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Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a.k.a. the Future, is the eBay of NBA players. He looks great on paper and his stock had a tremendous run-up recently; yet how many people are familiar with the actual product? "I know I might not be a household name yet," says Abdur-Rahim, "but once I help this team win, I'll get more exposure." When that day comes—especially when the Grizzlies get more time on network TV—we'll see a highly skilled 6'9" small forward who has a vast repertoire of offensive moves and the most dexterous footwork this side of Hakeem. We'll also behold a player who performs with the consistency of a metronome, having averaged 22.3 points in his second year last season (sixth in the NBA) without scoring more than 32 in any game.
Abdur-Rahim is the NBA's antipunk, a 22-year-old who says he's never had a drink and a devout Muslim who carries a compass so he can face Mecca when he prays several times a day. At the Grizzlies' preseason training camp he gleefully told all who would listen that this would be the year the team's fortunes would cease to mirror those of the Canadian dollar. "We're at the point where we have a good mix of young guys and veterans," says Abdur-Rahim, who signed a six-year, $71 million contract extension last week. "If we stay healthy and play together, I truly believe we could make some noise."
While that might be Panglossian, things are looking up for Vancouver, which in its three seasons has lost more than 80% of its games. After wasting its 1997 lottery pick on point guard Antonio Daniels—who was traded to the San Antonio Spurs on this year's draft day for forward Carl Herrera and rookie guard Felipe Lopez—the Grizzlies sought to redeem themselves last June when they used the second selection to get Arizona's Mike Bibby, a sharpshooting playmaker who handles the ball as if it were attached to his palm with a string. "I'm just looking forward to him breaking down the defense and feeding me and my teammates the ball," says Abdur-Rahim.
Alas, one likely recipient, 7-footer Bryant Reeves, arrived at camp carrying about 25 extra pounds, tipping the scales at around 300. Still, Big Country has improved his scoring average every year he's been in the league and gives Vancouver a solid-performing, if flaccid, big man. After Abdur-Rahim, Bibby and Reeves, however, the talent level drops considerably.
More problematic, Vancouver needs to tighten up on defense. Last year's team gave up nearly 104 points a game, second-worst in the league, and allowed opponents to penetrate the lane with impunity. "Getting better defensively has to be our mission," says coach Brian Hill. "That's where it has to start if we're going to exceed our potential."
Even so, we'll very likely have to wait at least another year before we glimpse the Future.
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