Worst team? Grizzlies looking better to new coach

7/13/2007 - Memphis Grizzlies

LAS VEGAS -- For a man who just inherited the team with NBA's worst
record, Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni surely seems pretty upbeat these
days. It's more than just the annual catharsis that is summer league.
The team he took over has significantly upgraded its talent in just
the last few weeks.

"It has almost gone a little bit too good, it has seemed a little too
easy," Iavaroni said. "I guess the hard part comes later."

Thursday, after he watched a number of his roster players thrash the
summer version of the Cavs 100-76, he gushed about Darko Milicic, whom the Grizzlies picked up Wednesday after agreeing to terms on a new three-year contract. In between, he was gushing about new point guard
Mike Conley Jr., barely masking his excitement over the rookie's

He's more than just a coach sticking up for his guys.
Others in the league are saying the same things.

"Darko is a guy we targeted as having the most talent on the free
agent market among the bigs," Iavaroni said. "He's a guy who is
anxious to prove something ... we're going to say, look, you're
motivated and we want to make it work and we feel we have the right
pieces around him."

In talking about how he wants to run high/low sets with Milicic and
Pau Gasol, Iavaroni actually mentioned the tandem of David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

"Based on what I've seen, Darko is a guy who can shoot it and we want
him shooting it," Iavaroni said, perhaps channeling former boss Mike

The duo of Darko and Pau may be fun to talk about, but more
realistically the competition is picturing a different headache the
new-look Grizzlies may present.

While Kyle Lowry has been impressive so far in Vegas, averaging 15.7
points in three games, it is Conley who observers here are talking

Both Conley and Lowry are roughly the same size and share similar
skill sets -- both have questionable jump-shooting ability but plenty of
quickness and ballhandling prowess -- and Iavaroni is reluctant to
compare them.

"They are a nice complement, you have to compete but also cooperate,"
he said. But there's no doubt how much Conley has impressed onlookers
at UNLV.

"Lowry plays his tail off, but Mike has a better command of the ball,"
said one Western Conference coach. "He can drive, draw and dish with
both hands at full speed. He's a handful. There are going to be some guys that give him problems on defense because of his size, but he has the ability to make up for it."

"He is going to be so tough on you in
pick-and-rolls, he's going to get
Darko so many jumpers," said an Eastern Conference scout. "He can do
so many things because of his speed. That will buy him time until he
develops his jumper."

On Thursday, Conley had 13 points and seven assists.

Over the three games, he's averaged 11 points and four assists while
shooting 50 percent. The Grizzlies have been trading off starting
Lowry and Conley and have even spent time on the floor playing

Iavaroni said he'd consider playing them together during the season
and pushing Rudy Gay -- who has looked solid in Vegas, averaging 17.3
points but shooting just 41 percent -- to power forward.
One of them, though,
has to start. It promises to be a quite a competition with Damon Stoudamire in the mix as well.

Being careful to be politically correct, Iavaroni made it clear he was
not playing favorites. He said he'll need his players understanding
when it comes to tinkering with minutes early in the season as he
tries to figure out what works best. There's little doubt, though,
about his affinity for Conley.

In his first meeting with new general manager Chris Wallace, hired
after him, Iavaroni said he was put at ease when Wallace agreed
getting Conley should be a top priority. Keeping in mind he's coming
from a system that featured Steve Nash.

"I can't express how happy I am we got Mike Conley,"
Iavaroni said. "I am really excited."

Brian Windhorst covers the NBA for the Akron Beacon Journal