Pau Gasol led the Grizzlies in points, rebounds and assists in 12 games last season, and he was one of only three players in the league to finish as his team's leader in all three categories.
Record: 49-33 (4th in West) Points scored: 92.2 (27th in NBA) Points allowed: 88.5 (1st) Coach: Mike Fratello (third season with the Grizzlies)
Once scorned, Stromile Swift returns and will be counted on at both ends
Given how his last stint in Memphis ended, Stromile Swift is surprised to be wearing a Grizzlies uniform again. But rather than sulk, as he did at the end of the 2004-05 season and into the playoffs because of a lack of playing time, he's determined to make the best of his second tour. "When they decided to bring me back, I had to put all that behind me," says Swift, a forward-center who last year signed as a free agent with the Rockets after five seasons with the franchise that drafted him.
Looking for a potential scorer to play alongside star Pau Gasol, Memphis traded Shane Battier to Houston in June for the draft rights to Rudy Gay. Getting Swift back as part of the deal was a bonus. "Stro's ability to protect the goal," says coach Mike Fratello, "will make people think twice about whether or not they want to attack the rim."
Though known primarily for his shot blocking, Swift will assume a greater role in the offense this time, with Gasol sidelined for at least three months (he broke his left foot at the world championships). The 6'9", 230-pound Swift is an able, if inconsistent, scorer whose wiry frame, innate athleticism (a tattoo of Jesus holding a basketball drapes his left shoulder and is framed by the words a gift from god) and leaping ability serve him best near the basket.
This reliance on Swift is an abrupt reversal from the end of the '04-05 season. Now, ironically, Swift can carve out the leadership position he has long coveted with the very team he fled. "Hopefully," he says, "I can come in and make a difference and be better than I was when I left." -- Andrew Lawrence