Their van sputtered to a halt, out of gas, and six Grizzlies
found themselves stranded on a deserted Interstate 101 off-ramp
somewhere between their downtown Santa Barbara hotel and their UC
Santa Barbara training-camp site 15 miles away. With no gas
station in sight, the half-dozen NBA millionaires (after
discovering that, incredibly, no one among them was carrying a
cell phone or any cash) attempted to flag down help, to no avail
until a taxi pulled over and ferried guard Brent Price and
centers Bryant Reeves and William Cunningham to a service
station, where Reeves paid for a can of gas with a credit card.
On the way back to the van, the passengers--two of them
7-footers--were asked by the cabbie what they did for a living.
"We play for the Vancouver Grizzlies," one replied. After a brief
silence, the stone-faced cabbie looked back at them and said,
"You guys really need to win more games."
That sentiment is both the rallying cry and the yoke of the
five-year-old Grizzlies, who, while amassing a woeful 22-60
record last season, reached 300 losses faster than any franchise
in league history. Chicago investment group billionaire and new
owner Michael Heisley says he expects far more from this year's
outfit and showed he meant it by gutting the front office shortly
after taking control last May. Gone are team president and
franchise architect Stu Jackson, coach Lionel Hollins and
personnel director Larry Riley; replacing them are president Dick
Versace, general manager Billy Knight, coach Sidney Lowe and team
consultant Chuck Daly. To the newly installed brain trust,
Heisley has given two simple yet ambitious goals: 30-plus
victories this season, playoffs the next.
Lowe professes an abiding excitement at Heisley's pronouncements.
"That's what I want everybody to be thinking here," Lowe says.
For what was the NBA's second-youngest team last year, Lowe seems
a good fit: Following a brief but disastrous (33-92) coaching
stint with the Timberwolves, in the early 1990s, and then five
years as an assistant with the Cavaliers and another last season
with Minnesota, a wiser Lowe arrives in Vancouver with a
reputation as an effective, player-friendly communicator.
The degree to which Lowe's enthusiasm will be dampened depends
largely on the fitness--and happiness--of his front line. After two
disappointing seasons during which his scoring and rebounding
averages plummeted in direct proportion to the expansion of his
waistline, Reeves reported to camp "in great shape," says Lowe.
"I had no preconceived notions of Bryant's situation and can only
judge what I see. He looks fine." Though Lowe says the same of
Othella Harrington, the power forward's distaste for Vancouver
looms as a distraction, particularly because his minutes will
decline with the arrival of Stromile Swift, the explosive young
forward who was the second pick in the June draft. "Othella is a
starter, definitely," says Lowe. "We don't want to bring Stromile
along too quickly, where he might fail."
That said, the Grizzlies certainly didn't draft Swift to ride the
pine. A shot blocker and a tireless rebounder at LSU, Swift
immediately upgrades Vancouver's interior defense and gives the
Grizzlies another hyper-athlete to go with forward Shareef
Abdur-Rahim and the dynamic backcourt of Mike Bibby and Michael
Dickerson. More important, Swift's professed appreciation of
Vancouver further lessens the sting still felt after 1999 top
pick Steve Francis so pilloried the city and the franchise that
the Grizzlies were forced to trade him to the Rockets. "What I
know of Vancouver I like," says Swift, a soft-spoken 20-year-old.
"I know I have to work on my intensity, and I know some people
said I shouldn't have left college early. I just want to prove
[Vancouver] made the right choice."
Last season the Grizzlies became the first team since the 1991-92
Knicks to have four players (Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Mike Bibby,
Michael Dickerson and Othella Harrington) start all 82 games.
STARTERS 1999-2000 KEY STATS
SF Shareef Abdur-Rahim 20.3 ppg 10.1 rpg 3.3 apg 1.09 spg 1.06 bpg
PF Othella Harrington 13.1 ppg 6.9 rpg 1.2 apg 0.71 bpg 50.6 FG%
C Bryant Reeves 8.9 ppg 5.7 rpg 0.55 bpg 44.8 FG% 64.8 FT%
SG Michael Dickerson 18.2 ppg 3.4 rpg 2.5 apg 1.41 spg 40.9 3FG%
PG Mike Bibby 14.5 ppg 8.1 apg 3.7 rpg 1.61 spg 44.5 FG%
BENCH 1999-2000 KEY STATS
F Stromile Swift (R) 16.2 ppg 8.2 rpg 2.79 bpg 1.47 spg 60.8 FG%
G Damon Jones 4.2 ppg 1.7 apg 1.0 rpg 38.5 FG% 36.0 3FG%
F Grant Long 4.8 ppg 5.6 rpg 1.0 apg 1.07 spg 44.3 FG%
F-G Doug West 4.0 ppg 1.9 rpg 1.1 apg 40.7 FG% 85.0 FT%
C Isaac Austin 6.7 ppg 4.8 rpg 1.3 apg 0.64 spg 42.9 FG%
New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Grizzlies
"The Grizzlies tend to come at you hard early, pushing the ball up
the floor, but they don't sustain it. They usually slow down into
a half-court team as the game goes on, and then they aren't as
effective.... I wasn't a big Mike Bibby fan when he came out of
college, but he's a lot better than I thought. He doesn't have
great quickness, but he's a good decision maker.... You have to
make Shareef Abdur-Rahim be a jump shooter. Body him out and make
him face the basket. He'll always look for the drive first, and
if you let him get near the rim, he'll come away with a basket or
a foul or both.... Othella Harrington is an underrated player.
He's great at beating his man down the floor and posting up in
the early offense, and being a lefty makes it hard for defenders
to read his little jump hooks and turnarounds.... Michael
Dickerson can put the ball on the floor and shoot the three, but
he could use some work on his midrange game. One of the best
things about him is that he goes about his business and doesn't