The Other Way to Rebuild

ESPN's True Hoop has a characteristically comprehensive look at the Iverson signing, and among other salient points, they offer the following answers regarding some of the skepticism I mentioned earlier. Namely, are the Grizzlies really "committed to winning" if they're adding players like Iverson and Zach Randolph?

True Hoop explains the logic
underpinning the question:

Why don't young teams bring in veterans? General managers and others have shared wisdom:

* The free agents who are available to rebuilding teams are generally second-tier players (the best ones get to play for elite squads). Many have baggage on or off the court. With so much riding on the development of young, often impressionable players, there is a school of thought that it's better not to risk introducing the bad apple that spoils the whole bunch.

* They're too old! If your team is aiming to start making noise in the playoffs in, let's say, three years, what's going to happen to older veterans who ought to be in serious decline by then? Best case, the veterans will be key players right now. If they are, then down the road you'll have major holes to fill. Or perhaps they won't be key players immediately ... and what's the point?

* To developing players, minutes and touches are like oxygen. Any possession dominated by Randolph or Iverson is a play where Gay, Mayo, Conley or Gasol miss an opportunity to improve. Meanwhile, Randolph, Gay, Mayo and Iverson were all, last season, in the NBA's top 75 in using possessions. To be wanting the ball more is to be human. To be wanting the ball more, while being really bad, is often to breed dissent -- players begin believing the team would win more if only he could shoot more, and quickly you're building the opposite of a winning culture.

"Minutes and touches are like oxygen" ... That may be a bit dramatic, but yeah, there's some vague truth to the notion. Bill Simmons tackled the same subject last November with his hackneyed Miley Cyrus metaphor--to become successful in the NBA, you have to be given ample opportunity to fail. It's true.

But there's more to it, I think, than just getting playing time. Playing a lot of minutes is helpful, but only insofar as those are meaningful minutes. If you're playing in front of 8,000 fans on an 18-win team, the sense of urgency that's reserved for big time NBA basketball is gone. At that point, you're sort of just going through the motions, playing it out until the lottery.

Remember those early 00s Chicago Bulls teams? They were bad, sure, but oozing with potential all over the floor--guess how many of those players turned into superstars? Tyson Chandler (sort of) came closest (for New Orleans), and Kirk Hinrich became famous in a "Look at that semi-competent white guy!" sort of way. Otherwise, Eddy Curry, Marcus Fizer, and Jamal Crawford all faded into NBA ephemera. And that's what happens.

The window to learn how to win meaningful basketball games only lasts so long. After that, you're probably a Golden State Warrior.

And that's why adding Allen Iverson will aid in the development of the Memphis youngsters. Suddenly, the Grizzlies are relevant, and while they are still longshots for the playoffs, the franchise at least has a heartbeat now. Their fans will care about the games again; their opponents, too, will pay attention. Instead of a meaningless 20-win season, Memphis is probably looking at 30-35 wins, and a lot of competitive games.

Suddenly, it'll matter when Rudy Gay takes 25 shots and makes 6 of 'em--Iverson will chew his ass out. And OJ Mayo, who's deceptively got worlds of potential, will learn how to be a combo guard playing alongside the man who literally created the position. Throw in Hasheem the Dream and Marc Gasol, and Memphis actually has a fairly compelling core for the future.

This year, like breathing a new kind of oxygen, they'll learn what it feels like to play meaningful NBA basketball.

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