Its not easy being the new guy, thats true. But it could be worse. Try being the new guy who is actually coming back home and who used to be a star at home but is now just one of many stars and who is not even the biggest star. Follow that? Lets try and summarize: Lorenzen Wright.
The 6-11 forward/center is a five-year NBA veteran, one of the more storied of Memphis basketball heroes, and completely in the shadow of rookie Shane Battier. This situation would be a matter of due course, except in Memphis. Here, Wright should be a King along with Elvis and wrestler Jerry Lawler, if he wanted that company, of course. Instead, hes a new face and maybe not even a starter. That decision is up to the Grizzlies coaching staff in training camp which is just now underway.
This all became most evident at the Grizzlies first ever media day on Rhodes campus. It was a particularly lurid affair with each Grizzly sitting at his table like a college representative, waiting for eager and bright-eyed reporters to come and shove a mike in the face or snap some pictures. To be sure, Wright has his share. But that all happened when Battiers table-- right next to Wrights-- was empty. Battier was fashionably late (read: an hour) to his media date. When he finally showed it was as if the entire Memphis media world showed, shoving one poor Flyer staff writer to the side. Dont worry, I wasnt hurt.
But what about Wright? Will his homecoming be but a footnote of this first chapter of Grizzlies bball in Memphis? For his part, Wright is happy to be home. Its great, he says. Coming back home, being around my family and friends. Im looking forward to a great season.
Of course, Lorenzen could have stayed home in the first place after his four years at the University of Memphis. He could have eschewed NBA basketball dreams for Rendezvous ribs and the Mississippi river. Instead, he traveled to the L.A. Lakers and then to the Atlanta Hawks to make his hoop dreams a reality. So it makes sense that now he is back home to a city with a new franchise, he still has similar career goals in mind.
Winning. He says with plenty of emphasis on the first syllable. I know Memphis is a city that is used to wins so thats my goal, for us to be the best we can be and to improve every year.
A big part of that goal, according to Wright, is to be part of the Grizzlies leadership and part of its ÔA squad as a starter. As to the former, one only needs to ask about how much he likes his new teammates. Theyre great, he says, laughing. Ill keep them. Its hard not to notice the use of possessive language.
And when asked about whether he wants to be a starter, he says, Oh yeah, most definitely. Im at home. I started last year [in Atlanta]. I want to start this year. Im at the point of my career that I want to start. I want to go out there and do everything that I can to be a starter. Wright scored 12.4 points a game and pulled down 7.5 boards last year in Atlanta. His words arent just for show. He can back them up.
But it isnt that simple. The Grizzlies are loaded in the forward spot and Wright might not be perfect as a natural center. At forward, the Grizzlies can interchange Battier, Antonis Fotsis, Pau Gasol, Grant Long, Tony Massenburg, Stromile Swift and Wright. Of course, Battier and Gasol (and maybe Fotsis) are most likely going to slide their thinner and more ball-handling adept bodies into the small forward spot, leaving Wright to battle it out with the other big bodies.
The others are power forwards, but they are also under starting caliber talent. But that still leaves Swift. That 6-9, 225 power forward is only in his second year of league play but already one of the great athletic talents in the league. The Grizzlies have been openly grooming Swift for the starting role all summer. If Swift performs during camp and the early season, Wrights starting position might only be at center.
Theres a problem there as well. While Wright is arguably more talented than the other centers, Isaac Austin (6-10, 270 lbs) and Bryant Reeves (7-0, 290 lbs), he just aint as big. Most noticeably giving up 30 and 50 pounds, respectively. This is a factor in the center-heavy conference of the West (see also: L.A.s Shaquille ONeal). On the other hand, Wright is definitely more athletically gifted and in better shape than his Grizzlies center counterparts. That fits well in head coach Sydney Lowes idea of running and gunning the opposition until blue in the face.
In many ways, this is all going to depend on Wright himself. If he continues his improvement from the last couple of years, its hard to imagine that the coaching staff will have many difficulties keeping him off the bench except when its time to hack at Shaq. For his part, Wright seems to understand this as well. We have a whole lot of new faces, he says. Im one of those new faces. They only have five or six guys back from last year so were starting all over again.
Also, about all that stuff with him and Battier. Heres an tidbit that might point in a positive direction. Battier, at one point, was asked how the team will fair this season. Battier replied in his typically politic phrasing, I really have no frame of reference, so youre asking the wrong guy. Ill leave that to veterans who have been through this. I have no idea what an 82 game season is all about. Ask me in a year and I will have a better idea. Wright, who had drifted away from his rather lonely table and over to Battiers, replied immediately, No, you wont.
Wright then gathered up Battier from the fawning press and pulled the younger player away. Just like any big brother would do. And the family analogy is appropriate. This is Wrights house, after all.