Grizzlies GM Envisioned A Future With Marc Gasol As A League Laughed

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Memphis Grizzlies’ six-year rise from bottom-of-the-barrel in the West to playing for the conference crown is a story of intuition, perseverance, patience and, some might rightfully say, vindication for general manager Chris Wallace.

“I never looked for vindication. That’s not something that motivates me,” Wallace said. “Winning takes care of all issues in this league. We felt we had to take chances.”

Hired by former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to remake a 22-win team that was of no competition, popularity-wise, for John Calipari‘s Memphis Tigers, Wallace put his vision in motion. When the team takes the court Sunday afternoon to begin the Western  Conference finals against the old standby San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis roster will include not one player from the day Wallace took control.

Rudy Gay, the last survivor, was dealt to Toronto in late January.

The first move for Wallace back in 2007 was drafting Mike Conley, now considered one of the most underrated point guards in the league. Conley was the No. 4 overall draft pick after Portland selected Greg Oden and Kevin Durant fell into Seattle’s lap and Atlanta tapped Al Horford.

The next move came on Feb. 1, 2008 and will go down as the franchise’s moment of truth. At that moment, however, it was perceived more like the moment of ultimate doom.

Wallace agreed to a trade that unleashed shockwaves of ridicule from, yes, the media, but also shockingly from within the league. The backlash, Wallace said, was so fierce that it damaged the team’s ability to conduct business in its own city as it set out to sell critical sponsorships and arena suites for the following season.

“People [potential clients] would list off all the big-name people [in the NBA] that had ridiculed us,” Wallace said. “It was like running the 100-meter dash with a 20-pound leg weight.”

Everyone knows the deal: Pau Gasol to the Lakers for his chubby, unheralded younger brother Marc Gasol, bust Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a couple first-round draft picks. Stunning criticism crushed Wallace for getting fleeced while being backhandedly credited for handing the post-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers the keys to certain championships.

“I expect the media to shoot from the hip and not study the deal. That’s to be expected,” Wallace said. “I just shook my head. I had never seen that kind of response from inside the league. I don’t deny that was the assist for two Lakers championships, but we had to shake things up. We had never won a playoff game. We had been in the 20s [wins] and there was complete apathy in our market. Calipari and the Tigers were roaring at the time.

“When we went around the league, we weren’t going to get a tit-for-tat deal. We wanted to bring our salary structure down, get assets and draft picks. And no one else had a Marc Gasol.”

Marc Gasol attended high school in Memphis as Pau was becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. At 18, he returned to Spain to begin his professional career in the Spanish ACB league, largely considered the world’s second-most competitive league. In 2007-08 he was tearing it up.

“He was trending up so much at the time. He was on pace to be the ACB MVP,” Wallace said. “I said it at the time, I felt like the little boy crying wolf. There was no question Pau was going to flourish next to Kobe and could win several titles, but this deal couldn’t be judged for several years.”

Wallace said what puzzled him most about the barrage of criticism was the lack of knowledge among media and league insiders regarding the 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol, who went on to become the MVP.

“It’s not like he was playing in Mongolia,” Wallace said. “He was playing in the ACB.”

Gasol, about 20 pounds lighter these days at 260, blossomed into a 2012 All-Star and is the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s become an offensive force, honing a dangerous post game with an old-school mid-range set shot. He’s averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg while averaging 40.3 mpg during the franchise’s most successful postseason run.

Gasol’s low-post partner Zach Randolph came next in a deal in 2009. Wallace was in the right place at the right time, nabbing Randolph for Quentin Richardson. Randolph, who had had his issues at previous stops,had become expendable after just 39 games with the Clippers because L.A. was set to draft Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick and wanted to clear out the power forward position.

Tony Allen was picked up in the summer of 2010. Darrell Arthur has been a constant presence off the bench since being acquired on draft day in 2008. Greivous Vasquez, the 28th pick in 2010, was flipped for key reserve Quincy Pondexter. Sixth man Jerryd Bayless was signed as a free agent last summer.

“We were winning 20 games a year just four or five seasons ago,” Conley said. “Management did a great job getting guys in, guys that care. We’ve worked every day, kind of fell down the radar and now we’re here.”

So much has gone right leading to this historic moment for the Grizzlies franchise that it would seem clear-cut that Wallace has a long-term home with Memphis. But with new ownership having taken over at the start of the season, both Wallace and coach Lionel Hollins – a raging success story in his own right as he’s developed an initially young group of players into a hard-working defensive juggernaut emblematic of the city itself — are uncertain of their futures.

Hollins has coached all season on the final year of his deal. Wallace said he has years left, but has no guarantees.

“I hope to be able to stay here,” Wallace said.

47 Comments

  1. jaoromero says:

    Memphis should trade for all the other Spanish players in the NBA and form Team Spain. Gasol brothers, Ricky Rubio, Ibaka, Calderon. that’s a contender right there. i mean, if they could give team USA a fight, im sure they could more than give a less than complete USA team a fight.

  2. jaoromero says:

    the Grizzlies should just trade for all the other Spanish players in the NBA and create Team Spain. Rubio, Pau Gasol, Calderon, and Ibaka. that’s a championship team right there lol. i mean if they could give team USA a decent fight, i’m sure they could beat a lesser team USA.

  3. 4-0 4-0 spurs says:

    4-0 4-0 spurs

  4. Norm Ramsden says:

    Glad to see the author finally gave some credit to Lionel Hollins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Beholdi Shahollari says:

    The spurs might just sweep them..At this point i feel that they will really miss gay the playmaker.

    • Game Time says:

      Gay the playmaker? Although I do agree they will miss Gay now that they need to have a scoring threat outside the paint. I just never saw Gay as a playmaker.

  6. edita says:

    Pau and marc are both great basketball players I hope the media stop the backstabbing between them they are brothers I’m sure both are happy with their oen success they are not in competition eight now Marc is the shining star and pau is really happy about that same with Marc he was happy with paus success and both wishes one the best

  7. Rhedz says:

    Memphis would surely lose west finals…their only chance to win is if any of the spurs starters gets injured..then..by then pnly memphis can get that leverage…they have grown and developed into title conteder…but they are short of a few roster tweaks. Maybe getting nate and a go to clutch guy would help alot…

    Nevertherless…this series would end up in 4-2…

    Game 1 – spurs
    Game 2 – spurs
    Game 3 – memphis
    Game 4 – memphis
    Game 5 – spurs
    Game 6 – spurs

  8. Grand says:

    The grizzlies are a great team. However they must remain focused and they will have to be consistent when it comes to their offense to have a shot of stopping the Spurs.

  9. eh? says:

    How can people even talk about setting a team back years, when they were a 20 win team in the first place lol? Everyone thought Orlando got robbed in the d12 trade too, but it looks like Orlando came out with some great young players and a bright future in the next few years, where as philly got boned, the nuggets still don’t have a player who can take over, and the Lakers turned into the most hilarious basketball drama in years.

    • Ed Boswell says:

      Zach was 20/10 man well before arriving in Memphis. Look at this career stats. One of the most dependable 20/10 men in the history of the league’s last 20 years. He was dumped by the Clippers for 10% of his worth.

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  11. Winston says:

    The shooters are gone (Goldenstate,OKC,etc.) and the grinders Grizzlies, Spurs, Pacers . Geting down to the nitty gritty. Or did I misspell Grizzlie?

  12. allan says:

    All they need is a explosive guard off the bench maybe they can pick up Nate Robinson since the bulls won’t keep him most likely

    • Quadruple Double says:

      Somebody is going to grab him! OKC is another possibility

      • Game Time says:

        OKC is not going to pick him up again. Plus they saw flashes of brilliance with Jackson. He’ll be solid enough once WB gets back.

  13. bobby says:

    True dat. Grizzlies in 6 vs spurs

  14. Pascualetx says:

    Its also important to remember that Pau WANTED to be traded. He felt like he had given his best to the team and he would never get a ring or the respect that comes with winning in a major market. So Wallace had to move him.

    • Quadruple Double says:

      Players always want to move to larger markets like Pau. Memphis has a good and healthy team that is making a great run. This series is going to be great to watch! I think they would have won last series even with Westbrook playing!

  15. Nick says:

    If you think the Gasol swap-out was even you’re still sorely mistaken! While right now it’s finally become more accepted it took Marc quite a few years to get going!

    Plus you traded Pau, an All-Star, for pennies on the dollar. They could have gotten so much more for him and that’s the reason people were, and still are, pissed at that deal.

    Wallace set the franchise back years with that deal, something they are only now in the last three years coming out of!

    Do I like the fact that Marc is a great player now? Of course! I just think you could have done better with the deal we got and received more quality in the deal!

    • Charles says:

      Set us back years? There was a 3 year plan that was met when we made the playoffs in 2010-2011. http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2008/jun/29/heisley-puts-griz-on-3-year-timetable/

      You didn’t just get Marc, who might be the best center in the league. You also got Arthur and Pondexter. What more could you want for Pau?

      Also, I’d take Randolph over Pau at any time. More mental and physical toughness.

      Zach was given away for basically nothing 3 times to end up here:

      https://www.box.com/shared/dt8phhjrkm

      Irony:

      Knicks – gave him away for nothing to try to get Lebron – they could use some scoring down low – but also don’t you think Zach remembers this if we go up against the Heat
      Blazers gave him him up when they got Oden – had Aldridge – bad luck but no playoffs
      Clippers – gave him up when they got Blake – out of playoffs

      • Game Time says:

        Let’s not act like Clippers didn’t do the same to Memphis last year. It’s not ironic for Blazers or Clippers. They took shots at BETTER players and it didn’t pan out for Blazers, but Clippers still have a young athletic PF that is developing, and was injured (again) in the playoffs. These things happen. People hype up things way too much. Case in point. What happened to Randolph today? Off night, no. He met a playoff team with good defense. I give Memphis credit for having a plan over the years to form a playoff contender team, but lets not act like this is a championship caliber team. No scoring threat and a PG who’s not a playmaker so these guys will only win by having phenomenal defense each night or outshooting the competition. NEITHER one is realistic.

  16. Charles says:

    Willie, not sure about luck. Maybe they got lucky on the two late first round draft picks that they also got for a soft Pau Gasol, not to mention cap room to sign Zbo. The two draft picks are a couple of the first guys off the bench in Darrell Arthur and Quincy Pondexter. So you upgraded at Center, power forward with Randolph, and 2 good players off the bench. Then you cleared enough space this year to resign Tony Allen by trading Gay, who I’d take on my team any day over Gay (especially at $17M a year). Tell me again how this is luck. Who would you rather have Zach or Pau? I think the Lakers would have won 3 in a row if they would have had a tough guy down low like Randolph (instead of Pau) on a loaded team at the time.

    Look at where we are vs. the salary cap for the next 2 years after this with one of the top 5 big 3′s in the league. You can call it luck. I’d say it’s borderline genius maneuvering by a front office that has been criticized more than any over the last 5-6 years besides the Raptors (whose GM is about to get fired). My fear is that teams are going to be scared to deal with us in the future because we’ve been so good the last couple of years.

  17. love says:

    I would love to see the two brothers play together

  18. Rich says:

    Don’t get too carried away .. The only reason they are in the finals is because Russell Westbrook got hurt…

  19. Anonymous says:

    Marc Gasol is very, very underrated, but honestly Pau has accomplished more with his career than Marc.

    • TazManianAngel says:

      He was a laker tho… =|

    • TazManianAngel says:

      Paired up with probably the 2nd best shooting guard of all time along with the best coach of all time…I mean, you BETTER win SOMETHING!

  20. willie says:

    chris wallace made bad decisions. trading pau at his peak = 2 lakers rings. drafting thabeet at 2 (bust). conley at 4, despite other better pgs in his batch. trading their clutch go to guy, scorer and former US national team member Gay. he’s just lucky, lionel hollins is such a good coach, that his strategy and plays brought the team to the WCF

    • Game Time says:

      I agree Willie, and the key word is Luck. As in OKC lost Westbrook, as in Blake Griffin got injured as well. Two teams missing key guys. I believe with Blake at 100% that series would have been 7 games going either way, but there was no way they would have beat OKC with Westbrook. Lucky for them, but Spurs are pretty healthy. I just worry that the Grizzlies will turn into the Chicago Bullies on the Spurs.

      • grizzfan75 says:

        Blake was “injured” last season too. Memphis lost in 7 games against them. Obviously the better team one. Kevin Durant choked because they put the whole team on his back. It wasn’t about luck. It was about who had the better defense. OKC could have easily torn us apart in the second round. Even without westbrook.

      • Kamote says:

        The team that upset SAS years ago and challenged OKC with Westbrook was without Gay at that time, and without Prince either. Please remember that OKC also lost Harden this year, so say Memphis will not win against OKC with Westbrook is just definitely a biased thinking from the “impartial” writers of this blog. Now Blake Griffin is the overhyped one, and saying that without his “injury”, that LAC stands a chance against Memphis would now just be plain st*pid. Memphis is not being overhyped this year. Its just that they don’t have any highlight-reel players and divas so Hangtime Blogs shows no love for them.

    • grizzfan75 says:

      I disagree. Trading Rudy was maybe one of the best decisions the front office has ever made.Rudy was good and still is a good player, but on crunch time if you watched certain games, he would choke under pressure. There were numerous times when I went to games and they had to depend on Rudy and he couldn’t produce.

  21. Lakers says:

    Yea right. They handed Gasol, in his prime, to the Lakers in a plan to get them into the finals 6 years later. While Marc is very good, it was rather dull to build the team around Marc rather than around Pau .

    • TazManianAngel says:

      Had YOU been the coach, you would’ve lpst that bet haha! I mean, they’re all young like Marc. They’re contenders for the next six years. Pau wouldn’t have gotten a championship, nor would he have still been on this grizzilies team during his downward spike two years ago in play. I choose their play over yours, spmetimes you have to plant seeds and be patient. Too many people want championships NPW. But people thrive in greed, so they want now now now and do ANYTHING to get a championship. *coughs*..heat.

  22. Bajka says:

    So there was no other way of getting 48 pick in 2007 draft then trading 27 years old all-star? It’s intresting to what this GM envisioned for Hasheem Thabeet?

  23. J says:

    and gasol and z-bo will be key oh and allen

  24. J says:

    add more scoring and they would be championship contenders they should have kept rudy gay

  25. Russell Eastbrook says:

    Do not forget what was written in Hang Time and by the other NBA writers when Gay was traded and another 2,3 bench players were sent off to Cleveland just 3 months ago. You counted them out; you said that management wanted to clear cap space, save money and give up the already unbearable dream of playing in the Finals. You sir, along with all those experienced writers counted them out. It turns out they knew what they were doing acquiring Tayshaun Prince: They knew they were already very very good and they were one veteran a way from a huge run. This team managed to make a deal that made everyone around the NBA count them out for this year and the near future, while in essence all they were doing was bringing in the last weapon for what they all felt would be a title run. Everything about this team is a surprise, a bet. Zach Randolph 5 years ago? Nowadays’ Greg Oden would have been more popular for reshaping his career path. Mike Conley? For his first 3 years we kept being reminded how picked at no. 4 was a fluke because he was good, but not good enough to dethrone the superior 10 point guards around the league that are dominating. And yeah, I was one of the main haters of Mark Gasol when I first watched him play for the national team when he was in his 20s. “Uses his brother to get to the team I thought”. How naive man? He’s the best center in the league. 2013. To me, Grizzlies could become the biggest underdog champion in the history of Stern. Best present for his last year.

    • Game Time says:

      Things are working out for the Grizzlies, but lets not act like this was destined to happen. No one knew Zach Randolph would develop the way he did. The only sure thing was that Marc was underrated and could become a star center. As for Prince, I still don’t think he was a good trade over Gay and Memphis will feel that next round. They beat the Clippers, and OKC without Westbrook. They won’t beat the Spurs, unless they end up injuring someone like Duncan, Parker, Manu or Leonard. I respect Memphis for building up a solid roster, but this team isn’t going to win a championship and people are kind of overhyping them.

  26. baboy says:

    they should get both gasols..

  27. AckWright says:

    They’d be crazy to get rid of them especially with all the fans they’ve earned over the years. All that hard work would be instantly wasted if they got rid of Wallace and/or Hollins

    • niwdle says:

      AckWright is definitely right! The team have finally found the identity. All grit kind of team and this groups tops the league in defense so why fix if it ain’t broke. I feel that this year Memphis might make it to the finals or ultimately win it all but if they don’t then I would still stick with this group of players or probably tweak the team a little bit. They should keep the core, period.