Competition discussion: Memphis

The season is still two months weeks away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next month or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Memphis.

 

Last year's record: 22-60.

In: Mike Conley (draft), Darko Milicic (free agent), Juan Carlos Navarro (trade), Casey Jacobsen (free agent), Andre Brown (free agent), Marc Ivaroni (coach).  
Out: Chucky Atkins (free agent), Dahntay Jones (released), Lawrence Roberts (released), Alexander Johnson (released). Tony Barone (outgoing coach).

Projected starting lineup (this it a total guess): Damon Stoudamire, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, Darko Milicic.
Bench (in no particular order): Mike Conley, Terrance Kinsey, Kyle Lowry, Juan Carlos Navarro, Casey Jacobsen, Hakim Warrick, Brian Cardinal, Andre Brown, Stromile Swift.

So what do we think?  Are they really as bad as they were last year, or was it just the Pau injury that knocked them out of the playoff picture?  Are they really expecting big things from Darko?  How about Pau, can he fit into the up-tempo offense?  Can Ivaroni coach?  What about Mike Conley?  And how much of an asshole is JCN for leveraging a trade to play with his buddy Pau, only to sign the same minimum contract he could have signed here?  (The last one isn't real).

Much like Toronto last year, it's hard to tell what to expect from these guys.  They don't have quite as many new guys as the Raptors did last year, but it's important to note where the changes occurred: point guard, center, and head coach.  Adding Mike Conley, a healthy Kyle Lowry, and The Hated One (JCN) is significant, as is Darko, whether you think he can play or not.  Ultimately, though, this team will sink and swim with Ivaroni, who must figure out how to run more effectively than his predecessor, Tony Barone.

A casual fan might wonder how an injury to Pau Gasol could totally derail this team.  After all, even John Hollinger likes to say Gasol is the league's most underrated player, nobody would say he's as good as, say, Dirk or Yao Ming.  That misses the point, though.  The Grizzlies, as previously constructed, were built around Pau and a surplus of role players (remember Hubie Brown's 10-man rotation).  When they traded Shane Battier, James Posey, and Jason Williams, they already lost those three role players, but it's easier to replace role players than centerpieces.  When Pau went down, all that was left were a bunch of role players too used to playing off Pau.  It's kind of like what happened to us last year after Arenas' injury.

By switching to Ivaroni and the up-tempo offense, though, the hope is that everyone can develop more independently of Pau.  That's why you saw the Mike Conley pick -- who else better to lead the Ivaroni offense?  It's also why you saw the Darko signing, because, if he shows something, Darko is exactly the type of mobile big man that could succeed here.  So are Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick -- imagine them catching lobs from Conley.  And in JCN and Mike Miller, you have two instant-offense types with diverse enough skill sets -- Miller with his shooting, JCN with his slashing ability -- to complement each other decently.

The major question, though, is how Pau fits in.  Last year, under Tony Barone, he had the best season of his career statistically, and he is still very much in his prime.  But I wonder how well he'll mesh with Conley.  Conley strikes me as a great pick-and-roll point guard, while Gasol strikes me as a dump-it-down-in-the-post big man.  Unless Gasol is constantly picking for Conley, their skills might not complement each other so well, at least until Conley gets a jumper.  I'd be interested to see if there's any tension there.

The other problem is on the defensive end.  I just don't see anyone who can play any semblance of defense on that roster.  Gasol's alright, and Gay's athletic enough to be a stud, but otherwise, I'm left wanting.  They'll score a lot, but they'll give up a lot too.

In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if they sneak into the playoffs as an 8 seed, and they'll be very, very fun to watch.  I just can't take them seriously until 2009.

I'll say 37-45.

-----------------------------------

Other CDs, with mine and Jake's projected record alongside.  Yours, of course, are in the comments of those posts.


Atlanta: 38-44/34-48.
Boston: 50-32/52-30.
Charlotte: 42-40/39-43.  Of course, this news changes everything.  Now, I say the Bobcats finish 35-47.
Chicago: 56-26/56-26.
Cleveland: 47-35/46-36.
Dallas: 54-28/56-26.
Denver: 51-31/49-33.
Detroit: 53-29/48-34.
Golden State: 36-46/35-47.
Houston: 57-25/46-36.
Indiana: 26-56/20-62.
LA Clippers: 23-59/19-63.
LA Lakers: 42-40/42-40.
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