Grizzlies owner more defensive about Xavier Henry contract than his team gets on the court

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Thumbnail image for grizzlies_logo.gifLast year, the Memphis Grizzlies had the No. 2 pick in the draft and took a big-man project in Hasheem Thabeet.

We don’t know yet how that will turn out long term, Thabeet is a work in progress. We do know that the guys taken after him — James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan, among many others — had better rookie years.

Now this year, the Grizzlies are playing a little hardball with first round pick Xavier Henry. They are asking for performance bonuses much more steep than the average team for him to get the full 120 of his rookie scale he is allowed.

Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley went on the Chris Vernon show on 730 Fox Sports in Memphis and when pressed on the issue as to why, he came off as touchy and defensive. At best.

So why did the Grizzlies start doing this performance bonus now rather than in years past?

“To be quite honest I hadn’t handled this in the past, and to be quite honest I wasn’t even aware this was in the collective bargaining agreement…” Heisley said. “I guess the question is why the rest of the league doesn’t do it?”

Why didn’t Heisley know this was in the CBA?

“I’ve never seen the collective bargaining agreement,” Heisley said, noting he had general managers and lawyers to advise him and it was they who have read the document. (He asked if the media has and, well, a number of us have as well as checking constantly with the easier-to-understand FAQ by Larry Coon on the topic.)

Vernon — much to his credit — didn’t let Heisley off the hook. He noted that rookie contracts are scale, there is little negotiation involved, so the agent gets little out of them. The extra 20 percent gives a little to the player and the agent out of good will. In the case of Henry, this is $300,000 this season that is the difference.

Heisley got defensive, asking if he should start asking agents what they all want for their clients and doing things just because they asked for it. He answered nearly every question with a question. 

“I am just doing what I think is the proper thing to do,” he said.

What the Grizzlies are requesting is that Henry make either the rookie showcase team for All-Star weekend or the All-Rookie team at the end of the season, or play 15 minutes or more in 70 games. While other teams do put performance bonuses of a sort on their rookie deals, it is usually more along the lines of making a certain number of public appearances or very easy to reach goals.

The Grizzlies goals for Henry are not unreasonable, but they also are out of his control. The showcase and All-Rookie teams are selected by others (the coaches at the end of the season) and often there are snubs of deserving players. As for minutes, last year the Celtics benched Nate Robinson during a couple late-season games to keep him from reaching a bonus threshold, and that certainly could happen in another circumstance.

Agent Arn Tellem is telling Henry not to sign the deal, and he is listening. So there is an impasse. But Heisley sounded in no rush. He sounded like a ma that thinks he’s right and be damned of what the public, other agents and other players think.

“That’s fine. I’ve got plenty of time to sign my rookies,” he said. “Nothing is going on for 30 days, 60 days.”

It’s the kind of short-term thinking that has teams look elsewhere. And it shows on the court.

Since Heisley purchased the Grizzlies in 2000, they have had the third worst record in the NBA. The only two worse — the Clippers owned by Donald Sterling and the Charlotte Bobcats. Two franchises considered terribly run. Heisley said to Vernon that his team’s performance has been on par with other small market teams. It hasn’t.

But it can improve, this is a team on the verge of becoming relevant, with good talent like Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol, a team that could make the playoffs in a deep West.

Which is why it is so hard to watch steps backwards like this contract negotiation. You get the feeling anything good is just short term, then hope that feeling is wrong.

Clippers make changes, but progress?

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Chris Paul is fantastic, the best point guard between Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry.

Paul’s departure might also help the Clippers – in the short- and long-term.

The same unrelenting unacceptance of anything less than perfection that drives Paul to personal greatness can also grate those around him. J.J. Redick spoke openly of a loss of joy. After six seasons together, Paul’s message might have worn especially thin on Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. This could be a breath of fresh air in the locker room.

L.A’s return in the trade with the Rockets – Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and a first-round pick – certainly softens the blow. That’s 1.5 starting-caliber players, 3.5 rotation-caliber players and a first-rounder – a very nice return if Paul were leaving anyway.

Long-term, it’s easy to see how committing $201 million over five years to a 32-year-old could backfire. The Clippers reportedly balked at that five-year max offer, but even the four-year max would’ve meant paying Paul $43 million at age 35.

There was a fine case for the Clippers to get younger and leaner (and happier) without Paul. Maybe they could’ve even ridden their Paul-built prestige, unprecedented in franchise history, and the L.A. market to chase the biggest free agents in the next couple years.

Except they didn’t do that.

The Clippers fell right back into win-now mode with risky bets.

They re-signed Griffin to a five-year max contract worth more than $171 million. They signed-and-traded for Danilo Gallinari, guaranteeing the forward nearly $65 million over three years and flipping the Houston first-rounder (while also shedding the overpaid Jamal Crawford).

Griffin, Gallinari and Beverley – the centerpiece of the Paul trade – are all nice players. But they all also carry significant injury risk. The 28-year-old Griffin has missed 83 games the last three years. The 29-year-old Gallinari has missed 203 games the last seven years, and he already hurt his thumb punching an opponent while playing for Italy. The 29-year-old Beverley has missed 78 games the last four years.

Injuries could derail any season with that trio leading the team, and whether the Clippers can shift courses anytime soon is out of their control. They have more than $49 million tied to player options for DeAndre Jordan ($24,119,025), Austin Rivers ($12.65 million), Milos Teodosic ($6.3 million) and Wesley Johnson ($6,134,520) next summer .

Even just the likeliest of those four, Austin Rivers, opting in would leave L.A. without max cap space. I’d also bet on Johnson, who has fallen into Doc Rivers’ doghouse, opting in.

Will the Clippers want Jordan and Teodosic to opt in or out? Those are mysteries – a particularly high-stakes one with Jordan, a premier center who will turn 30 next year.

Jordan’s situation will be especially tricky given Griffin and Gallinari. Griffin might be best at center, and Gallinari is certainly optimized at power forward. Does Jordan add more talent or create more of a logjam on this team?

At this point, I would’ve rather just maxed out Paul and Griffin for five years and hoped the franchises problems stemmed from bad luck. Foolproof? Hardly, especially because even if luck were the culprit, the people involved believing otherwise could’ve had lasting destructive effects on their mindsets.

It’s also worth noting that the Clippers didn’t necessarily have that choice. Paul might have left for James Harden and the Rockets even with a five-year max offer from L.A.. Re-signing Paul could’ve also pushed out Griffin.

There’s no choice but to grade the Clippers moves with some guesses at the counterfactual.

At least they clearly did well on some smaller moves.

Teodosic, who starred in Europe, is an intriguing 30-year-old rookie. Willie Reed appeared to be nice value at the minimum, but a domestic-violence charge is concerning. Kudos to owner Steve Ballmer for spending to acquire second-rounders Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell.

Still, all these smaller additions must be weight against the smaller departures: Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton and Crawford. Those are several contributors heading out the door.

One key person staying? Coach Doc Rivers, who was stripped of his presidency after a lousy front-office tenure.

But how much did the Clippers really learn from the Rivers era? They put Lawrence Frank, another coach with no front-office experience before arriving in L.A., in charge of roster construction.

At least Frank can focus on only one job, not the two Rivers was handling. And Jerry West, Michael Winger and Trent Redden will provide a depth of front-office expertise this franchise was sorely lacking.

With lots of new faces and titles, the Clippers are in a more captivating place – but one that doesn’t look substantively different enough to be preferable to their old place.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: Kyrie Irving trade came together when Cavs stopped asking for Jayson Tatum

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We knew that Boston and Cleveland had talked previously about a possible Kyrie Irving trade, but the talks had gone nowhere because early on the Cavaliers were asking for recent No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum, along with a veteran player and a pick. Boston GM Danny Ainge had just traded the No. 1 pick and taken Tatum after that step back, no way he was going to move the Duke star.

What changed and got the deal done was the Cavaliers stopped asking about Tatum, said Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in an interview on NBA TV.

“The big discussion point with Boston and Cleveland over the past several weeks on a potential deal has always been about Jayson Tatum’s involvement. The Cavaliers coveted him greatly. I think if Tatum was involved the first day these talks transpired, this deal would have been done weeks ago.”

What Cleveland got by opening their mind to other possibilities was an All-NBA point guard in Isaiah Thomas, a 3&D guy they needed in Jae Crowder, and the highly coveted unprotected Brooklyn Nets pick for the next draft.

You can see why the Cavaliers wanted Tatum, at Summer League he showed an ability to knock down shots, including difficult ones. He’s a guy who can walk into the NBA and score, which would have helped the Cavaliers now and going forward. But what they got in this trade was better — guys who can help them win now and flexibility for the future (they can keep that Brooklyn pick, or it could be traded for a veteran to help keep LeBron James in Cleveland).

Sixers’ Ben Simmons fully cleared to play basketball

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Finally, some good news on the health front for Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick a year ago, has been fully cleared for basketball activities about a month before training camp opens, reports Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times.

Simmons was healthy enough to dominate a random pickup game in Australia against a bunch of 5’10” guys this week. We’re desperate enough for good signs that we will take that as one.

Also, Markelle Fultz is expected to be fully healthy for training camp after his ankle sprain.

So much for the good news. There is no updates on the status of Joel Embiid, which is concerning only in that all health news about Embiid feels concerning.

The source said center Joel Embiid hasn’t been cleared for fullcourt scrimmaging “as of yet.” Embiid, who is from Cameroon, worked with children as part of the NBA Africa Game earlier this month, but didn’t play in the Aug. 5 game.

For the sake of the game, we need the Sixers healthy this season and starting to show us how a team with so much promise and potential starts to pay off. Please let us see it. The Basketball Gods need to smile more fortune and the feet and ankles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Report: Cavaliers called Warriors about Kyrie Irving-Klay Thompson trade

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The Warriors rejected a Klay ThompsonPaul George trade offer from the Pacers.

What about Thompson for Kyrie Irving, who’s younger than George and locked up for an additional season (the same amount of time as Thompson for a similar price)?

Apparently, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman inquired before sending Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.

I’m not sure what this trade would’ve accomplished for either team.

The Warriors obviously already have a point guard in Stephen Curry. Though Irving isn’t the best distributor, his handles and defense push him to point guard. Curry and Irving would have been a tough fit together. Golden State knows Curry and Thompson are a championship-caliber pairing.

Thompson would have been a big upgrade at shooting guard in Cleveland, but the Cavs would have been woefully undermanned at point guard. Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder wouldn’t cut it. At least the Cavaliers have decent options at shooting guard with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver.

The Warriors would’ve never said yes, which is fortunate for the Cavs. They did better in their trade with Boston, anyway. Thomas can step in at point guard while Crowder still provides much-needed wing depth – plus Zizic and that sweet, sweet Nets pick.