Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Great Power Forward Search of 2009: The Field Narrows

Posted By on Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 11:42 PM

On the day after the draft, the Grizzlies' team talking points seemed to be broadcasting the need for a "back-up point guard" and down-playing the still-gaping hole at power forward. But, despite some mixed-messages recently regarding the prospect of tapping significantly into the team's considerable cap room this summer, there have been indications that the Grizzlies recognize the need and may well be willing to do something about it: The team pursued a trade with the Clippers for Zach Randolph that the Clippers mysteriously turned down, and also made a play for Miami's Michael Beasley. The Randolph deal, which would have added an additional $20 million to the team's payroll over the next two seasons, makes it clear that the team will be willing to spend under what it considers the right circumstances.

So assuming that the Grizzlies are going to attempt to bring in a new starter at the four, who are the likely candidates?

I did a mammoth post before the draft that listed 20 potential contenders, but now that list can be narrowed considerably.

For starters, I think we can safely take away the top four names on my initial list: Blake Griffin, Amare Stoudamire, Al Horford, and Michael Beasley. The Grizzlies took a swing at Griffin and Beasley on draft day and couldn't get it done. Stoudamire could be headed to Golden State and would be unlikely to agree to an extension here as part of any deal. Horford was always a serious longshot based on the chance of the point-guard starved Hawks falling for Ricky Rubio, something that didn't happen. Emeka Okafor (sixth on the list) is also now a longshot: According to the Commercial Appeal, the Bobcats offered him up for the #2 pick, which the Grizzlies were correct to turn down. The defensive-oriented Okafor is still probably obtainable, but makes a lot less sense in a frontcourt that will now prominently feature the similar but younger and bigger Hasheem Thabeet.

Moving down the list, three other Top Ten contenders were likely obtainable only via draft-day deals that never materialized: Kevin Love, Jason Thompson, and Al Jefferson. And one other lower-level name, rookie Jordan Hill, was on the list as a potential draft target had the team traded down.

What's left? I wouldn't completely rule out the top player left on that initial list, Carlos Boozer (5th). Boozer seems likely to change teams this summer and I'd heard rumblings a few weeks ago that he (or his agent) might talk to the Grizzlies, but more recent signals suggest a Boozer-Grizzlies marriage is unlikely.

As the offseason begins, I think there are now three power forwards most likely to be targeted by the Grizzlies. Let's take them in order of likelihood:

523f/1246163125-knicks_lee_070829.jpg1. David Lee

I had Lee 12th on my initial list. While I don't know for certain that the Grizzlies are going to make a run at Lee this summer, I strongly suspect it. As a 26-year-old rebounding machine who just thrived in an uptempo system in New York and would presumably play well (though not perfectly) alongside either Marc Gasol or Hasheem Thabeet, Lee fits the need. Consider some of the other evidence:

Established Interest: It was reported last summer that the Grizzlies discussed a deal with the Knicks involving Brian Cardinal and the #5 pick for Lee, so the team has a demonstrated interest in Lee.

Enhanced Availability: Lee is a restricted free agent this summer and one of the things that has long made him seem more obtainable than other restricted targets (such as Utah's Paul Millsap) is the Knicks' desire to maximize cap space in 2010. Compounding this notion is the early playoff exit and short-term feasibility of the Cleveland Cavaliers, which seems to make a Lebron James signing in 2010 more possible for the Knicks. And now, after draft night, the Knicks have added Darko Milicic and, more prominently, Jordan Hill to their frontcourt. These moves by the Knicks seem to be preparing for Lee's exit this summer.

The Bartelstein Connection: David Lee's agent? Mark Bartelstein. Also on Bartelstein's client list? DeMarre Carroll. Now, I'm not saying there was a promise made to Carroll. But giving a Bartelstein client who could very well have slipped into the second round guaranteed first-round money certainly won't hurt the team's relationship with the agent heading into a potential run at Lee. And these kinds of considerations inform draft picks (and other transactions) more than is apparent on the surface or generally reported. Another Bartelstein client: Antoine Walker, who the Grizzlies did right by with a buyout last season.

6714/1246163396-picimg_zach_randolph_of_09c1.jpg2. Zach Randolph

I didn't have Randolph on my initial list because I don't like him: He's a high-level scorer and rebounder but is a black hole that doesn't defend. But that's not even the main thing. He appears to be a character problem that goes far beyond your average NBA knucklehead; not the guy I want in the locker room of my young team. All three teams that have featured Randoph have lost big and have been desperate to get rid of him despite his consistent 20-10 production. That ought to tell you something.

That said, this post is not about what the Grizzlies should do but what they might do, and there's certainly good reason to believe they might make another run at Randolph. The Grizzlies discussed a deal with the Knicks a year ago that would have sent Marko Jaric and Darko Milicic for Randolph. And on draft night they had a deal in place that would have sent Jaric and Greg Buckner for Randolph only to have the Clippers decline. It's certainly possible the Clippers come to their senses and try to get those discussions going again.

8620/1246163996-act_charlie_villanueva.jpg3. Charlie Villanueva

On the plus side, Villanueva (19th on the initial list) might be the one candidate who became a more likely target when the team drafted Thabeet. Villanueva is a long, active scorer who thrives on the perimeter and in the open court. He needs to be paired with a big-time rebounder and shot-blocker to really make sense as a starting four, and the Grizzlies think they got that on draft night.

On the downside, the combination of Milwaukee's cap-clearing draft-week deal of Richard Jefferson and its drafting of a point guard in Brandon Jennings makes it likely that Villanueva, more than guard Ramon Sessions, will be the restricted free agent the Bucks will try to keep, perhaps making Villanueva a more expensive option than he might otherwise have been.

I have no specific information about the Grizzlies being interested in Villanueva, but I'm putting him here because of a series of factors: He's an intriguing fit with Thabeet. He played college ball with Rudy Gay. Lionel Hollins coached him as an assistant in Milwaukee. And on the multiple occasions that I've brought his name up with Grizzlies insiders, he's never been dismissed as a possibility.

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