Season preview: Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies will struggle again this season with such a young roster
Ownership has talked openly about a three-year rebuilding plan
The much-improved Rudy Gay is poised to become a star
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Grizzlies at a glance
Last season: 22-60
Notable additions: O.J. Mayo (R), Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker and Greg Buckner (trade with Timberwolves), Marc Gasol (R), Darrell Arthur (R), Quinton Ross (FA), Hamed Haddadi (FA)
Notable losses: Mike Miller, Jason Collins and Brian Cardinal (trade with Timberwolves), Juan Carlos Navarro (signed with Spain's FC Barcelona), Kwame Brown (signed with Pistons)
Coach: Marc Iavaroni (22-60 in one season with Grizzlies)
Reasons for hope
1. Gay is a budding star. The 21-year-old swingman nearly won the Most Improved Player award after boosting his scoring average from 10.8 points as a rookie to 20.1 points last season, an NBA-high 9.3-point increase. Gay became the first second-year player to average more than 20 points in three years and set a franchise record for most points in a season (1,632). This year, Iavaroni will give Gay more freedom on the court and allow him to lead the team after he was thrust into that role in the middle of last season.
"If he is the best player on our team, he has to understand with that comes a lot of responsibility," Iavaroni said. "He will ultimately be judged by how well we play because he must bring it every night for us to have success. He needs to understand that. That's going to be his challenge this year."
2. The other Gasol has joined the NBA. When the Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers last season, many labeled it as one of the most lopsided trades in recent history. The Lakers, after all, were seemingly giving up only Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a couple of drafts picks for a 7-footer with career averages of almost 19 points and nine rebounds. What most failed to take into account was that the Grizzlies were also getting the rights to Marc Gasol, whom the Lakers had drafted the year before. Pau's little brother was not only a fixture on Spain's national team but also last season won the MVP of the Spanish ACB League, considered the second-best pro league in the world, after averaging 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds.
"We wouldn't have made the deal if we couldn't get Marc Gasol," Iavaroni said. "That trade wouldn't have had any legs if he wasn't included. I mean, how stupid are we? 'OK, let me see here, Pau for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and two future first-round picks. Yeah, OK, that sounds good.' The trade was always viewed as if he wasn't part of it. It was never mentioned on national TV as far as I know. They never mentioned his brother. I thought that would have been the most interesting part of the national discussion, but the most interesting part was how someone had committed grand larceny."
3. They got their man in the draft. If the face-lift of this year's Grizzlies began when the team traded Pau Gasol last season, it was (for the moment, anyway) completed on draft night when they dealt Kevin Love, Miller, Collins and Cardinal to the Timberwolves for Mayo, Walker, Jaric and Buckner. The key to the deal for Memphis was getting Mayo, a player owner Michael Heisley described as "the next Dwyane Wade." Mayo should be an immediate starter for the Grizzlies, who hope he can quickly mesh with Gay to create a young but formidable 1-2 scoring punch.
Reasons for worry
1. This is the beginning of a three-year plan. There will be no delusions of grandeur in Memphis this season; Heisley already has said the Grizzlies are beginning a three-year rebuilding process. Considering the team endured three consecutive first-round sweeps in the playoffs before suffering through back-to-back 22-win seasons, that's probably not what Grizzlies fans want to hear.
2. Where's the defense? Memphis ranked last in field-goal-percentage defense (48.0) and 28th in points allowed (106.9) last season, and was also one of the worst rebounding teams. While the well-traveled, defensive-oriented Kevin O'Neill was hired as an assistant coach, it remains to be seen whether a roster full of young players will commit to, or be capable of, playing good defense.
3. Who takes control of the locker room? Eight players expected to be core contributors -- Mayo, Gay, Gasol, Arthur, Crittenton, Mike Conley, Darko Milicic and Kyle Lowry -- are 23 or younger, making the Grizzlies the youngest team outside of Portland. In fact, the lone holdover from Memphis' last postseason berth, in 2006, is 25-year-old forward Hakim Warrick. The veteran leadership consists of three players acquired from Minnesota, Walker, Jaric and Buckner, each of whom is battling just to earn spots in the rotation.
Keep an eye on ...
The point guard situation. The Grizzlies didn't do anything in the offseason to clear up the logjam at the position, which featured former first-round picks Conley, Lowry and Crittenton at the end of last season. In fact, they added Jaric, who has experience running the point, and Mayo, a potential NBA combo guard. Any team seeking a point guard during the season is likely to check in with the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies last season gave up an NBA-high 37 points a game on inside shots (6 feet or closer).
If nothing else, give the Grizzlies credit for not sugarcoating their intentions to rebuild in hopes of contending in three years. In counting on so many inexperienced players, it's hard to see Memphis improving much on last year's 22-win season.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.