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.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard meeting with Clippers set for July 2

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Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power this summer.

Whatever the Finals MVP decides with his free agency — stay with the Raptors, come to the Clippers, something else entirely — will change the landscape of the NBA. Wherever he goes that team will be an instant contender, with the Raptors and Clippers long having been the frontrunners and everyone else trying to get their foot in the door.

His decision likely will not drag out, but it’s not going to be LeBron James last summer “let’s do this so I can go on vacation” instant, either, if we believe this report from Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Of course, this report would be unofficial/off the record because teams cannot yet officially reach out to players or agents, and we know there is no tampering in the NBA. (Read that last sentence again in your best sarcastic voice to get the full impact.)

In Los Angeles, the Clipper hype has led to billboards.

If the Clipper meeting is July 2, in Los Angeles we presume, the question becomes when is the Toronto meeting? June 30/July 1 in Toronto, giving the Clippers the last shot? Or, are the first couple of days meetings with other teams that are longshots — Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, etc. — just to get them out of the way.

It has long been rumored to be a two-team race for Leonard’s services. On the one hand is the chance to return home and become the leader of a 48-win Clippers team poised to be a threat for years to come if they land a superstar. (The Lakers have never been a serious consideration for Leonard, according to sources, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say he’s not a superteam kind of guy.)

On the other hand is a Raptors team where he was given room to recover and be himself, and where he just won a ring. A city where he was fully embraced by the fans.

Also remember Leonard is at eight seasons of NBA service, meaning the max of this next contract is for 30 percent of the cap (a starting salary around $33 million next season). After two more seasons, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for 35 percent of the cap (a starting salary of $38 million right now, and with the cap expected to go up the next couple of years it will be higher than that in reality). Despite the injury history, is Leonard willing to bet on himself and sign a two-year contract to get to the larger max, then re-sign?

The leading theory floating around the league now is Leonard signs a short deal in Toronto, then re-enters the market in a year or two. But it’s just a theory. Nobody really knows because Leonard does not tip his hand. About the only thing we seem to know his he will meet with the Clippers on July 2.

Ex-Sacramento Kings exec gets 7 years for siphoning $13.4M

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former top Sacramento Kings executive was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for siphoning $13.4 million from the team.

Jeffrey David, 44, the team’s former chief revenue officer, pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

David diverted the sponsorship payments of five companies to a bank account he controlled from October 2012 through July 2016, using the money to buy and remodel Southern California beachfront properties, pay for a private jet membership and pay off credit card bills.

“The brazen scheme involved forgeries, stolen corporate executive identities, money laundering and even instructing a former colleague to destroy evidence,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in a statement. “Today’s sentence should deter others from committing substantial frauds such as this one.”

David’s lawyer, Mark Reichel, disagreed with the sentence from U.S. District Judge William Shubb.

“We see no appropriate purpose served by a sentence this lengthy,” Reichel wrote in an email, citing David’s “tremendous life work” before and after his crimes as cause for a reduced sentence.

“The Kings received back every single penny of the previously purloined money, and Mr. David worked very hard to make sure that happened. He is tremendously remorseful,” Reichel said.

The Kings have received over $13.2 million in restitution to date, according to the Department of Justice.

David is scheduled to begin his sentence on Aug. 20.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

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Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

It was a long road to this point, Antetokounmpo was playing second-division ball in Greece when the Bucks drafted him at No. 15 back in 2013. The word we used to describe his game at the time was “raw” — he was a long way from the player he would become. What he also turned out to be was driven. Willing to put in the work, be coached, and put in the long hours to get better and maximize his potential. Antetokounmpo earned the chance to walk up on that stage and accept the MVP award.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first-place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results: