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Memphis' blues, best new unis, Kings trouble & more

Posted: Thursday December 7, 2006 3:25PM; Updated: Thursday December 7, 2006 6:17PM
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While finding the paint a very lonely place in Memphis, Hakim Warrick has managed to average 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds.
While finding the paint a very lonely place in Memphis, Hakim Warrick has managed to average 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
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From locker rooms to news conferences to newspaper columns the refrain is the same: It's too early. Too early to make any team a favorite. Too early to write off any team. Too early to make any conclusions about the five months to come.

But when you lose 13 of your first 18 games, when your most talented player is already a trade rumor, when stories are written about your coach's next job and when your fans aren't interested, it gets late quickly. And nowhere is the sun setting on this season quicker than in Memphis.

"It's not a bit of a bad start, it's a bad start," veteran Eddie Jones said before Monday's game in New York, gently correcting SI.com for trying to soft-shoe around the team's 4-12 start.

"What start?" fourth-year guard Dahntay Jones added.

Indeed, the Grizzlies' season was hamstrung before training camp began when Pau Gasol, coming off his first All-Star season, broke his foot at the World Championships over the summer, an injury that is expected to sideline him until at least December. Once the season began, the Grizzlies' infirmary only grew when Jones strained his Achilles and promising rookie point guard Kyle Lowry was lost for the season after fracturing his left wrist.

"We've been hit hard by a lot of injuries, so we've had to experiment with a lot of different lineups and a lot of different personnel," coach Mike Fratello says. "I don't think we know what this group can do yet."

For now it's a group in transition. Five different starting lineups have taken the floor this season. Damon Stoudamire has been benched as the starting point guard in favor of journeyman Chucky Atkins. And young players such as Hakim Warrick and Rudy Gay have quickly become regular starters.

"Different guys are stepping up and playing big each night, but it's tough right now not having a set lineup," says Warrick, to whom the bulk of Gasol's low-post duties has fallen.

The air of uncertainty extends through every level of the organization. The seat under Fratello has been so hot that GM Jerry West has felt the need to support his coach to the team in person. (That is when Fratello is not busy himself refuting speculation he could be tabbed as Pat Riley's replacement in Miami should the Heat coach kick himself back upstairs.) West is thought to be eyeing retirement or a new front office when his contract ends after this season. And owner Michael Heisley has been doing everything but hand over the keys to a potential new ownership group led by former Duke teammates Brian Davis and Christian Laettner, who have pledged to cut costs, and, at the same time, make the team more popular in Memphis. The Grizzlies are drawing a little more than 15,000 a game, second worst in the league to the Trail Blazers.

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