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Hollinger's Team Forecast: Memphis Grizzlies

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2007-08 Recap

As a fan, you can live with supporting a bad team if it's at least trying to get better. But if you know the ownership isn't committed to improving things, that's a tough pill to swallow.

For Grizzlies fans, that's the depressing state of affairs they're in. The Griz have drawn horribly, even in their good years, and can't move for the foreseeable future because of the agreement they signed with the city when moving from Vancouver. So the only thing left for management to do is cut costs.

That wasn't apparent early last season, when the Grizzlies still had hopes of sneaking into the playoffs behind a Pau Gasol-Mike Miller-Rudy Gay nucleus and new additions like Mike Conley and Juan Carlos Navarro. Unfortunately, Memphis lost some of its mojo with an early-season series of close losses as new coach Marc Iavaroni struggled to get his charges to play passable defense.

Once Memphis fell well behind the pack, at 13-33, the Griz decided they could lose just as easily without Gasol as they could with him. They sent him to the Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, the rights to Marc Gasol (Pau's brother) and two first-round prospects.

Howls of indignation protesting the Memphis fire sale immediately sprang up around the league, and the few remaining Grizzlies fans couldn't have been too happy either -- Pau was still only 27 and his contract wasn't terrible, given his production. Additionally, Memphis wasn't getting a single brand-name player back in return -- it was basically a salary dump.

The Grizzlies did at least get four decent assets out of it. Pau's brother is a player; Crittenton looks like one, too; and the picks will help. But nobody makes that trade unless cost is a major consideration, and the move established the Grizzlies' Michael Heisley as essentially Donald Sterling East.

On the court, the one major positive was watching Gay blow up into a star. The 6-foot-9 small forward became Memphis's go-to scorer thanks to his sweet jumper and high-flying finishes, and he joined Miller to give the Grizzlies a respectable wing combo.

The Grizzlies shot 49.2 percent on 2-pointers, the league's ninth-best mark, but were a bad offense overall because they turned it over too much and shot too many 3s. The Grizzlies hit only 34.9 percent from downtown but had the league's fourth-highest rate of 3-point attempts per field-goal attempt at .264. This happened even though Miller, at 43.2 percent, was one of the league's top shooters. But Gay wasn't a good long-range shooter (34.6%), while Conley (33.0%) and Kyle Lowry (27.1%) were terrible from the point guard spot.

Thanks in part to the instability at the point, Memphis was also a poor passing team. Only 51.4 percent of Memphis baskets were assisted, the lowest rate in the league (see chart). The Grizzlies were turnover-prone too, giving it away on 15.5 percent of their trips -- another reason the team ranked just 21st in offensive efficiency.

Not surprisingly, the Grizzlies' offensive output decreased markedly after the Gasol trade. Memphis was 16th in offensive efficiency at the All-Star break, but just 27th afterward.

Defensively, Memphis was just plain bad. They looked like a team that had quit on the season, except instead of looking that way starting in March like most faltering teams, the Grizzlies looked that way all year.

Memphis allowed embarrassingly easy layups and permitted opponents to shoot 51.4 percent on 2-point shots -- the worst mark in basketball. But despite the many easy shots they gave up, the Grizzlies had the league's second-lowest opponent free-throw rate -- a telltale sign that they couldn't even be bothered to give a foul when an opponent blew by to the basket. Perennial disappointment Darko Milicic, signed to a three-year, $21 million deal to solidify the middle, was particularly egregious in this respect.

Memphis also had problems with quickness on the perimeter, as the Grizzlies were 29th in steals per opponent possession. The only thing the Griz did well defensively was rebound, and that was partly because Gasol was on the roster for half a season.


Biggest Strength: Team speed

If Memphis is going to beat people it will be by running them into the ground. The Grizzlies are undersized at nearly every spot and don't have much to offer in terms of shooting or defense, but man, can they fly.

Leading the attack will be Conley, whose speed was what got him drafted. He's a strong breakout candidate in his second year after injuries sullied his rookie season, especially since the lefty has plenty of guys to run with him.

The two forwards are his main finishing threats. Gay busted out last season with several highlight-reel jams and is deadly in transition, while Warrick is another athletic leaper who can finish with spectacular dunks.

Off the bench, Kyle Lowry won't offer defenses much of a break. He loves to advance the ball in transition and has the jets to push it up quickly. Javaris Crittenton is likely the backup shooting guard, but his ballhandling is good enough to play the point so he can be another factor in transition. Mayo, the likely starter at shooting guard, is another set of young legs to get out on the break; his ballhandling and passing can help get the ball upcourt quickly.

Biggest Weakness: Interior defense

If Memphis is going to improve at the defensive end, it's going to come on the interior. The perimeter players are halfway decent but hardly exceptional in this regard, but the Grizzlies let opponents get to the rim way too easily upon breaking through the initial defense last season.

For starters, the two 7-footers, Gasol and Milicic, will have to be more aggressive helpers and shot-blockers. Milicic, whose work habits and poor motor have managed to more than offset his considerable talent, is a particularly head-scratching case. He's likely to back up Gasol, who has the physicality to defend the post but may not offer much from the help side.

Power forward is arguably an even bigger concern. Warrick is a good offensive player but lacks muscle and was absolutely blistered on D a year ago; he simply has to get better in one-on-one defense, especially in the post. Behind him, Arthur is unproven at best and may be undersized against pro power forwards; after that, Antoine Walker is what passes for depth.


Outlook

Seven of Memphis' nine projected rotation players are in their first three pro seasons and all but one is on his rookie contract; yes, this is a young bunch, and on a lot of nights their lack of experience is going to be readily apparent. Memphis doesn't have much in the way of depth, either, so the top nine players better stay healthy if the Grizzlies want to make any noise.

To do so they're going to have to defend far better than they did a year ago -- an improvement that doesn't seem to be possible given the lack of size and the inexperience up and down the roster.

Even compared to last year, the Griz might be worse off. They don't have Pau Gasol for half a season this time, and they're also without shooters Miller and Navarro. The factors that should help offset those losses are improvements from the three young point guards (if one isn't traded), the addition of the younger Gasol and Gay's continued ascendance.

Taken as a whole, chances are the Grizzlies will be bad, but not quite as awful as a season ago. Long-term, however, the issue isn't that the Grizzlies are going to be bad this year; it's that nobody knows if they'll ever spend the money to be good.

Prediction: 26-56, 5th in Southwest Division, 13th in Western Conference

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.