Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Deflections: Late Notes on Joerger, Allen Reaction, Free Agency Update

Posted By on Wed, Jul 3, 2013 at 3:10 PM

Dorell Wright: The new Beyond-the-Arc-approved top realistic free-agent target.
  • Dorell Wright: The new Beyond-the-Arc-approved top realistic free-agent target.
Updated Free Agent List: As I illustrated in the previous post, the Grizzlies now find themselves with one open roster spot left to get to the minimum 13 and just a few million to spend without heading into the luxury tax. Barring a trade, expect the team to pursue a three-point shooter who can play small forward and can be had for under $4 million. I outlined most of these candidates in my offseason preview on Sunday. One new name to add to the list: Luigi Datome, an Italian forward who popped up in reports earlier this week as a subject of interest of both the Grizzlies and Celtics. I don't know much about Datome, He's 25 years old. He's 6'9”. He shot 39% from three in the Italian League last season. In theory, Datome seems to fit the parameters of what the Grizzlies are looking for. I asked someone — outside the Grizzlies organization — who does research and projections on European prospects about Datome and the response I got was that he projects as a “replacement level” player and seems to be something of “an Italian Austin Daye.” That doesn't sound like much, but Daye will be on an NBA roster next season, so Datome sounds viable.

Yahoo's Marc Spears reports today that the Grizzlies are among the teams interested in Dorrell Wright — the highest-rated player on my own free-agent board who is still unsigned. No surprise there. It's also been reported that Matt Barnes — who hit a bushel of threes against the Grizzlies in his final NBA game last season — is now talking to teams other than the Clippers, and you can bet the Grizzlies are taking a look there. I still harbor some hope the Grizzlies will make a play for Kyle Korver, but that seems unlikely, both because doing so would likely put the team in the tax and there are suitors who can offer more than the full mid-level exception.

My own updated “small forward shooter” rankings based on what we now know:

1. Dorrell Wright
2. Matt Barnes
3. Carlos Delfino
4. Francisco Garcia
5. Omri Casspi (personal fave)
6. Luigi Datome (ranking theme song)
7. Austin Daye
8. Anthony Morrow

Marc Stein Interview: I guested and co-hosted on The Chris Vernon Show for a while today, with Verno and I interviewing's Marc Stein about the free agency landscape. You can hear that interview here.

Tony Allen Reactions: A few reactions on the Tony Allen signing from some smart folks around the country: The rested-and-ready Zach Lowe, at Grantland, approves of the deal and says the Grizzlies are “going to be a pain in the ass again.” Mike Prada, for SBNation, adjudges it a reasonable and necessary deal. Henry Abbott, at True Hoop, wrote this must-read piece about the problems presented by perimeter players who can't shoot before the Grizzlies resigned Allen.

Late Notes on the Joerger Hire: Predictably, I was out of town in the few days between the news leaking of Dave Joerger's hire as Grizzlies head coach and the draft-day press conference announcing his hire. I was hoping to go in-depth on this long-suspected change, but when I got back to town it was right into draft and free agency, so at this point I'll save long-form commentary until training camp. A few notes though:

Lyric of the Year candidate that also prophesied the Grizzlies' coaching change, from Vampire Weekend's “Step”:

“Wisdom's a gift but you trade it for youth/Age is an honor; it's still not the truth.”

Who knew Ezra Koenig embedded complex NBA analysis into his songwriting? This hints at the for-now-unknowable risk/reward element in the Grizzlies decision, but also the tendency league-wide toward choosing new thinking over experienced hands. Some of the most successful coaches in the NBA over the past couple of seasons are young former assistants without NBA player pedigrees — Miami's Erik Spoelstra, Indiana's Frank Vogel, and Chicago's Tom Thibodeau. And the Grizzlies weren't the only team this summer to follow that trend, with recent assistants such as Mike Malone (Kings), Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), and (former player) Brian Shaw (Nuggets) getting jobs while proven veterans such as Hollins, Alvin Gentry, and George Karl have seemingly come up short.

The truth the Grizzlies are pursuing with the hire could take many forms. A close partnership between the front office and coaching staff, was something CEO Jason Levien sought, something he wasn't going to get with Hollins, and something that Joerger pointedly spoke to at his debut presser. This will manifest itself in many ways, but one of them will be a smoother relationship in terms of information management and its impact on game strategy. This was not really a reason for the coaching change — which was primarily about the untenable relationship between Hollins and Levien — but it's a likely outcome.

As for what the team will look like on the floor, Joerger talked about pace and spacing, but who doesn't? Every new coach talks about playing faster. The Grizzlies weren't a slow-paced team with poor spacing because that's what Hollins wanted. It was primarily a personnel issue. What can Joerger do around the margins to improve these issues beyond what will come via minor personnel issues? Can he fashion an improved offense with presumably minimal personnel changes? That's going to be his biggest challenge, and one I'll wade into details on come October.

Joerger's “Bar”: What are the expectations for Joerger? As a matter of principle, I was annoyed to read and hear the notion that the “bar” that Joerger has to reach is 56 wins and the Western Conference Finals. I guess that will be the conventional wisdom in some quarters, but it's lazy and reactive. Or, let me rephrase: The notion that Joerger should be judged by that standard simply because that's what the Grizzlies accomplished this past season is ridiculous.

The NBA is an organism, constantly changing. Rosters change, to one degree or another, each season. Players are all a year older and many get incrementally better or worse as a result. Players get injured. Players get healthy. The context is forever changing.

Each fall, at the dawn of a new NBA season, we play a little game on The Chris Vernon Show. We take the established over/unders on season win totals for each NBA team and then we — Vernon, his producer Jon Roser, host Eric Hasseltine, and myself — all make our own over/under guesses against those set win totals. And here's the thing: The oddsmakers don't simply set their win totals at whatever each team won the previous season. They give every team a fresh evaluation in the context of the entire league as it stands at that time. And the four of us make our own picks based on the same consideration. Every season is a new beginning.

What bar will I set for Joerger and the Grizzlies this coming season? I don't know. Ask me in October when rosters are mostly settled and it's easier to get a feel for league context. When I know not only what roster moves the Grizzlies have made, but what roster moves the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs and 26 other NBA teams have made. Then I'll tell you what I think this team should be able to accomplish and what I think would be a coaching underperformance relative to what Lionel Hollins was able to achieve. And even then it would have an asterisk based on a context that continues to shift every day. I guess that's not as easy or satisfying as saying “Lionel Hollins won 56 games and got to the Western Conference Finals so Dave Joerger has to do just as well to be a success.” I guess it's more difficult to have a feel for the context in which a coach and team exist and bring that to bear on evaluation. But we shouldn't be here to simply ratify conventional wisdom or gauge which way the public-relations wind blows.

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