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Three Ghosts: Part II

Dreams, not unlike spirits, are only half-realities. You can't drink from an oasis, nor can you win a championship behind the top stake in a draft lottery. The Vancouver Grizzlies were not even afforded this much comfort, however, when they should have at least had a shot at a pray to take a young Tim Duncan in 1997. Despite having the worst record in the league after their first season post-expansion, the Grizzlies were ineligible to enter a lottery that in featured The Big Fundamental as the widely accepted first overall pick.

You see the pain ran especially deep since the 1997 draft was horrifically poor. Only three players escaped that draft with respectable careers: Duncan, Billups, and McGrady. Of these three both Duncan and Billups were lost to the lottery, and a Grizzlies squad that needed immediate contributors couldn't afford to gamble on the high-schooler McGrady. One vastly underappreciated meme from this draft, all three of these players nicknames use the adjective big: The Big Fundamental, Mr. Big Shot, The Big Sleep. Strange, I know. This draft was so bad that, even historically speaking, taking Antonio Daniels at fourth overall has been one of Big '97s best selections.
"A Notoriously Bad Draft"

We all know Duncan's storyline from that day onward. Consummate professional, excellent teammate, vastly underappreciated leadership skills, incredible reliability, star performance with none of the distractions. While Kobe, Shaq, and even Air Canada might be better remembered in this era, Duncan was the truest franchise player. By my accounting since Timmy's selection the Spurs have never had a poor season, and have won 4 NBA championships. They might have been the evil empire. Duncan might be Emperor Pop's Vader. But as oppressive as the Spur's exacting style was, you have to admit that you wish your favorite team was the Spurs during the late 90s and early 2000s. I'm willing to make a concession here, and only one, to the Phoenix Suns.

Not suprisingly Duncan is also underappreciated as one spirit that certainly hangs heavy in the heads of the franchise. It's no secret that the Grizzlies have long lacked a true leader, and obviously haven't had a generational superstar of Duncan's calibre. The Grizzlies would have only had a one in four shot at the king of fundamentals even if they were eligible for the top pick, but not even having a chance to dream clearly shook the franchise. Rather than building an exceptional amount hype and potentially a dominant championship squad, Vancouver picked up a very acceptable backup combo guard.

Sure soon after Duncan the Reef came to Canada. But as an indirect result of losing out on this superstar, Vancouver is forced to reach for the much maligned Stevie Franchise, who essentially kills the franchise in the process. Reef was a great player, and allowed the Grizzlies access to Pau Gasol. Gasol was in some ways a bastard Duncan, he was a technically proficient power forward with enough size to take over at center. But obviously Gasol wasn't the leader or talent to take the Grizzlies to the championship. To the 193 Grizzlies fans left in Vancouver, losing Duncan likely also meant losing your team.

So here the Grizzlies are today in Memphis. With no culture of winning, no competitor or professional like Duncan, all faith is now in Mayo. In some ways Mayo could be recompensation for the ill-fated loss of Duncan. The Grizzlies "earned" the number three pick, which would have secured Mayo, but were knocked out of the top three by the Bulls unexpected ascendence into the top spot. But this time the Grizzlies cheated fate, trading up to snatch Mayo back from the Timberwolves. Not unlike Duncan, Mayo is considered the soft-spoken brand of warrior. He is a born winner, and even in blowouts you can clearly see his pain. His game is polished despite relatively limited athleticism, and he has incredible drive to improve without feeling a need to tout that drive.

Can Mayo ever deliver on the promise that Duncan might have? Obviously there is no answer. At times he appears looks like a future star, dueling Kobe heads up and defending like a ballhawk in meaningless losses. Other times he is less ballhawk, more borderline ballhog, not that anyone can blame him with their supporting cast. But if Mayo can become half the player, half the professional, and half the franchise Duncan eventually became, than his spirit may already be walking the path to spiritual rest.