Since the day after the Mavericks eliminated the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, I’ve been itching to get behind the microphone again. So, it’s been a long wait. Summer off allows NBA broadcasters to make up for what we miss during the season: visiting family and friends, catching up on non-basketball reading and hitting the links. We also get to spend a day with NBA referees at their training camp in September in Jersey City, NJ. We watch tape, take quizzes, discuss rules and interpretations and in general, find out how demanding an official’s job is. The questions are tough to puzzle through, so in that vein, I’m unveiling “Five Burning Questions” as the Grizzlies head into the NBA season. (The last one is an actual question from the referees’ training camp.)

How much will the Grizzlies miss Pau Gasol?

Much more than the 20 and 10 he’ll post nightly. Don’t forget, the Grizzlies’ first NBA All-Star also racked up his first career triple double last season and averaged more than four assists per game. Last season, he met or exceeded his career bests virtually across the board. He also become more of a leader and was a better clutch producer. Add a fantastic performance in the World Championships and it’s safe to say that Gasol is entering his prime. Unfortunately, he’ll enter the 2006-2007 NBA season about six or eight weeks later than the Grizzlies would like.

With Shane Battier gone to Houston, Gasol alone is the face of the franchise and the Grizzlies’ success to date has usually been a direct function of Gasol’s play. With him in an improved Western Conference, the Grizzlies are a playoff team; without him for the first six to eight weeks of the season, Memphis may well get off to a sub-par start (have you seen their back-breaking November schedule?) and have to rally after his return to get in position to make a playoff push.

Pau Gasol is one of the most selfless stars in the NBA, more than happy to pass on a shot for himself and serve up an assist if that’s where the better shot exists. His game is sound and he makes winning basketball plays. Most importantly, he commands an instant double-team. Without said double-team, the Grizzlies will have to find other ways to create mismatches and open shooters. That’s not an easy task, but Mike Fratello is one of the better X and O coaches in the NBA.

Will the Grizzlies play a more uptempo style this season?

Conventional wisdom suggests so. First, the Grizzlies are younger and more athletic than they’ve ever been. Consider Stromile Swift, rookie sensation Rudy Gay, whirling dervish Dahntay Jones and athletic bigs Hakim Warrick, Alexander Johnson and Lawrence Roberts and you have to think that a 94-foot game is on Mike Fratello’s radar screen.

Second, the Grizzlies won’t have Pau Gasol for the first six to eight weeks of the season. The lack of another player to force double-teams (Mike Miller is a possible exception to this, but he’s not the post presence Gasol is) will mean the Grizzlies will need to put a premium on easy buckets.

However, it’s tough to run if you’re always taking the ball out of the net. So the Grizzlies will have to defend like they did last season when they allowed the fewest points per game. Their athleticism will allow them to gamble on defense, which should produce a few more turnovers and a few more fastbreak hoops. The hope is that this group will rebound better than last year’s Grizzlies, who routinely struggled on the boards. If Memphis’ rebounding improves and the defense remains solid, the Grizzlies will be more uptempo than in previous years, but if you’re looking for the Phoenix Suns East, forget it.

Will Rudy Gay make a run at Rookie of the Year?

He’ll have the opportunity to get early minutes with Battier’s departure for Houston and he’ll have to be a focus offensively without Gasol on the floor. Gay is long and athletic – that’s obvious. Less obvious is his basketball sense. Despite coming out early from UConn, Gay has shown flashes of NBA-level maturity in pre-season action. He has taken the pitch-perfect approach of being open to tutelage from both veterans and coaches. His quiet and unassuming nature has been read by some as a lack of killer instinct; the truer read is that he’s not about to write checks with his mouth that his body can’t cash. The Memphis veterans will tell you that Gay has the potential to be a special player. His athleticism and basketball skills are unquestioned and his attitude and approach to the game have been fantastic. Brandon Roy has been anointed the early favorite for Rookie of the Year, but Gay will make a run at the award. And even if he doesn’t win it, he’ll have an impact on the league for years to come – All Star-level impact.

Will the Grizzlies win a playoff game?

The better question today is whether or not the Grizzlies will make the playoffs. The November schedule is a bear with a home-and-home back to back with Dallas, and games with the Lakers, Nuggets, Pistons, Cavaliers, Suns, Clippers, Wizards and Kings. If the Grizzlies can claw their way to a .500 November and hold the line until Gasol is ready, they may just make it four seasons in a row in the post-season.

Even though most every scribe has written the Grizzlies off – one suggested that the Grizzlies would lose a humbling 62 games – Jerry West has repeated that the focus for Memphis is not just winning a playoff game, but winning a playoff series. Snicker if you want, but bet against Mr. Clutch at your own risk. One constant for the Grizzlies the last three seasons is their ability to be greater than the sum of their parts and to prove doubters wrong – and they’d love to do it again.

As free throw shooter A1 is in his shooting motion, Player B1 jumps into the lane directly in front of him and clearly affects his motion. The ball fails to touch the rim so a double violation has occurred and a jump ball will be held at midcourt. Is this correct?

No, Player B1 is guilty of “disconcertion” and since Player A1 missed the free throw, he is entitled to a substitute free throw.

Pete Pranica enters his third year with the Grizzlies, having originally joined the team prior to the 2004-05 season as the team's radio play-by-play announcer. Beginning last season, Pranica provided play-by-play for all Grizzlies television broadcasts, a role he assumed following the untimely death of the "Voice of the Grizzlies," Don Poier, in January 2005.