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.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.