Updated: April 15, 3:57 PM ET
Gooden acquires sunny disposition in Orlando
By Marc J. Spears
Special to ESPN.com
ORLANDO -- During Mike Miller's home debut with the Memphis Grizzlies at the Pyramid on March 5, the tickets for that game had Drew Gooden's face on them. Also, the Grizzlies' web site still had pictures of Gooden last week.
Gooden may be gone, but he may not ever be forgotten in Memphis -- not with the way he's playing so far for his new team, the Orlando Magic.
"Going by what he has done so far, I think he has a chance to be one hell of a player in this league," Magic coach Doc Rivers said.
Giricek has played spectacular basketball, too, averaging 17.6 points with the Magic, who seem to be on more solid ground for the playoffs.
"Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek were going to the perfect team," Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown said. "If you're going to be traded, you always want to go to a team where your talents are going to be used. They needed a power forward. Drew Gooden was trying to get major minutes here at small forward because of Pau Gasol. Gasol is a budding star in this league, so we had a luxury. You cannot get a Mike Miller unless you give up talent. Gooden played well here and played out of position."
The Grizzlies didn't need another power forward when it came time for them to use the fourth overall pick at last June's draft. They already had Gasol, the reigning Rookie of the Year. Stromile Swift played the position, too.
So, it was slightly surprising when the Grizzlies took Gooden, a natural power forward. After winning Rookie of the Month honors in November, Gooden saw his role gradually change after the Nov. 12 arrival of Brown, who replaced Sidney Lowe as head coach after the Grizzlies' disappointing 0-8 start.
While Gooden respected Brown and said he learned a lot from him during his short stay in Memphis, he never felt comfortable making the adjustment to small forward. After starting off so strong, Gooden saw his scoring average dip to 12.1 points per game as the trade deadline loomed. The 6-foot-10, 230-pounder was no longer being mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate.
The trade raised a lot of eyebrows for several reasons. As good as Miller is, giving up two budding rookies in Gooden and Girecek, who both started during for the freshmen team in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star Weekend, seemed like a lot. Considering that West is regarded by many as the NBA's best front-office mind of all time, giving up on the 21-year-old Gooden so fast made one wonder about whether the rookie's work ethic had been questioned.
"The only concern was that Jerry West was giving him up," Rivers said. "He might be the best (front-office executive) of all-time. But when you look at the real reasons, they had a lot of (power forwards) and they tried to convert Drew into a (small forward). And Drew wasn't going to have that. The bottom line was that he wasn't playing (small forward).
"Obviously, when you trade for a guy like Mike, you know he can do certain things. For a guy like Drew, you see and you hope. It's a gamble, I guess. I guess the bigger gamble in the trade for us was that it was a bigger gamble to make the playoffs when you make a trade for two rookies. But I didn't think it was a gamble for the future."
And the questions about Gooden's work ethic?
"I've heard that, but I haven't seen it," Rivers said. "It hasn't show on the court, but maybe (it could) in practice time. Unfortunately, we only had one practice (through last Sunday since the trade), so I can't tell you yet. On the court, he plays at a high energy level. If that's a concern or a problem, then that's something we need to work on. He won't be the first guy I've coached, if that is true, that didn't have a great work ethic that didn't end up with one. I think we forget how young he is."
Gooden went from being a star rookie in November to being expendable in February. While the news was initially tough to take, he's glad he left the land of barbecue and blues for the land of Mickey Mouse and sunshine.
"It didn't hurt my ego at all," Gooden said of the deal. "It just renewed me. It just renewed my love for the game. I was actually getting my windows tinted on my car when I heard. (Memphis general manager) Dick Versace called my friend's cell phone. I knew (that) was pretty weird and I knew the trade deadline was coming up. With Versace calling, I knew I was being traded or he was telling me about a trade. At first, I was like, 'Why are they trading me?' Then I thought about it and I was happy."
"I'm happy for Orlando, it was a great trade for them," Brown said. "And the trade for Miller and Humphrey down the road will prove it was a great trade for us. And when you make trades, that's what your hoping for that both teams will benefit."
With Michael Dickerson's injury woes, the Grizzlies found some solid backcourt scoring on the perimeter and post in Miller, who's missed five games with a back sprain but averaged 15.2 points and shot 54.5 percent on 3-pointers in his first five games with Memphis. The first-round pick Memphis acquired, however, could end up being more of a hindrance than help since it'll likely be a very late first-round selection resulting in a guaranteed three-year contract.
For Orlando, the addition of Giricek basically cancels the loss of Miller. And Gooden gives Orlando a talented player that is far from reaching his potential and figures to be an All-Star power forward in the Eastern Conference, possibly as soon as next season.
"They see what kind of player they had now," Gooden said of the Grizzlies. "You let bygones be bygones. This is a business. Hopefully, they won't regret it. I don't regret them making this trade. I'm happy now. They are going to do what's best for their organization. If they think it's a good move for the organization, I hope it is."
Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA and Denver Nuggets for the Denver Post, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.