x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Grizzlies are hot, and that's no joke

The manager Wallace has turned around the Grizzlies, who started the season as no-hopers, into one of the top teams in the NBA and no one saw it coming.

It just doesn't sound right - the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Los Angeles Lakers this week in front of a sold-out crowd at the FedEx Forum. The Grizzlies, who started the season as no-hopers, are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Almost two years ago, Memphis traded away their lone star, Pau Gasol, in order to save money and the team's general manager, Chris Wallace, became the butt of sports jokes all over the US.

Breaking with decorum, even the San Antonio Spurs' coach, Greg Poppovich, was compelled to question the sanity and validity of the trade. It harkened back to the days when the NBA had to restrict trades. As a result of one particularly foolish owner, the former Cleveland Cavaliers boss Ted Stepien, teams can no longer trade first round picks in consecutive years. Long story short, people around the league who know a thing or two began to question Wallace's judgement.

After a series of particularly wacky, unconventional and what appeared to be borderline insane manoeuvres during the summer, the Grizzlies headed into this season with no chance on of making the play-offs. The club traded to acquire the perennial enfant terrible Zach Randolph. They added Allen Iverson. They drafted the big Tanzanian Hasheem Thabeet who is a long, long way away from being an everyday NBA player.

Okay, Iverson played only three games before leaving the Grizzlies. But the last laugh, it seems, may be with Wallace: the Grizzlies have quietly turned into one of the top 12 to15 teams in the league. To begin with, they have arguably the top offensive post player in the NBA. In a word, Randolph is unstoppable. While no scout ever doubted his potential, Randolph never let basketball get in the way of partying - at least not until this season. Now, we are now seeing that Randolph is an All-Star.

Flanking the former bad boy are two rising stars, and by that I mean legitimate potential NBA All-Stars, Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo. Rounding out this group is Pau Gasol's brother Marc. As one NBA scout recently told me, Marc Gasol came into the league as an afterthought. He was overweight and unimpressive; no one ever confused Marc for Pau. But Wallace saw something everyone else missed, and is being rewarded for this foresight. Today the sky is the limit for Marc Gasol.

As for Mayo, he was the poster child for all that was wrong with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball leagues that feed into the US collegiate basketball system. He bounced around from high school to high school, seemingly controlled by his basketball shoe sponsor/overlord. Instead of cracking under the weight of expectations, Mayo has excelled both on and off the court. He is a solid NBA citizen.

Gay had been seen as one of the best young players in the US, but then went about destroying his NBA draft value with a series of uninspired performances during his last year of college. By the time he was drafted, he was no longer considered a "can't miss" prospect. He slipped to eighth overall and ended up in Memphis, where he has blossomed this season into arguably the top young small forward of his generation not named Kevin Durant.

This young nucleus could become a perennial play-off team and could grow to become something even better. It defies logic. It makes no sense. But it has happened, so what else is there to say? Wallace has built a fine team and no one saw it coming. @Email:sports@thenational.ae