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.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.

NBA rookies name Kevin Durant their favorite player

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses with his new jersey during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant faced tremendous backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

But not from NBA rookies.

In the league’s annual rookie survey, a plurality of first-year players voted Durant their favorite player:

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State — 29.7%

T-2. Carmelo Anthony, New York — 9.4%

LeBron James, Cleveland — 9.4%

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City — 9.4%

T-5. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio — 6.3%

Kobe Bryant (retired) — 6.3%

Paul George, Indiana — 6.3%

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers — 6.3%

T-9. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota — 4.7%

Others receiving votes: Vince Carter, Memphis; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

This is the third straight year Durant has claimed the top spot, matching LeBron and Kobe for combined wins in the six years this question was asked of rookies:

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This is further evidence: If you resent Kevin Durant for exercising his right to switch employers after nine years with a company that acquired him by producing an awful product, you’re out of touch. Follow the kids’ lead and get with it.

Jason Terry: Luke Walton ‘utterly declined’ my offer to provide Lakers veteran leadership

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  Guard Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Before signing with the Bucks, Jason Terry said he reached out to multiple contenders.

He also spoke with the Lakers.

Terry tried to leverage his relationship with Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played at Arizona (though their time there didn’t overlap).

Terry on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

I called my good friend Luke. I told him if he needed any help, veteran leadership, in that capacity – Lakers – with an ability to coach at the end of my deal, then that was something I would be looking forward to. He utterly declined, and I respect him for that.

Gotta love a guy who announces to the world his pitch of providing veteran leadership was “utterly declined.”

The Lakers should be just fine with Jose Calderon and Luol Deng.