Of course Michael Heisley is in talks with Larry Ellison, things were going too well

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Best season in franchise history from an overall success and excitement standpoint. First playoff game victory. First playoff series victory. Significant improvements in fan interest and long-term viability of on-court production. Things have been going really well in Memphis, Tennessee when it comes to the Grizzlies.

So, of course, this is happening. From the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

Californian Larry Ellison, ranked as the third-richest person in the U.S., has inquired about buying the Memphis Grizzlies with apparent hopes of moving the team to San Jose.

But team owner Michael Heisley today downplayed the possibility of a sale — and of a relocation, citing a lease that ties the franchise to Memphis and FedExForum until 2021.

“I can’t downplay it enough. If it happens I’ll be surprised,” said Heisley, a Chicago-based billionaire who added that talks had not become serious. “It’s in the initial stages. We’ve handled this just like we’ve handled several other dozen requests. My situation in Memphis has not changed a lick. My preference will always be for somebody in Memphis to buy the team. There’s not any interest in Memphis. But we’ve always made it known that if somebody wants to buy the team, we’ll listen. If they’re real buyers we’ll probably be sellers. So far there hasn’t been anyone willing to buy the team under my terms and for my price.”

via Oracle Corp.’s Ellison inquires about buying Grizzlies; Heisley downplays possibility » The Commercial Appeal.

I’m not trying to be a negative nellie here, but that to me reads as “I can’t downplay it enough. I want to sell it to someone who doesn’t exist, and this person that does exist and will move the team and has been desperate to get a team for two years is interested, but seriously, no worries.”

Yeah, that’s not good for the Grizzlies sticking around.

If you want more proof — Matt Steinmetz of CSNBayArea.com reports the talks are in an “advanced stage.” Heisley and Ellison may already have a “handshake agreement” according to the report. This just does not look good at all.

Heisley has been consistent in saying he wants to sell. He has resisted investing in a losing team, which you can’t really blame him for. He’s finally put his money where his mouth is in the past year and a half though, handing out contracts to Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. He recently traded Sam Young for a player not playing in the NBA to avoid the luxury tax. Finances are on the guy’s mind and Memphis is a hard town to pull profit in.

Ellison on the other hand made a swing for the Hornets last year but was rebuffed. If you want some political intrigue, the California teams are wary of another team moving into their markets, especially the Warriors.

Heisley is on record as saying this isn’t a big deal. I can’t stress that enough. He said this isn’t the first pitch Ellison has made, and that there are other suitors, with one matching his $350 million price tag on the team. It’s just concerning because the more Memphis wins, the better value they are for a seller, and while many fans think Memphis is unworthy of having a team, they’ve responded to the Grizz being competitive and “tough” like the town is. Losing them to yet another California zipcode (making it five teams in one state) seems unfortunate for basketball coast to coast.

(HT: Inside Hoops)