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.

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

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This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go off for 42, Thunder blow out Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder took what coach Mark Daigneault called a “bloodthirsty mentality” into Saturday’s rematch with the Houston Rockets.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points to help the Thunder blow out Houston 153-121.

They were disappointed in losing at Houston on Wednesday and responded by setting an Oklahoma City record for points in a game, surpassing the 150 they scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

“Just (wanted to) be the aggressors,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Play our style, our brand of basketball. I think we got away from that a little bit in Houston, and we just wanted to get back on track.”

Daigneault was most pleased that the approach was player-led.

“It wasn’t like I was giving motivational speeches,” he said. “But, you know, as a team, they kind of banded together and decided that they were going to come out and play the way they did. And they were impressive because of it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone by scoring 20 points in the first quarter.

“I thought tonight was, like, a pretty big leadership statement game for him,” Daigneault said. “I think when you need a response like we needed tonight coming out of the other night, you rely on your guys that are most experienced, who play the most minutes.”

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 from the field in the first matchup, but bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals on Saturday, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists for the Thunder, despite not playing in the fourth quarter because the Thunder led by 42 points at the end of the third.

Mike Muscala scored a season-high 19 points and Josh Giddey added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for Oklahoma City.

“We’re a team that’s growing in confidence, and I think our habits are growing,” Daigneault said. “And I think a lot of things are moving in the right direction.”

Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points and Tari Eason added 18 for the Rockets.

The Rockets were playing without Eric Gordon (sore right knee) and Jae'Sean Tate (right ankle injury).

Rockets coach Stephen Silas didn’t want to hear it.

“You’ve got to step up in these situations, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We succumbed to back-to-back, three-in-four, no Eric, no Tate, all that stuff. … We succumbed to it. That’s not – we’re talking about winning habits. That’s not one.”

Oklahoma City led 79-53 at the break after shooting 55% from the field. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points in the first two quarters, a career high for him in a first half.

The Thunder continued to roll in the third quarter, making 16 of 26 field goals in the period to go up 123-81 heading into the fourth.

Oklahoma City set the Thunder single-game scoring record on a 3-pointer by Darius Bazley that banked in during the final minute.

Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury, MRI Sunday

Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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Warriors fans everywhere — not to mention coaching staff and players — are holding their breath.

Stephen Curry left the game against the Mavericks in the third quarter when he was defending Danny Green and the two collided, knocking knees. On the replay, Curry’s knee seems to bend slightly at an awkward angle.

Curry went to the Warriors’ bench, was looked at by the team medical staff, and soon went back to the locker room and did not return. X-rays taken of his knee were negative, but the MRI expected Sunday will be more telling.

Of extra concern is that this is the second injury to that leg in as many games, Curry was able to play through the first one.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game. Of larger concern, the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when Curry is on the court and 5.4 when he is off. At 27-26 the Warriors sit seventh in the West.

The defending champs have not lived up to that billing this season, never putting together a consistent run of high-level basketball to show us what we believe they are capable of. If Curry misses significant time (and potentially the All-Star Game) it will be longer before we get to see if these Warriors can pull it together.

Bamba suspended four games, Rivers three for fight Friday night

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The NBA came down hard on Mo Bamba and Austin Rivers (in a way they didn’t with Dillon Brooks).

The Magic’s Bamba was suspended four-game and the Timberwolves’ Rivers got a three-game suspension — both without pay — for their part in a fight between the teams Friday night.

In addition, Magic guard Jalen Suggs was suspended one game for “escalating the altercation by aggressively grabbing Rivers around the neck and pulling him to the floor.” The Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels was fined $20,000 for running into the scrum and pushing Bamba in the back.

As for why the relatively stiff penalties in this case, the NBA said: “Following the incident, Bamba attempted to continue to engage with Rivers in a hostile manner in the corridor outside the locker rooms where he also aggressively shoved a security representative. Both Bamba and Rivers continued the escalation on social media following the game.”

Friction between Bomba and Rivers started a few plays earlier when Rivers — who was in the game — missed a corner 3 in front of the Magic bench, and there was jawing from Bamba and others. Rivers came over and confronted and the fight started soon after, with Bamba coming off the bench. After an official review, five players were ejected: Rivers, McDaniels and Taurean Prince from the Timberwolves; Bamba and Suggs from the Magic.

Banba and Rivers did continue the fight on social media, which added to their time off.

The suspensions will all start on Sunday, Feb. 5.