The Real Lineup Problem
I'll just put it bluntly: the Grizzlies cannot survive this season if they start playing a short, eight-man playoff rotation in November. That approach may win them games in November, but it (1) won't win them games through the winter when guys start getting fatigued and it (2) will render the starters—three of whom are in their 30's—so worn down by the wear-and-tear of fighting through the regular season at 36 to 40 minutes a night that they can't keep playing at the same high level through the playoffs.
So, part of the Grizzlies' issues are related to rotations—Mike Miller is playing far too many minutes, and Ed Davis and Quincy Pondexter are playing so poorly that they've had their minutes limited, and while Nick Calathes has played well at backup point guard in the absence of Jerryd Bayless, who is clearly much more comfortable off the ball than he is at the backup spot, Bayless' scoring punch off the bench (when his shot is falling) has been sorely missed as well. But to insist that the shortened rotation is the one that Dave Joerger needs to go with is to miss the point of having a deeper bench: to prevent the starters from being worn out by the time the playoffs roll around.
The other issue is that the Grizzlies' starters haven't been good. Or, more precisely, Tayshaun Prince's game has been limited by the illness he suffered during the preseason that kept him from practicing and playing, and Marc Gasol has looked halfway interested in the Grizzlies' losses, while Zach Randolph has played well on offense and mostly gotten abused on defense and Tony Allen keeps on Tony Allen'ing. The starting lineup just isn't working right now, for whatever reason. The starters + Koufos, Calathes, and Miller rotation that beat Golden State by so many points is just not going to be tenable over the course of the season.
So Joerger has lineup problems, but they're not the lineup problems that Twitter is worried about. The problem with the lineups so far has been that the players in them are mostly not playing well.
Z-Bo to the Lakers?
Smith suggested that the Lakers are looking to get rid of Pau Gasol, who enters free agency at the end of this season, and that the Grizzlies might be a willing trade partner—sending Zach Randolph to Los Angeles in exchange for a homecoming to Memphis (and Mike Miller) for the elder Gasol. Gasol is on the books for $19 million this year, but only this year, while Randolph has a $16.9 million player option for next year.
Randolph has made some noise recently that he'd be willing to take a longer term deal for less money, without explicity saying as much, but it remains to be seen how that situation will play out. The Grizzlies can't afford for Randolph to pick up that option. By the same token, the Lakers have nothing but cap room for next year (cap room and Steve Nash). Would they be willing to pay $17 million for one year of Zach Randolph? Would returning to Memphis and playing alongside Marc be a pick-me-up for Pau? How would Memphis fans react to such a deal?
I don't think that particular deal is very likely, but it's certainly an interesting hypothetical. I expect the Z-Bo trade rumor mill to start heating up as we get into the long NBA winter. It's clear that the Grizzlies have to do something, and trading Randolph before he picks up his option is probably the most obvious something available to them.
Game Notes: Grizzlies vs. Raptors
Tonight, the Toronto Raptors are playing in Memphis for the first time since the trade last season that sent Rudy Gay northward in exchange for Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince, and Austin Daye (well, really Davis and Jose Calderon, who was then sent to Detroit in exchange for Prince and Daye). And that means one thing: the return of Rudy Gay to FedExForum for the first time since the trade.
It'll be interesting to see how the fans react to Gay's return. Lots of Grizzlies fans loved Gay while he was here, but just as many had grown frustrated with his lack of development and his poor shooting by the time he was dealt to Toronto. Obviously, last season was a tough one for Gay, but when he got to Toronto, some of his comments didn't exactly do anything to endear him to Memphis fans—he lashed out at the Grizzlies organization a little bit, and the Lionel Hollins Rally crowd seemed to take Gay's words to heart. So as he returns tonight, my predictions is that it's going to be an interesting mix of cheers and boos.
I can't continue writing this preview without pointing out that in the Raptors' most recent game—a 2OT loss to the Houston Rockets—Gay shot 11 for 37 from the field for 29 points. As in, he attempted thirty-seven field goals. And made eleven of them. Gay did that and still didn't finish with the worst shooting percentage among Raptors starters, though—that honor goes to the 6-25 (for 24% true shooting) DeMar DeRozan. I don't even know what else to say about that stat line. 11-37 from the field. Can you imagine what Lionel Hollins would have done if Rudy Gay had done that for the Grizzlies last year? John Hollinger probably would have lit himself on fire in the FedExForum parking garage.
At any rate, just because he's continuing to take shot after shot after shot and making about 30% of them doesn't mean that Rudy Gay doesn't pose a problem for the Grizzlies defensively. I'm sure years of practices and playing together has the Grizzlies somewhat prepared to deal with Gay's game, but he's still an extremely athletic forward who can get to the rim at will—and that seems to be the Grizzlies' Kryptonite so far this season. If Gay decides to go to the rim whenever possible (and doesn't it seem like we've all been reading that exact phrase for years?) he's going to cause problems for the Grizzlies' still-bad defense. But will he? Has he ever?
No matter what happens, the Grizzlies need to win tonight. If they get caught up in the "Return of Rudy Gay" hype and it takes them off their game—what little game they have to be on these days—it's going to be trouble, because Toronto is a good team this year despite the issues with offensive efficiency. Kyle Lowry has been a Griz-Killer ever since he was kicked to the curb in favor of Mike Conley, so now the Raptors have two guys who want to beat the Grizzlies. I don't know if Ed Davis has any desire to be a Raps-Killer, but he's not going to do it in his currently-limited rotation minutes anyway.
The Grizzlies, no matter what happens with Rudy, whether he's booed or welcomed, whether he scores 40 or takes 40 bad shots, need to come out just as focused as they did against Golden State and protect their home court.