Tillery: In Memphis, Heisley is The Decider

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Heisley.jpegIn last year’s draft, the Grizzlies made what appears to have been a tremendous mistake by drafting project center Hasheem Thabeet over players like Steph Curry, Tyreke Evans, and James Harden. This season, the Grizzlies have a chance to redeem themselves with three first-round picks. 

With that in mind, Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal decided to take a look at how the Grizzlies front office has made draft decisions since team owner Michael Heisley took control of the draft process in 2008
Now, as the Griz prepare for their 10th draft since moving to Memphis, the organization’s preparation and mode of operation is described as collaborative at different levels — but with Heisley ultimately making the final call.
That means the team’s scouts, coaches and general manager Chris Wallace form opinions independent of each other. They feed information to Heisley, and whatever decision the Griz make Thursday during the draft — they have the Nos. 12, 25 and 28 picks of the first round — will come from their Chicago-based billionaire boss.
“But I don’t want people to think that I’m the guy who picks the player out of nothing,” Heisley said. “What I do is I take the opinions of various people. I question them. I try to evaluate their opinions. I put that together, and then Chris and I make a decision. Do we all sit down and take a vote? No. Somebody has to make the decision.”

According to Tillery’s article, Heisley’s two-year reign as the Grizzlies’ Draft Decider has led to the following:

— In 2008, Heisley was “determined” to trade the Grizzlies’ pick; after trying and failing to move into Miami’s spot and draft Michael Beasley, Heisley (with newly extended GM Chris Wallace’s approval) traded Kevin Love’s rights to Minnesota for O.J. Mayo, even though the majority of the Grizzlies’ basketball people wanted Love.
— In 2009, Heisley, with head scout Tony Barone Sr. supporting him, made the decision to take Hasheem Thabeet with the 2nd overall pick when “at least half” of the front office wanted to take Steph Curry with the pick.
Tillery’s article also gives some fairly explicit indications that Heisley’s front office personnel often serve as glorified advisors to Heisley rather than executives with the power to make actual decisions on their own:
“Everyone has an option to voice their opinion on players,” [Scouting Director Tony] Barone Sr. said. “My thing is, here’s the information. Here’s what I believe. If I was in a different role I might want more to say about it. But as the player personnel director, I’m providing information. You look at it and you make the evaluation based on what we say.”
There are indications that the team’s front office lacks strong voices — that those debates Heisley loves are often one-sided affairs.
Wallace would only say that “we can’t do anything that Mike is adamantly opposed to.”
And Heisley isn’t opposed to overriding seemingly sound opinions. Signing Allen Iverson isn’t the only move Heisley has made despite being vehemently opposed by his basketball people in recent years.

For his part, GM Chris Wallace doesn’t have a problem with his role in the Grizzlies front office or the fact that Heisley still consults fired Grizzlies exec Dick Versace and retired Grizzlies exec Jerry West when making decisions, calling decision-making a “fluid process” and saying that there aren’t many situations where a “czar-like general manager” has complete control of a franchise any more. 

For his part, Heisley explained his role in the Grizzlies’ draft process with some absolutely dazzling doublespeak:
“We don’t vote,” [Heisley] said. “Somebody eventually has to make a decision.”
“But I don’t think I’m running the team. I’m more active than I have ever been. So people take that as I’m running the team. I take responsibility for the mistakes because the buck stops at the top. Just like President Obama has to take responsibility whether he makes the mistakes or not. With the Grizzlies, it used to be Jerry West, now it’s Mike Heisley. It’s that simple. That doesn’t mean Chris doesn’t make most of the decisions.
“I’ve deferred to Chris. I deferred to Chris and Iavaroni on the (Pau) Gasol trade. I’m not upset. I made that decision. But I think Chris would be the first person to tell you that they recommended it to me. Do I make the decisions for HEICO (his company)? Yeah. Do I talk to Stan Meadows (HEICO and Grizzlies lead attorney)? You bet your (butt). Sometimes I defer, and that’s decision making.”

There’s no telling what the Grizzlies will do with their three first-round picks. However, it is fairly clear who the man making the decisions that will decide the future of the Grizzlies franchise will be.

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.