Will Grizzlies' quantity develop into quality?
Unable to add star quality, Jerry West did the next best thing: He gave the Grizzlies quantity.
Editor's note: ESPN.com is once again visiting all 29 NBA teams during training camp and the preseason. The tour continues with a report on the Memphis Grizzlies.
He gave the Grizzlies quantity.
Two first-round draft picks, a nice free-agent pickup and one trade later, the Grizzlies are looking at the deepest (and arguably) the most talented team in the franchise's history.
"When we first got here, everybody said you didn't have any depth. Now everybody says you have too much depth," West said. "That's a nice feeling when someone tells you that."
Call it Plan B. Plan A included drafting someone with star potential in the backcourt and adding a veteran big man to roam the middle via free agency or trade. But despite West's best efforts, the Grizzlies came up empty.
The two guard they coveted in the draft -- Mickael Pietrus -- was already off the board when Memphis picked at No. 13. The deals the Grizzlies pursued for big guys this summer -- including Michael Olowokandi and Erick Dampier -- all fell through at the last minute.
Said West, with a hint of frustration, "We haven't had the benefit of any luck here getting the player we want."
Plan B included drafting two athletes with proven defensive abilities -- Troy Bell and Dahntay Jones -- to bolster the backcourt. It also included signing veteran defender James Posey and trading away three expendable players for two big guys who will play big minutes in Memphis -- Jake Tsakalidis and Bo Outlaw.
The result? The Grizzlies are 15 players deep. There are training camp battles at virtually every position.
Lorenzen Wright or Tsakalidis at center? Pau Gasol will start at power forward, but Stromile Swift and Outlaw will also push for minutes. Posey will likely start at small forward, but Shane Battier can fill in admirably. Mike Miller is the man at shooting guard, but Wesley Person (the team's best shooter) and Jones also want minutes. At the point, Jason Williams, Earl Watson and Bell all look worthy of minutes in training camp.
For the first time in forever, the Grizzlies have inoculated themselves against the injury bug. A feeling of optimism pervades the organization.
Now if they can turn some of that quantity into quality. For that, West will defer to his right-hand man, Hubie Brown.
Brown led a remarkable turnaround in Memphis last season. After the team started 0-8, West fired Sidney Lowe and pulled Brown, then a TV analyst, out of retirement. At first, the media mocked the choice. But by season's end, everyone had jumped on the bandwagon.
Under Brown's watch, the woeful Grizzlies improved in almost every area. Before Brown came, the Grizzlies were losing by a margin of 10.8 points per game. After the All-Star Game, Brown narrowed that gap to 1.9 points a game. The young Grizzlies were now competing every night and they were led by the most unlikely of heroes -- Williams, the wayward point guard.
"Sometimes there are the right coaches for the right team," West said. "It's not so much that you always want to replace the coach. Sometimes you want to replace the players. It's not easy to do that overnight. So sometimes, your best shot at winning is finding a coach who is more conducive to giving players the success they can have. Hubie was the right coach for us."
Williams agrees. "I'm not sure what we were before coach Brown, but I don't think we were a team," he said. "Coach Brown lets you play your game. He gave us the tools to help us believe in ourselves."
Brown's keys to success last season sound like something out of Tony Robbins' book. He speaks of chemistry, identity and style. His mission was to give the team a sense of being that had never existed before. When guys like Williams and Swift started responding, it was hard to argue with the results.
This year, the expectations for Brown and his players has grown. Last year, 28 wins (a franchise record) seemed like a miracle after an 0-13 start. This season, people in Memphis are quietly whispering playoffs.
For that to happen, Brown says his players are going to have to mature.
"We have potential," Brown said. "Philosophy of offense and defense can only reach it's maximum potential if you have players. And you underline that big time ... the philosophy is great if the players fit the chemistry of the philosophy."
"Our team is so young. What you're trying to do is develop players to reach that level."
The four guys the Grizzlies are eyeing are Gasol, Miller, Swift and Williams. Who will make the next step? Brown says it will be the guy who becomes consistent on the road. The team was just 2-21 against the West on the road once Brown took over.
|“||To win, you have to sacrifice. Unless you don't like to win, I don't know why you wouldn't be happy to have so many good teammates. ”|
|— Mike Miller|
"They have to play to their potential on the road," Brown said. "It can't be a hit and miss. If it is, you lose a lot of close games. We lost a lot of close games on the road."
Each guy has a few other things to work on. Brown feels that Gasol needs to get stronger to defend in the post. They're looking for consistency from Swift. Miller needs to be healthy and become more involved in initiating the offense. Williams needs to increase that 38.8 shooting percentage.
Gasol is hoping that, after a summer spent bulking up with a personal trainer, he'll earn Brown's confidence this year.
"I like to have the weight on my shoulders," Gasol said. "I want to be the guy people look to. I worked hard this summer to get stronger. I feel stronger. I hope it makes a difference."
Miller also wants a part of the spotlight. "In Orlando, Doc (Rivers) used me more as a shooter because T-Mac was the guy who needed the ball in his hands," Miller said of Tracy McGrady. "Here, coach Brown is giving me a chance to be a playmaker and to use all of my skills. I think it's a great opportunity."
But Miller is willing to sacrifice his stats for the rest of the team. "To win, you have to sacrifice," he said. "Unless you don't like to win, I don't know why you wouldn't be happy to have so many good teammates."
Even if all of those guys step up, Brown is still not sure what this team can do. "We want to be able to compete," he said.
Asked if he felt pressure to make the playoffs, Brown laughed and shook his head.
"No," he said. "I've been in this too long. I'm very realistic. I know what I have here. I've done this too many times. I know it's fragile because it's so young. The work ethic is there. Now it comes down to, 'Can they mesh?' "
Playoffs or not, progression is the goal for Brown.
"I don't want to be a 'W' on everyone's schedule in early November," Brown said. "That's progress if we're not. That's what you're trying for -- total respect."
Brown has it from his players. Just how long will it be before his team has it from the rest of the league?
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN.com's ESPN Insider.
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