We discuss the Grizzlies place in the Western Conference hierarchy, Zach Randolph's return from injury and why exactly they brought in Gilbert Arenas.
Check back later in the day for my answers to his questions about the Mavericks.
1) The situation out West is fluid, to say the least. Where do you think Memphis ends up and where would you rank them among the pack trying to track down OKC?
This probably won't come as much of a surprise, as a Grizzlies blogger and fan, but I do believe we are among the top four teams in the West. Imagine that! No, we're not going to catch the Spurs and win our division, but can can certainly leap the Clippers and wind up with the 4th seed. So, really, I guess I would say that we could be top-four team in the West.
No, we're not as talented as the Oklahoma City Thunder, despite the fact that we beat them on Monday night, so I'm not going to say that we belong in a grouping with OKC and probably not even the Lakers, but I do think we're that team no one wants to face in the playoffs. Really since, well, it's only been about a week-plus since we've been able to see a "complete" team on the court (with Randolph out most of the year), and in that span we even lost Marc Gasol for a few and Mike Conley for a few of his own. So, we're still getting our footing as a complete roster, which I think makes us dangerous.
2) Last season, the Grizzlies pretty obviously manipulated their finish to meet the Spurs in the first round. Any chance for similar shenanigans and, of your possible opponents, what team would you most and least want to see?
Well, clearly I think we'd welcome another matchup against the Spurs. I'm not trying to take anything away from what they've done this season, but much like last year it was clear that knees, ankles, shoulders and DNP-OLDs are an issue with this team. The Grizzlies are one of the "toughest" teams in the league, and they aren't afraid to body and be bodied. Which plays well against a team like the Spurs who, again, I mean no disrespect, are a bit fragile. Last year we witnessed the best of the Spurs, with Manu Ginobili single-handidly destroying us (Game 5), and the worst of the Spurs, with Manu missing Game 1 due to injury. I think we'd welcome another matchup with the Spurs, if it were to fall that way.
I'll be clear in saying that this team is in absolutely no way trying to tinker with wins and losses -- I won't defend what they did last year, even though it turned out to be the best strategy for them, but that's not happening this year. As for who we least want to see, I think it starts with the Thunder and I would probably say the Lakers, too, if only because they can counter us with size. Bynum and Pau Gasol can really put a hold on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, which against most other teams the size advantage tips in our favor.
3) How has Zach Randolph looked since his return to injury and how close is he to 100%?
Zach has looked OK. He's getting better from game to game. Really, the best thing that he did was decide to come back and take the limited approach, allowing Marreese Speights to remain in the starting lineup. Zach knows this is about the long-run and not just about winning regular season games. So he and Lionel Hollins decided that it wasn't best for him to push it, and it has worked out quite well. Since returning to the bench the team has gone 5-1. Not too bad. Zach has played the key minutes down the stretch, which is where we need him. But as for where he is health-wise, I think he's at about 90 percent. He still needs to get into 35-plus-minute game shape, but right now he's logging a healthy 25-plus. And probably could go for a few minutes more if they really needed him to.
4) The CW around Memphis is that they need Rudy Gay to become elite if they want to take the next step as a franchise. Do you agree with that and does Gay have more room for growth as a player?
I don't agree that Rudy has to become "elite." First, I don't think he can become an elite player. Not in the sense that Kevin Durant and LeBron James are, but that's OK. This team isn't comprised of a super star and some good talent. We have to remember that Gay is an All-Star talent, as is Zach Randolph, and our one actual All-Star this year was Marc Gasol. So we can argue that we have three AS talents on this team. That's not a bad front-line.
From there, Mike Conley is having his best season as a pro, especially on defense, and Tony Allen remains as one of the most unique and dynamic defensive talents in the game. So, if this were two years ago and Randolph hadn't developed his leadership skills -- which have been understated this year -- and Gasol and Conley hadn't upped their game, respectively, I would say that we need Gay to really step it up. But I think where he is, as a borderline All-Star, we can win a championship. We continue to see his game grow, and that's fantastic, but on a realistic level he'll never be a Durant, LeBron, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, etc. And that's pretty OK with me.
5) Gilbert Arenas? Explain.
Where to begin ... Here's the thing with Arenas, and I've said this plenty of times on the site since we made the move to get him: he's a low-risk, decent-reward acquisition. He's only signed through the year, so the commitment is minor. And as we've seen with the Allen Iverson experiment from two years back, Lionel Hollins isn't afraid to pull the plug if need be. Any peep from Arenas, any dissension in the locker room, he'll be sent packing. No questions.
Now, why the Grizzlies made the move is pretty simple from a basketball perspective. They were in need of a shooter and a backup point guard to give Conley some rest, especially during the playoffs. With Derek Fisher not seeming like a possibility, the "next best thing" was to entertain the idea bringing in Arenas. I think the best way to explain his role is this: we need him to play about 15 minutes of non-disastrous basketball. That's not too much to ask for, right? We don't need him to score 20 points or take the final shot or defend Kobe ... I mean, we put him on Durant on Monday night because Tony Allen got into a little foul trouble and when he wasn't on Durant we put him on Fisher. Enough said.
It may seem like a crazy experiment, but I think this team is in the right frame of mind to at least try and make it work. Let me say this, too, there is no doubt that the entire locker room has Lionel Hollins' back. They respect him greatly, and Tony Allen/Zach Randolph aren't going to let this locker room turn into a circus. Well, beyond whatever acts they themselves perform off the court!