The Grizz appear to be off on the right sneaker, boasting a nucleus of three former top 10 picks in the starting five. O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay all came aboard in the last three drafts. Any team would be happy to start with such an athletic and hungry trio.
“This is very exciting because we have a lot of talent,” Gay said. “We’ve had talent for a couple of years now, but I think that we are starting to realize that we can show what we can do.”
That’s not all Marc Iavaroni has to work with. The second-year coach has two new big bodies to help at power forward in Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur, along with significant cap space in the summer of 2009. Though the Grizzlies had a nice run of playoff trips not so long ago, the franchise has definitely turned a page.
“It really is a new team,” Iavaroni said. “I feel like we’ve gone into a new era.”
Mayo and Arthur were part of some serious Draft night maneuvering. It didn’t take long for Mayo to spread it on thick. The former USC standout lit up Summer League to the tune of 18.8 points, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals. As Matthew Hood from Grizzlies.com pointed out, Mayo’s personal highlight reel included a 69-foot buzzer beater against the Spurs and a monster slam over the Hornets’ Hilton Armstrong.
Mayo, who was also part of the USA Basketball Select Team that competed against the Redeem Team, just sees himself as part of the puzzle.
“We are all so young, we’re going to go through the grind together,” the 6-4 guard said. “Hopefully we can make things better around here.”
Arthur and Conley also enjoyed solid runs through Summer League. Of interest, especially in Memphis, is the addition of the next Gasol. Fans are still stinging from the Pau Gasol heist to La-La Land. Maybe his younger brother Marc, a former MVP from the Spanish ACB League, can help ease the pain.
Youth usually means inexperience. That’s generally true in the Grizzlies’ case. But they also quickly point out that youth means young legs, quickness and exuberance. Just try to keep pace, they say. The trick is getting the track meet started.
For now, Memphis isn’t getting carried away with bold predictions of winning the stacked Southwest. Improvement from last year’s 22 wins is an obvious goal. Conley compared the situation to Portland, which has stacked its roster the last few years and enters the season as a Western Conference upstart.
The Grizzlies are looking to make their start.
“I fee like it’s a great chance for all of us young players to become leaders,” Conley said. “Not having as many veterans on the team allows you to establish yourself and make a statement.”
-- Art Garcia