wrote on True Hoop.
LH: He’s entitled to his own opinion. And I imagine there are plenty of players or fans who might feel that Gumble wasn’t out of line in his assessment. If anything, I can get with the argument that maybe the conversation needed to be had. Whatever the case, I’ll stand by my statement that each is entitled to his or her opinion.
MM: I think that alleging someone who has helped drive the players’ average salaries up by nearly seven times in his tenure is a slave-owner is a bit out of touch. But I do think that race plays a strong hand here and it’s one of the reasons why this dispute is so personal. And the owners’ refusal to acknowledge the strength of the players as the product and not just the workforce reinforces that dispute.
RC: Bryant Gumble is a fool. I could call him much worse than that and be justified in doing so, but to call David Stern a “plantation owner” and suggest that the NBA’s players are the equivalent to slaves is ludicrous, at best. It doesn’t even deserve further discussion due to its idiocy. Of all people, I find myself agreeing with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on the subject.
LES: As I watched that, I couldn’t help think that Gumble is just like the rest of us: He wants some NBA basketball and he wants it NOW, dammit! But I don’t think Stern is racist, nor the owners. And yet, there it is: Rich men assessing a person’s value (mostly black males); a person is “traded,” without their say; and one person owning another person’s “rights.” With those dynamics, it’s not that big a stretch to get to the whole “plantation” concept Gumble alluded to. Sure, slaves didn’t make millions to play basketball, and they enjoy a great lifestyle. I think America is long overdue for a conversation on race. But I don’t think Bryant Gumble said anything particularly thoughtful or deep; I think he just misses basketball, just like the rest of us.