Somehow, some way, your Memphis Grizzlies built a 25-point lead over the Denver Nuggets last Monday night. And even as they carried a 17-point lead into the final frame, they found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Nuggets win, 95-92. The less said about that game, the better. Moving on.
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol continued their quasi-farewell run in fine form, however. Conley dished 11 assists and poured in 23 points, while Gasol led the Grizzlies with 28 points and nine boards. Trade rumors be damned, they’re not mailing it in, even though the Grizzlies fan base has accepted it’s time to move on.
But many think it’s time to clean house in the front office, too. Whether it’s on radio, social media or television, fans and pundits alike are open to Mike and Marc being traded; they just don’t want current GM Chris Wallace making those decisions.
It’s a fair criticism. Whether it’s botched draft picks (Hasheem Thabeet), a revolving door of coaches (Dave Joerger, David Fizdale and J.B. Bickerstaff – just since 2015); bloated contracts on damaged goods (Chandler Parsons); or various botched trades (Tyreke Evans, Marshon Brooks, Wayne Selden), there’s just cause to doubt the Grizzlies front office. I get it.
But I say put the guillotine away. And it’s not because I’m in love with the job Chris Wallace is doing lately. It’s because the one thing this franchise needs more than anything is STABILITY.
I’m one of those people that believe that franchises, like people, develop a personality over time. For seven years or so, the Grizzlies’ personality was a mentally tough, hardworking blue-collar mentality. Or, at least those characteristics distracted us from the Grizzlies’ much longer history of being all over the place.
It can be easy to forget that the Grizzlies went from being coached by Hubie Brown to Mike Fratello to Marc Iavaroni to Lionel Hollins – all within about four years. You can forget that former owner Michael Heisley was trying to sell the team for years, sparking fear that the Grizzlies could bolt for a sexier market elsewhere.
It’s easy to forget that it was Heisley who demanded the Thabeet pick, not Wallace. Or that it was Heisley who wanted Allen Iverson on the team. If anything, you could make a case that ownership has never gotten out of Wallace’s way long enough to let him do the job.
And all of that was before Heisley finally sold the team to Robert Pera, who installed Jason Levien for a year, sidelining Wallace in his own front office. This detail is largely forgotten now, but it shouldn’t be: it was Levien who ousted Lionel Hollins as head coach, fresh off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
Which is why I’m for giving Wallace a little more rope to work with. This current mess isn’t ALL his fault. To use a game metaphor, the team was playing well and winning when he was subbed out for Levien. Levien couldn’t “protect the lead,” and by the time Wallace gets back into the game, his team is in a hole.
By contrast, imagine an alternate universe where Pera stuck with Wallace in 2013. There’s NO WAY Chris Wallace doesn’t keep Hollins as coach. Maybe, in that other dimension, the Grizzlies finally break through; maybe they don’t. But you still have a front office, coaching staff and identity that becomes more STABLE each year.
Stability is the key to success in the NBA. It’s no coincidence that so many NBA champions had executives and coaches who’d built franchises together over years: Mitch Kupchak/Phil Jackson with the Lakers; R.C. Buford/Gregg Popovich in San Antonio; Pat Riley/Eric Spoelstra in Miami.
And all six of the Chicago Bulls’ rings came with Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson, even though they didn’t get along. Even Golden State has had Bob Myers and Steve Kerr in place for five seasons now. Continuity counts for something.
I’m not saying Wallace should be untouchable. It’s just that rebuilding the franchise is going to take some time, regardless of who gets the job. My fear is that letting him go would inadvertently put a revolving door on the GM’s office.
If that happens, it may not matter much which GM is walking through the door – because with each turn, a little more stability goes right out the door.
The Elephant In The Room
After the Denver Debacle, there was an even larger elephant in the Grizzlies’ locker room. With the Feb. 7 trade deadline looming – and the team stating its plans to trade Mike Conley, Marc Gasol or both – every remaining home game between now and then could well be either player’s last in a Grizzlies uniform.
Unless it’s not. The elephant-producing truth is that either player – or both – could wind up staying in Memphis, if the team doesn’t get an offer it likes. Given their ages (Conley is 31; Gasol just turned 34) and hefty contracts, both players may well stay put until the summer or beyond.
Unless they don’t. Because having said all that, Tuesday’s home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves COULD be their final one in front of Grizzlies fans. For that matter, we might have already seen last of them in the “Nugget Nightmare” They could be gone by the time you read this. We just don’t know.
Which brings us back to the elephant in the room – namely, Mike and Marc fielding questions about the good ol’ days in Memphis . . . even though they haven’t gone anywhere. Not surprisingly, both talked about finding solace from the trade talk on the basketball court.
“It felt free, y’know?” Conley said after the loss. “Felt free. You’re not thinking about anything, about what’s going on. There’s a lot going on in our heads, obviously. We’re just out there having fun and competing. You never really know when it’s your last day, and it puts it in perspective.”
One reporter asked Gasol if it’s hard to put the trade talk out out of his head.
“For 48 minutes, it’s easy,” Gasol said. “(I think about it) at home, or getting ready for the game, you’re going through your mind preparation, the whole process, or the drive in.
“But then you kind of smile a little bit too, y’know?” Gasol said. “This could be it? Maybe not? But it’s been one helluva ride. All the fans, all the love you get. . . it’s just great.”
With Anthony Davis now pushing to get out of New Orleans, Gasol isn’t the hottest name in trade talks. And Conley just happens to be an amazing point guard playing in a Golden Age of great floor leaders. And again, those bulky contracts . . .
But I sure hope these guys get traded to a good situation, one that allows them to shine on the biggest stage, maybe even playing for a ring. I don’t know that there are two nicer guys in the NBA.
Here’s cheering for the nice guys to finish first for a change.