While the scores won’t be as lopsided as the 120-92 shellacking of Sacramento the Grizzlies dropped Saturday, the Memphis blue bears are a much improved team after moving Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll and a draft pick while acquiring Shane Battier and Ish Smith.
The price may seem high, especially if Battier is not resigned after the season ends, but the end result is a team that has a very good chance of finally bringing Memphis a playoff victory – and here’s why.
5) PR Bonanza
What happens when you trade away the most hated player in franchise history for the most beloved player in franchise history?
It was on display extensively last night. Rudy Gay, who, it could be argued, was never fully embraced by fans because Battier had to leave so he could come, introduced Battier to a raucous ovation to start the game. The applause was even bigger when Battier finally checked in.
“When I first checked in, my initial reaction was ‘take it in, soak it in,'” Battier said, “But after about two seconds I realized I had no idea what I was doing out there and I hoped I didn’t embarrass myself.”
Not only was the crowd louder and rowdier, it was bigger too. Almost 17,000 (at least 3,000 more than average) people showed up to see a Tyreke-less game against the Kings. That number is just below Laker-game levels.
And it makes a difference. Hollins put Battier in early when the Grizzlies were trailing, hoping the crowd would get into it and give the team a boost.
Did they ever. The crowd enthusiasm was at a level rarely seen, and it stayed that way for the entire game. Meanwhile the Grizzlies won by 28 without Rudy Gay.
It was playoff enthusiasm. It is something that would not have been there without Battier.
4) Battier is focused on getting a playoff win
He said it in his introductory conference, and he said it last night. Shane Battier sees this opportunity in Memphis as a second chance. A second chance to get the one thing that he never delivered when he was there the first time, the one thing that stayed so far out of reach that Jerry West left and Chris Wallace decided to blow up the team by shipping Pau Gasol to Los Angeles.
The playoff win.
At his presser Battier was talking about how badly he and the team wanted it then and went on about how important it is to get it now. Last night he talked about it again.
With the Spurs looming tonight, Battier discussed the game as a chance to get familiar with a team they may face in the postseason.
“You have to start preparing yourself for a playoff mentality now,” he said. “You have to start looking at all the little things and finding what works and what doesn’t. If you’re going to make a playoff run you start preparing now.”
Battier is putting in the mental effort already, but does his veteran presence and attitude rub off on the other players?
3) Battier’s veteran presence and attitude rubs off on the other players
Before the Battier trade, the Grizzlies were slowly becoming Tony Allen’s team. He wasn’t the high scorer, he wasn’t even starting in most games, but he was the glue guy. He was the guy coming in and pushing everyone to a higher level.
It’s become clear lately that J-Will is surprisingly having a similar effect. And now there’s Battier.
“It’s great to have another role man in the locker room,” Marc Gasol told me last night. “The more we have the better. It’s the kind of thing that gets everybody going and gets everyone in the right mindset.”
Battier has consistently said that the Grizzlies are “Rudy’s team.” But right now they are a team. In the locker room and on the court, the team with Battier has a lot more, as Hollins so eloquently put it, “settle-ness.” It just feels right.
2) The Grizzlies are, again, built 10 deep
Right now the 10 deep at small forward includes Rodney Carney, but when Rudy Gay comes back the Grizzlies will have a complete second unit that is starting to show it can be good enough to allow Hollins to park himself in a chair and hang out.
In 2004 and 2005, the Grizzlies were able to make the playoffs on the backbone of a very strong bench. With the acquisition of Battier, this team has a bench almost if not just as good as those teams, and, with Gay, a much better starting 5.
Last year one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses was the way the starters dominated the box score and the bench produced little to nothing. Now it’s spreading out and there’s no glaring weakness in the roster. Mostly because…
1) Hasheem Thabeet is GONE
This was the most glaring weakness in the roster. By far. Also it kept Haddadi on the bench. While Hollins has said that Haddadi needs to “get in shape” and “learn the plays” he was still much better last night than Thabeet ever was.
Hollins doesn’t have to look at his bench and figure out a way to put Thabeet in the game. Chris Wallace and Heisley don’t have to keep making excuses for why they wasted a #2 pick on a player who, will now likely take Brian Cardinal’s title of “worst Grizzly ever.”
He was never liked. Fans were recording songs begging Wallace not to draft him, and while, recently, the crowd has begun to treat him with some love during games, it was the kind of love a parent gives for their child who, bless their heart, just doesn’t get the effing game.
Few things united Grizzly fans like their hatred of Thabeet. A few things like a love for Shane Battier and dreams of a playoff win.
Two of those things are all right in Grizz Country now, and signs are pointing to the third being just beyond the horizon.
Story photos by Justin Ford and Chase Gustafson.