|Picking 2nd is the Vancouver Grizzlies and James Burns who selects|
Key Personal Losses: Steve Francis
Key Personal Gains: Michael Dickerson, Othella HarringtonRecord: 22-60, 7th Place Midwest Conference, 12th Western Conference
1999 - 2000 Season
The rocky season pretty much started at the 1999 draft. Upon being picked 2nd by the Grizzlies, Steve Francis looked like he was being sent to a concentration camp. Stu Jackson, the Griz GM, tried to sell Vancouver to Francis, but it just wasn't going to happen. Luckily, Jackson managed to arrange a decent trade with Houston that gave the Grizzlies a future pick, Othella Harrington, and Michael Dickerson (along with cap filler). Both Harrington and Dickerson started for the Grizzlies. Dickerson in particular showed he has the potential to be a future all-star. While the Rockets almost certainly got the better of the deal, at least it wasn't a total loss for the Grizzlies.
Things got even rockier, however, when the owner of the Grizzlies entered into negotiations to sell the team to Bill Laurie, one of the many heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. It was fairly clear he was going to move the team to St. Louis. The NBA board of governors nixed the sale, saying Laurie had to rework it so the Grizzlies could stay in Vancouver for at least five years. Laurie pulled out of the deal. McCaw found another buyer, Michael Heisley who has no problem keeping the team in Vancouver. Heisley has, however, made it clear that if the team does not turn a profit within five years the team will be gone.
The new ownership group, once they took control, made major changes to the management. Stu Jackson left for the NBA front office, and Lionel Hollins, who had replaced the fired Brian Hill as coach was in turn fired. Billy Knight former head scout of the Indiana Pacers was made GM. Dick Versace, former coach of the Pacers was made Director of Player Personnel, and is generally considered the primary boss of the basket operations. Finally, Chuck Daly was signed on as a management consultant, partly I think to provide a wealth of knowledge to Versace, and to provide a badge of legitimacy the Grizzlies may not have had before (at least in the eyes of the NBA's old boys network).
Compared to the off-court antics the actual play of the Grizzlies was almost a footnote. They continued to play inconsistently, and ended up losing far more games than they should have. Part of the blame can be placed on the distractions of the ownership situation. Part of it can be chalked up to bad coaching. Part to the youth of the team. But the biggest problems were a lack of defensive intensity, and a lack of depth.
So here the Grizzlies are, yet again with the 2nd pick in the draft. Grizz fans can only hope this season's pick not only turns out to be as big an impact player as Francis, but that he also wants to play for the Grizzlies.
1995: Bryant Reeves (5th pick)
1996: Shareef Abdur-Rahim (3rd pick)
1996: Roy Rodgers (22nd pick)
1997: Antonio Daniels (4th pick)
1998: Mike Bibby (2nd pick)
1998: Felipe Lopez (24th pick)
1999: Steve Francis (2nd pick)
Mike Bibby started to bloom once he was given a chance to run the team. Under Brian Hill, Mike was always looking to the sidelines for instruction and he was thrown off by Hill's micromanaging style. Under Hollins Bibby played much better, as he was allowed to make more decisions on his own. Unfortunately, Hollins also played Bibby too many minutes (partly due to a poor bench, but also partly due to poor coaching), and Bibby began to slow down near the end of the season. The bench was a virtual wasteland. Milt Palacio was Bibby's primary backup, and he was terrible. For some reason Hollins gave Brent Price no minutes, and while Price isn't a spectacular player he does have the ability to run an offense.
Michael Dickerson showed just how complete a game he has. Slashing, shooting from behind the arc, and receiving the lob. His first step is one of the quickest in the league, and he more than holds his own on the defensive end. That Dickerson was a pleasant surprise after having to give up Francis is an understatement. While Dickerson may not be the impact player Francis is, at least he'll be a significant piece of the Grizzlies, and possibly even a future all-star. Felipe Lopez got practically no minutes, especially under Hollins. A spark-plug on both ends, if Felipe can ever improve his jumper he'll be an excellent backup. Doug West was a walking, whining injury.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim was mister consistency. Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game usually guarantees you a place on the all-star team. If the Grizzlies ever start to win more than a handful of games he'll get there. Shareef's defense again improved, but it's still not nearly where it should be. He still has problems staying with his defensive assignment, he still has problems passing out of double-teams, and he still does a poor job when in bounding the ball. But he was still the best player on the team, even though Dickerson gave him a very close run for that spot. Dennis Scott was Reef's backup, but like most of the bench he received no minutes, no set plays, and was able to contribute very little.
Similar to Dickerson, Othella Harrington was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, Harrington seems to forget that half the game of basketball is defense. Harrington doesn't play D, but he loves to have the ball in his hands in the low post. He can score against just about anyone, but his game can go through cold spells. Grant Long was a very solid backup when he wasn't injured. A pro willing to do the dirty work, Grant Long was a good addition, and he probably would have been a better fit with the starters, as his defense is considerably better than Harrington's
Bryant Reeves was yet again a disappointment. Injuries slowed him down, and when Hollins took-over he had Reeves focus on defense and rebounding, neither of which are Reeves' strong points. The only thing Reeves is good at is scoring, especially in the low post. Misused Bryant had little impact, losing most of his touches in the low post to Othella Harrington. The pivot backups were Cherokee Parks, and Obinna Ekezie. Neither had any impact, although Ekezie showed some promise as a rebounder.
This was a story of misuse. Brian Hill misused the starters, not letting them make enough decisions on their own. Hollins on the other hand relied too much on Bibby, Dickerson and Shareef. He also played Harrington in the starting line-up, when he would have been more effective as an offensive spark off the bench. When he first took over, Hollins did a decent job of balancing the play of everyone. But as the season wore on he rode the starting backcourt more than they could handle, and he relied too much on gimmick defensive matchups. Well Hollins got canned by the new management group. Hopefully that won't mean Shareef will demand a trade as he threatened to if Hollins and Stu Jackson were fired. But frankly, I think getting rid of Hollins was a good thing. His replacement is Sidney Lowe, former coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Whether he'll be better than Hollins is difficult to judge until he actually has a portion of next season under his belt. Considering the talent injection the Grizzlies are likely to get, Lowe won't have a very good excuse if he doesn't do better.
The management triumvirate of Versace, Knight and Daly certainly seem to have the experience to do the job they have before them. Well at least in Knight's and Daly's case. Versace doesn't have a very good rep with the media, nor does he really have the experience you'd think someone who takes over head of basketball operations should have. It'll be interesting to see if Versace can prove the naysayers wrong, but with Daly and Knight bending his ears, Versace may just have the right people around him to steer him in the right direction. Versace should certainly be more entertaining than Stu Jackson, and with out a doubt more pompous. Heisley, the new owner, has predicted a 37 win season. I think that's going to be difficult to achieve unless the draft pick turns out to be immediate impact player. The only other way the Grizzlies will get to that number is if the team is remade significantly, and some of the starters are traded for more experienced vets. It should certainly be an interesting summer for the team, particularly if management decides it's time to trade one of the big names on the team.
Kenyon Martin: I chose Kenyon, because the Grizzlies need a defensive minded power forward in the worst way. The addition of Othella Harrington last season improved the Grizzlies offense, but Harrington doesn't seem interested in playing defense. Considering how inconsistent most of the starters are with their D, the top priority should be to add a good defender to the starting line-up. Martin was known through most of his college career as a good defender. In his senior season he also showed he could be a low post offensive threat. There are questions over his injury, but unless it becomes known for certain that he isn't going to make a full recovery, he should be one of the top 3 picks in the draft. Martin should provide the Grizzlies the shot-blocking and rebounding, not to mention the defensive presence the team desperately needs in the starting line-up.
Others I considered
Stromile Swift would likely be my first choice. He seems to be a more focused defender than Martin. He also would compliment Shareef better in that he has a little more range on his shot than Martin. The only negative is that Swift would probably take longer to adjust to the NBA than Martin, and could have less immediate impact.
Chris Mihm might also be a possibility. He has very good size for the PF spot. He has a good jumper, and he was a good rebounder and shot-blocker in college. He'd also be useful should the Grizzlies ever manage to trade Bryant Reeves, as he could easily move to the center spot.
Darius Miles, if all the hype surrounding him pans out, could end up being the best player in the draft. Based on potential he might be worth the risk of the #2 pick. Unfortunately, he would take a long time to develop, he would not have a defined role on the team, and he may not be as good as billed.
Other Offseason Moves
Some have speculated that with the firing of Lionel Hollins and Stu Jackson, Shareef may demand a trade. This is certainly a possibility, and it would be an unfortunate one. Despite my earlier criticisms of the the weaknesses in Shareef's game, particularly his defense, I doubt the Grizzlies would be able to get a fair return for trading him. He's still a very young player, and he still has more than enough time to correct the weaker parts of his game, particularly his defense. That said, if Shareef is traded I hope the current management get at least another all-star or soon-to-be all-star in return. I think the new management group will explore any offers made for any of the players. I have no doubt the focus has shifted from patient building under Stu Jackson, to an expectation that it is time to win games. Personally, I hope that can be done with the current roster, along with the addition of a promising draft pick and maybe a few decent veterans. With no cap space the Grizzlies will have to yet again rely on salary cap exceptions and the hope that a good vet or two will fall through the cracks as teams chase the big names like Hill and Duncan. But whatever happens it should be an interesting season for the franchise.
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