Monday, May 12, 2008

FROM MY SEAT: Former Griz Faces in NBA Spotlight

Posted By on Mon, May 12, 2008 at 4:00 AM

It must be vexing to fans of the Memphis Grizzlies to see three players who were part of the Griz rotation as recently as the 2004-05 season within arm's reach of the NBA's version of the Final Four. Wearing colors decidedly different from Beale Street Blue, this trio is making highlights for ESPN, earning talking points from TNT's Charles Barkley, and considering ring size among their most important variables these days. Here's a look at three familiar faces . . . each featuring smiles that are the envy of the current Grizzlies roster.

• PAU GASOL (Lakers) -- On the subject of faces, that of the Memphis franchise changed when the Grizzlies' all-time leading scorer and lone All-Star was traded to the Lakers on February 1st. (Somehow, I don't think the headliner Memphis received in return -- Kwame Brown -- will make the team's 25th-anniversary squad in 2026.) After having been proclaimed as the centerpiece of the Grizzlies' rebuilding plans by new general manager Chris Wallace last fall, Gasol found himself wearing purple and gold alongside MVP-to-be Kobe Bryant before Valentine's Day. Complementing the rest of Bryant's supporting cast -- Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, and Luke Walton to name three -- Gasol instantly became the topic of "worst trade in NBA history" debate by those familiar (and some unfamiliar) with the divergent paths taken by two franchises at opposite ends of the NBA Q-ratings. In averaging 18.9 points and 8.8 rebounds over 39 games in Hollywood, Gasol helped the Lakers to the Western Conference's top seed. He's averaged 20.3 points -- and a whopping 41.2 minutes -- over the Lakers' first 10 playoff games (through Sunday). Gasol's six playoff wins this year are a half-dozen more than he had in six full seasons as a Grizzly.

• JAMES POSEY (Celtics) -- A lock-down defender with Memphis, Posey was popular with the Griz, won games with late-shot dramatics, and was a fiery, emotional presence during the Grizzlies' emergence from playoff afterthoughts to postseason contenders. Posey averaged 13.7 points in 2003-04 for Memphis, the magical season when coach Hubie Brown led the Griz to 50 wins and the franchise's first playoff appearance. (Posey was second only to Gasol among Memphis scorers in that spring's playoff loss to San Antonio.) His production -- and minutes -- dropped the following season, though, and Posey was packaged in a deal that acquired Eddie Jones from the Miami Heat in August 2005. He went on to play a supporting role to Dwyane Wade in the Heat's upset of Dallas in the 2006 NBA Finals. He signed as a free agent with Boston last August, but was off the radar of a national media swooning over the Celtics' acquisitions of All-Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Posey's averaged 7.8 points and 23.8 minutes for Boston in this year's playoffs, after helping the Celtics to 66 regular-season wins, tops in the NBA.

• BONZI WELLS (Hornets) -- I attended a speech by Grizzlies president Jerry West at The Racquet Club in December 2003, the day after he acquired Wells in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers. Wells already had a reputation for being locker-room baggage, and the esteemed West asked his audience to give Wells a chance in Memphis, that a player of his talents merely needed a change of scenery for his necessary maturing. We should ask Mike Fratello -- Wells' coach with the Griz and now an analyst for TNT -- about the chances Wells was given. He averaged 12.3 points off the bench for the Grizzlies over 59 games that first season, then 11.8 in the playoffs against the Spurs. But by the end of the 2004-05 campaign, Wells was in Fratello's dog house (he played a total of 25 minutes in the four-game playoff sweep by Phoenix). The Grizzlies dealt him to Sacramento for Bobby Jackson in August 2005. Wells lasted but one season as a King and parts of two as a Houston Rocket before New Orleans acquired him last February. He's a bit player for the Hornets, averaging less than 20 minutes per game for a team dominated by Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler, and Peja Stojakovic. Like Gasol, Wells finds his team tied at two games apiece in the Western Conference semifinals. Should they both emerge and meet in the Western finals, you have to wonder about the Memphis reflections they'd share in pregame warmups. "Any word on The Pyramid, Pau?"

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