CLASS IS OUT
With golf season having hit the Grizzlies all too soon, there are a few lessons to be learned from our NBA outfit's inaugural playoff appearance.
In the NBA playoffs, superstars win. This is the most simple, undeniable fact in modern sports. Check out Alex Rodriguez's postseason achievements to see how far a single superstar will take a baseball team. You probably can't name a member of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots other than Tom Brady. And it's fifty-fifty you'll be able to pronounce the name of the top goal-scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But in professional basketball, a superstar is a prerequisite to playoff success. San Antonio has one. Memphis, alas, still doesn't.
Hubie Brown won his second Coach of the Year trophy last week, primarily because he won so many games with a team devoid of superstars. And the honor was well deserved. But you saw as far as this team will go in its current form. Pau Gasol is a special player, but he's Robin, not Batman. Better put, he's David Robinson and not Tim Duncan. (The Admiral played eight fine seasons without reaching the Finals before Duncan arrived in 1997 and led the way to two titles.)
How does Jerry West fill the superstar void? You can count on a few conversations with Kobe Bryant this summer. And who knows what kind of trade could be arranged with the depth on this Memphis team? Tracy McGrady is not happy in Orlando. I'm sure Mr. Logo could part with a pair of members from Brown's 10-man rotation (and a draft pick to boot) for the prodigiously talented McGrady. All that new FedExForum revenue could help pay McGrady to stay. Hmmmmmm . . . .
Experience counts . . . a lot. Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Robert Horry, heck, even Hedo Turkoglu are names all too familiar to NBA fans come spring. And you could tell they were comfortable on the playoff stage against the Griz.
Memphis experience? Bonzi Wells had seen a lot of playoff action in Portland. Jason Williams had 18 playoff games (as a Sacramento King) under his belt. Mike Miller played in eight with Orlando. But Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, Stromile Swift . . . zippo. Lorenzen Wright had all of three playoff games on his resume (believe it or not, as an L.A. Clipper).
TNT analyst Steve Kerr -- he of five championship rings with Chicago and San Antonio -- described "the process" to Game 2 viewers, one where a team will cut its collective teeth over the course of a season or two before making real waves in the playoffs. Michael Jordan's Bulls couldn't beat Detroit at one time. Isiah Thomas' Pistons couldn't beat Boston. Even the mighty Lakers of Shaq and Kobe needed three postseason whippings before winning a title. The Grizzlies are a young club. Next year's playoff run will be toughened by this year's scar tissue.
Who's the Go-To Guy? Even minus a superstar, a playoff team has to have the player ready, willing, and able to take the game-deciding shot. And, more importantly to make that shot. In the series-killing Game 3 loss last Thursday, four Grizzlies stepped up in the last two minutes with the game on the line. Gasol, Williams, Wells, and finally, Miller, all had the chance to tie the game or put the Griz ahead . . . and all four missed. Miller's final buzzer beater was so close it hurts. Perhaps he'll be The Guy a year from now.
Memphis is an NBA town. Long a basketball hotbed on the high school and college level, the 19,000-plus packing The Pyramid for two games was certifiable proof that this is now (and forever?) NBA country. There hasn't been a more poignant moment in this year's playoffs than the standing ovation Hubie Brown received last Thursday in the pregame ceremony announcing his Coach of the Year award. The towel waving . . . the chants of DE-FENSE! . . . Cheryl Miller on the sideline . . . Commissioner David Stern in the house. Yes indeed: NBA now.