NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Wednesday, October 27th (All times eastern)
Atlanta Hawks (0-0) at Memphis Grizzlies (0-0), 8 p.m.
(Sports Network) - Southern pride is on the line Wednesday night when the Memphis Grizzlies kick off their home schedule by hosting the Atlanta Hawks at FedEx Forum.
By securing Rudy Gay for the long-term, keeping Lionel Hollins as the team's coach and adding promising rookie Xavier Henry to a nucleus that also includes O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies figure to have an excellent chance to take the next step in their rebuilding program.
Getting Gay, a restricted free agent, under contract was the team's first priority and locking up Hollins was No. 2. Owner Michael Heisley got both done, keeping the big three that helped fuel a 16-game improvement last season intact by inking Gay to a massive five-year, $84 million deal.
Despite his shaky reputation and his involvement in an Indianapolis-area drug investigation this offseason, Memphis is sticking by Randolph, a player they say was solid both on the floor and in the locker room.
If Randolph, a double-double machine, keeps his nose clean and with Gay back on board, the Grizzlies are likely a shooter and perimeter defender away from making the playoffs.
Henry, a Kansas product with excellent size and an NBA-ready body, could be that shooter, while former Boston swingman Tony Allen should be the defensive specialist on the wing.
Memphis helped its shaky bench situation by bringing in Allen, a top-tier perimeter defender in Beantown, and adding backup point guard Acie Law and former Maryland swing guard Greivis Vasquez.
Improvement from second-year center Hasheem Thabeet and reserve small forward Sam Young will also be paramount if the Grizzlies hope to end a four-year postseason drought.
"We have continuity not just in the playing ranks, which is important in the NBA, but we have all our coaches back, as we are now going into our second camp with this group," said Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace at the team's media day. "I expect that continuity to really help us."
The winds of change figured to blow through Dixie at a brisk pace this summer but what was expected to be a rather chaotic offseason was tempered a bit when the Hawks convinced star guard Joe Johnson to return and tabbed lead assistant Larry Drew as the team's new mentor.
Former coach Mike Woodson had built the Hawks from a 13-win team to a 53-win club by last season but a poor performance in the playoffs against Southeast Division rival Orlando was enough for the franchise's front office to decide some kind of change was needed.
Atlanta certainly didn't pull a 180, however, opting for continuity and Drew instead of a voice from outside the organization.
Drew will hopefully continue to build upon a solid, youthful core that features Johnson along with dynamic forward Josh Smith and center Al Horford as the stars.
Veteran point guard Mike Bibby has certainly seen his better days but is still a steady quarterback while Jamal Crawford is coming off a season in which he was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. Meanwhile, forward Marvin Williams, center Zaza Pachulia and second-year guard Jeff Teague also figure to be solid rotational players.
Crawford, however, could be a problem. The high-scoring guard is in the last year of his contract and disappointed he didn't get a new deal.
"I played to the best of my ability here," Crawford told NBA.com. "I'm a loyal person. I thought the Hawks would step up. I'd love to make it work here. I've had the most fun, to be on such a good team, to be part of this organization. I just want to know for sure that I'm part of the future."
On the injury front for tonight's contest, the Grizz could be without emerging center Marc Gasol. The Spaniard is dealing with a sprained foot and has been listed as questionable.
Memphis, meanwhile, is a miserable 2-13 all-time in season openers, and has lost nine straight since defeating Seattle to kick off the 2000-01 season. Atlanta has won two straight over the Grizzlies and seven of eight overall.
10/27 10:53:52 ET