SI Vault
Chris Ballard
October 28, 2002
The franchise player here is new boss Jerry West, who is trying to re-create the magic (and Kareem) he possessed with the Lakers
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October 28, 2002

11 Memphis Grizzlies

The franchise player here is new boss Jerry West, who is trying to re-create the magic (and Kareem) he possessed with the Lakers

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2001-02 record: 23-59 (seventh place in Midwest)
Points scored: 89.9 (27th)
Points allowed: 97.3 (21st)
Coach: Sidney Lowe (third season with Grizzlies)



2001-02 KEY STATS


Shane Battier


14.4 ppg

5.4 rpg

2.8 apg

1.55 spg

42.9 FG%


Pau Gasol


17.6 ppg

8.9 rpg

2.7 apg

2.06 bpg

51.8 FG%


Lorenzen Wright


12.0 ppg

9.4 rpg

1.0 apg

0.53 bpg

45.9 FG%


Michael Dickerson


10.8 ppg

2.3 apg

0.75 spg

31.3 FG%

38.1 3FG%


Jason Williams


14.8 ppg

8.0 apg

1.71 spg

38.2 FG%

29.5 3FG%



2001-02 KEY STATS


Wesley Person#


15.1 ppg

3.8 rpg

0.99 spg

49.5 FG%

44.4 3FG%


Drew Gooden (R)#


19.8 ppg

11.4 rpg

2.0 apg

1.41 bpg

50.4 FG%


Stromile Swift


11.8 ppg

6.3 rpg

1.66 bpg

0.78 spg

48.0 FG%


Brevin Knight


7.0 ppg

2.1 rpg

5.7 apg

1.49 spg

42.2 FG%


Gordan Giricek (r)#


16.8 ppg

3.9 rpg

1.4 apg

46.4 FG%

36.8 3FG%

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
(r) Rookie (statistics from Croatian League)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)

The commercial is set in a grocery store, where a white-haired lady is studying a heap of tomatoes. As she examines and then discards possibilities, a mysterious man appears. Tall and handsome, with Jimmy Johnson hair and a kind smile, he steps in and silently offers up a singularly glorious red orb. This one, he says with his nod, this is the tomato for you.

The mystery man is the Grizzlies' new president of basketball operations, Jerry West. The message: be it produce or power forwards, West can pick a winner. In his 19 years as an executive with the Lakers, West helped construct the foundation of two dynasties. Each time, his blueprint was to draft and/or acquire one or two dominant stars (think Kareem and Magic, Shaq and Kobe) and surround them with hard-working role players. Working in his favor was the sheen of the franchise and the city, with its opportunities for mediocre actors and pedestrian rappers (again, think Shaq and Kobe).

Things are a little different in Grace-land. For example, in addition to shooting that commercial, West went on a three-day barnstorming publicity tour with coach Sidney Lowe and other team brass. Tooling around in a Toyota Sequoia, they chugged to NBA outposts such as Jackson, Tenn., and Little Rock, spreading the Grizzly gospel. "It kind of reminded me of when I first started playing in the NBA," says West, sitting court-side at training camp. "We'd play an exhibition game, then get in cars and drive to the next city." He pauses to shout encouragement to a player, then smiles. "Let's just say that I've been asked to do a few things here that I wasn't asked to do in Los Angeles."

Foremost among those is to turn around a franchise that has never won more than 23 games. Though he hasn't pulled off any front-page, above-the-fold trades, he has made several agate-type moves—picking up sharpshooters Wesley Person and Gordan Giricek and signing free agent Earl Watson, among others—that build on what he sees as his foundation: point guard Jason Williams, forward Shane Battier and last year's rookie of the year, forward Pau Gasol. "We need to have seven or eight players who've played here for three or four years," says West. "After that, we can explore a trade of a bigger magnitude."

His biggest move has been drafting Kansas forward Drew Gooden, who has shown a refined, well-rounded offensive game in preseason. Though he claims not to feel any pressure as the golden child—or ideal tomato, as it may be—Gooden is well aware of the expectations. "I'm just overwhelmed that a guy like Jerry West would have an interest in me," he says.

No doubt, the city of Memphis feels the same way.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]