Theres a chicken-and-egg quality to evaluating the profound success of the 2003-04 Memphis Grizzlies. Is credit owed primarily to president Jerry West -- the NBAs Great Wise Man -- for the talent he steered through the Pyramids doors? Or should the blue ribbon go to head coach Hubie Brown, for maximizing (in terms of both talent and effort) a roster devoid of All-Stars, but now overstuffed with heart? The answer seems to be connected in that, after all, it was Mr. West -- to the astonishment of most -- who brought Mr. Brown to Memphis.
West has done nothing since his arrival two years ago to chip away at the Rushmorian presence he commands in NBA circles coast to coast. The 65-year-old Hall of Famer corrected a mistake in dealing his first Grizzly draft pick (Drew Gooden) before the player even completed a season in Memphis. He corrected the mistake by bringing the versatile Mike Miller to Memphis, a player who would seem to embody the basketball virtues upon which West (and Brown, for that matter) insist: an outside offensive touch, without fear of the inside, along with the requisite defensive vigor. Add Earl Watson, James Posey, Bonzi Wells, and Bo Outlaw to the Miller acquisition, and you have fifty percent of the Grizzlies rotation that is directly the result of Wests eye for talent and skill for trading.
Which brings us to the other half of the Grizzlies 10-man fun bunch. It may be hard to remember, but Jason Williams, Stromile Swift, Lorenzen Wright, Shane Battier, and Pau Gasol were key members of a team that won exactly 31 percent of its games over the Grizzlies first two seasons in Memphis. This quintet -- where would the Griz be without them? -- suffered inconsistency, injury (remember the toenails?), trade rumors, but mostly, losing. Night in, night out. With the necessary seasoning under Brown, though, these five players now comprise the backbone and personality of a team that has won 73 percent of its games since the dawn of 2004. And lets stress the impact of Brown. What good are the ingredients without the right chef?
During a speech to the Memphis Regional Chamber at The Racquet Club of Memphis last December, West openly expressed his hope, his goal for the Grizzlies reaching the playoffs . . . this season. He didnt dodge the P word as it became fashionable to do with the teams growing win total. He didnt pump either fist, and he certainly didnt make any bold predictions. If anything, West was humble to a fault, asking those skeptics in the room to be patient with his latest addition (Wells), as he had a feeling team chemistry would be fine as long as Brown had his lab coat on. He proved right about the playoffs, and right about Wells (no Jail Blazer he).
As for this 2003-04 Grizzly squad, one that has nearly doubled the franchises previous record for wins in a season, an appropriate tip of the cap is due one James Posey. In this Age of LeBron, Herculean efforts are required to upstage King James. And that is precisely what Posey offered last week in holding the presumptive Rookie of the Year to 14 points in The Pyramid, while tallying a cool 35 himself. With apologies to Pau Gasol, Posey is this teams MVP.
The Grizzlies will put a wrap on their first winning season this Wednesday when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves. Then its on to the postseason and a best-of-seven series with the Lakers or Spurs (or Kings or Timberwolves, who have yet to clinch division titles). Despite the formidable task ahead, the Grizzlies have already won, and by measures never previously considered in these parts. How can you help but feel like whatever happens next is bonus time, maybe a departing gift as the franchise heads for FedExForum? Who in their right mind last fall would have guessed at playoff basketball -- NBA variety -- in The Pyramid? It would seem the answer is Jerry West . . . and Hubie Brown.