Posts Tagged ‘Jason Levien’

Next few steps critical for Grizzlies

By Sekou Smith,

VIDEO: The Grizzlies fell in Game 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The picture of instability.

The living and breathing definition of disarray.

That’s what that smoke cloud in Memphis looks like from afar.

The Grizzlies, a year removed from a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals and weeks after a first round exit from the 2014 playoffs, dismissed team CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash on Monday, ensuring a major shake-up would dominate their summer for the second straight year. They parted ways with HT fave and well-respected head coach Lionel Hollins after last season’s trip to the conference finals.

Further complicating matters this time around is the Grizzlies giving Dave Joerger — who succeeded Hollins and led the Grizzlies to a 50-win season — permission to speak with the Minnesota Timberwolves about their coaching vacancy.

On the surface it’s yet another head-scratching decision from a franchise that’s making that a habit:

“The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota … and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard,” Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.

Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn’t see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.

“He’s just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon,” said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while [Grizzlies owner Robert] Pera restructures the front office.

All signs point to Pera being the one instigating these changes after a reported clash with his management team, changes that elicited this simple but appropriate response from Grizzlies guard Tony Allen:

All this is yet another disconnect between ownership, management and the coaching staff that leads to dysfunction and entropy. The Grizzlies aren’t true championship contenders. But they’re certainly closer to the Western Conference power elite than they are to the consistent lottery crowd.

Pera has every right to do as he pleases with his franchise. He’s paying a handsome price for that right. But he should be careful. There have been others in his shoes who have chosen to do it their way, a “new” way, despite being advised to hire smart people and then step back and allow them to do their jobs.

The richest or smartest man or woman in the room isn’t always right when it comes to basketball decisions. It makes me think back to the way things unraveled in Phoenix when the Robert Sarver-led group took over a contender and slowly but surely reduced the team to a lottery-dweller that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.

(Granted, the 2013-14 Suns won 48 games and became just the second team in the past 40 years to win that many games and miss the postseason.)

In a copycat league in which teams structure their franchises based on the most successful outfits, down to the way the socks are organized in the equipment room, it boggles the mind that anyone would want to retrace the steps the Suns took when they broke from the sturdy leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Bryan Colangelo.

Yes, the Suns survived for a couple of seasons without the Colangelo-Mike D’Antoni power structure in place. But that talented roster they initially had — Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson —  eroded over the years leaving nothing from the glory days but an aging Nash,who was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers..

The Grizzlies would be wise to tread cautiously as they go down what appears to be a similar path. Wallace has been in the front-office game long enough to know just how hard it is to get back to where the Grizzlies are now if they do dip below the playoff line.

Memphis battled back this year from early stumbles and an injury to Marc Gasol to secure that seventh spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Who knows what would have happened in Game 7 of the opening round against the Thunder if they had been able to play Zach Randolph, who had been suspended for clocking Thunder big man Steven Adams in the jaw in Game 6?

The point being, overreacting after a season like this could be detrimental to the long-term health of what’s been built in Memphis. Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Mike Conley, Mike Miller and the rest of the the Grizzlies are ready to compete for the foreseeable future.

Someone needs to wake up, quickly, to refrain from any more of the foolishness that has marked the Grizzlies’ offseason for a second straight spring.

More Excuses Than Answers For Grizzlies

It's been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It would be easy to blame all of the Grizzlies’ problems on the absence of center Marc Gasol, who is out with a sprained left knee.

It would be popular to blame them on CEO Jason Levien, who shoved Lionel Hollins, the best coach in franchise history, out the door and put David Joerger onto the hot seat.

It would be fun, just for old times sake, to blame Rudy Gay, who is already two teams down the road from his days as traditional whipping boy in Memphis.

Truth is, the Grizzlies have collectively been nothing but hound dogs since opening night of the 2013-14 season, showing little inclination to play with any of their former bark or bite.

“I wish I could pinpoint it,” said point guard Mike Conley. “I don’t want to make excuses for having a new coach or losing a coach. Obviously losing a guy that’s been here four or five years, it’s going to be tough on a lot of people. But us as players, we had to come back ready to play and with the mindset of wanting to get further than we did last year. Honestly, we didn’t do that, and so, here we are.”

That is sitting in last place in the Southwest Division, rubbing elbows with the Jazz and Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference standings instead of battling with playoff contenders.

The Grizzlies still labor to score points, especially from the perimeter. The No. 2 rated defense that used to have sharp claws and gave up 100.2 points per 100 possessions a year ago, is now ranked 24th in the NBA. In the last half-dozen games they have not guarded the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 43.7 percent behind the arc. They often look clueless and toothless, even at home at the FedExForum, their beloved Grind House, where they’ll take a 5-9 record into tonight’s game against the Lakers (8 ET, League Pass).

“Really, I think we’ve got to establish our identity,” Conley said. “We have lost that in a sense. That’s defensively being a team that goes out and grinds out wins and finds a way to win. We’ve got to get back to that old motto of stopping each individual person, taking it upon ourselves to go out there and play defense and work hard.”

Though troubles have been magnified with seven losses in 10 games since Gasol was injured on Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were hardly ferocious before that. In opening the season a middling 7-6, the Grizz lost at home to the Pelicans and Raptors. After losing Gasol, they’ve lost at home to a Rockets team playing without James Harden and to the Nets minus Deron Williams and Paul Pierce. They lost on Friday night to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis.

“We started off slow because we were just thinking too much,” Conley said. “We were thinking too much about the new offense, the management changes, whatever it may be. There was just a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with what we were doing on the court. We needed to zone out and we started playing well for about a week or so and then the big fella got hurt and injuries started playing a role. It’s just been an up and down season so far and we’ve got to find a way bring everything in.”

The Grizzlies show little cohesion or conviction with what they are trying to do on the court. The latest round of rumors that they’re trying to move power forward Zach Randolph’s big salary may also be enervating. Though he has 13 double-doubles on the season and Memphis is 7-0 when he leads the team in scoring, Z-Bo’s production has dropped off lately. Without Gasol to attract attention inside, defenses are swarming Randolph in the paint and over the past 10 games he’s made half of his shots just once.

Conley has had to become much more of a distributor in the offense without Gasol passing out of the post and his assists are up. But it has cut into his offense on a team that has precious little to spare.

It’s created an atmosphere at home like a balloon with a slow leak. The Grind House has often become an echo chamber of empty seats in a town where the hard-earned fan loyalty of recent playoff success does not run deep.

“It’s been tough for us to show up at the Grind House and not deliver,” Conley said. “That’s an area where we have to improve. We’ve got to understand that having a bad year or a bad month or two can sway fans one way or another in Memphis. What we built can go away fast.

“You can’t just come back and say you’re a Western Conference finals team. I think that’s what we have to realize. We have to go out there and work back up to that point. I do think still we’re capable of getting ourselves back into that shape. But as of today, we’re just not that same team.”

Recent Hires Emphasize Player Evaluation

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Under the new collective bargaining agreement, screw-ups drafting, trading and signing free agents carry greater consequence than ever before. Teams can no longer simply spend their way out of mistakes. A more severe luxury tax, a crushing repeater tax and annual restrictions on exceptions, plus other roster-building limitations are changing the way front offices think — and hire.

More organizations are looking out of the box to find new minds with new ideas from differing backgrounds to better evaluate talent. The Memphis Grizzlies last year hired columnist John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations, a move straight out of baseball’s “Moneyball.”

Hollinger is a leader in the advanced statistical analysis movement increasingly carving out significant space in nearly every NBA front office. For all teams, and especially tight-fisted small market franchises like Memphis, determining the subtleties and nuances of a player’s game and how that player benefits the team structure, at what position, for how long and for how much is paramount to sustainability.

“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien said during the playoffs. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team.”

Last week, Yahoo! Sports reported that the San Antonio Spurs, one of the league’s legendary talent evaluating organizations, particularly internationally, dipped into the ESPN work force after hiring respected recruiting analyst Dave Telep. He worked as a senior analyst for the network and owns and operates Dave Telep Scouting Services. As a recruiting analyst, Telep watches more high school and college basketball in a year than most people will in three lifetimes.

He can provide the Spurs reams of information on the character and talent development of players across the United States from a young age, theoretically giving San Antonio an edge in future drafts. Think of the coming day when the Spurs’ Big Three really will ride off into the sunset and the organization will once again — gasp! — draft in the top 20 or even 15 and will be seeking a franchise-type player to remain relevant.

The longtime Mark CubanDonnie Nelson-led Dallas Mavericks didn’t raid ESPN this summer, but they did make a significant hire that underscores the critical nature of talent evaluation in today’s practically hard-capped NBA. Gersson Rosas was lured away from the Houston Rockets to take over as the Mavs’ general manager, a title vacated in 2005 by Don Nelson when he stepped aside as GM/coach.

“I think I bring a strong basketball evaluation perspective, a strong process-oriented focus,” Rosas said. “The responsibility that Mark’s given me is to support the positive things that are going here, evaluate the areas that we need to improve on and continue the efforts of the staff to improve that.”

Unlike Hollinger and Telep, Rosas, 35, did rise through an NBA front office — from video coordinator and scout with the Rockets to becoming the GM of the Rio Grande Vipers, Houston’s NBA D-League team that won two titles under his control.  Like Hollinger, Rosas is a proponent of cutting-edge analytics and technology as key player-evaluation tools. And like both men, Rosas was hired to implement his areas of expertise to strengthen Dallas’ talent evaluation processes.

In consecutive summers, Dallas did not land its top free-agent targets. They also don’t possess a base of young talent, leaving them a franchise in flux since shifting roster-building strategies following the 2011 championship and ratification of the new CBA. In chasing titles throughout the 2000s, Dallas often overspent to get players it wanted and used first-round picks as trade chips. Still, they’ve also missed badly on first-round selections such as Mo Ager (2006), Rodrigue Beaubois (2009), Dominique Jones (2010) and Jared Cunningham (2012).

With Dallas now looking up in the Western Conference, drafting well and finding the best-suited, most cost-effective free agents are imperative to building a sustainable roster. That was implied in the Mavs’ surprising hire of a rising, young executive to be their GM

“Where this team is, the focus on the draft, on trades and free agency is paramount, and we’ve got to make sure that our processes are thorough, that they’re very detailed and that we can make the best, educated decision that you can make,” Rosas said. “This isn’t the type of business where you bat a thousand. You want to make the right decisions for the right reasons. Sometimes, unfortunately, they won’t go your way, but we want to be prepared when all those opportunities present themselves.”

New Breed Of GM Ushers In New Coaches


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — At, the eight men who will make their NBA head coaching debuts next season are being profiled. Today’s feature is Boston Celtics youngblood Brad Stevens.

Eight rookie head coaches in one season is a notable development in a league known for recycling the position (depending on Philadelphia’s hire the number could reach nine).

Consider that last season’s Coach of the Year and 25-year bench boss, George Karl, is out of work, as is Lionel Hollins, who molded a 24-win team when he took over into a Western Conference finalist last season. In Denver, Brian Shaw has been awarded his first head-coaching gig and in Memphis, Hollins’ top assistant, Dave Joerger, is being given his first shot.

So why are teams suddenly investing in new blood? Is it simply cost-cutting? Is it a belief that new ideas, concepts and techniques are needed to sustain success in today’s game?

“For me, as a first-time GM, and where we are, we need to build something in Phoenix and I wanted to give a guy a chance who maybe hadn’t  been a head coach before,” said recently hired general manager Ryan McDonough, who chose Jeff Hornacek to lead the Suns. “I considered guys who had been coaches before, but the vast majority of candidates I interviewed had assistant coaching experience, but had never been NBA coaches before.”

The words to highlight: “…as a first-time GM…” This summer’s coaching evolution is due, in no small part, to a mounting front-office revolution. More franchises are handing the keys to bright, young minds to make decisions on player evaluation and acquisition.

McDonough, 33, represents the next-generation of NBA general managers — or perhaps more accurately, the now-generation. They’re salary-cap educated, savvy, motivated and highly invested in advanced metrics and new technologies sweeping the league. They don’t have on-court pedigrees like their predecessors, but they have tirelessly worked their way up through video rooms and scouting departments of NBA franchises. Evaluating a player’s skill, versatility and potential goes hand-in-hand with assessing his dollar value under today’s salary-cap, tax-heavy collective bargaining agreement.

McDonough hired assistant GM Pat Connelly, the younger brother of Tim Connelly, the recently hired 36-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. Tim Connelly hired the first-timer Shaw, a tag-team that will learn the ropes together.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition,” said Tim Connelly, who replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, just 39 when the Nuggets promoted the former international scout to general manager in 2010. Ujiri now heads the Toronto Raptors’ front office. “There’s only 30 people with these jobs and we’re both [he and Shaw] fortunate to take over a team that’s had a lot of regular-season success.”

Of the eight rookie head coaches, three were hired by first-time general managers. In the case of Sacramento’s Mike Malone, he was hired by still-newbie owner Vivek Ranadive, who then hired first-time general manager Pete D’Allesandro, 45.

“When I was in Boston,” said McDonough, who worked under Celtics general manager Danny Ainge for a decade, “I kind of always had it in my mind that if I got a GM job I would give a first-time head coach a chance.”

In Memphis, CEO Jason Levien, 40, took control of personnel decisions last season. He parted ways with Hollins and promoted Joerger. Last summer, Orlando chose Rob Hennigan, 31, as GM to consummate a trade for Dwight Howard and reshape the team. Hennigan hired first-time coach Jacque Vaughn. Hennigan’s former boss is Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also 30 when he took charge of the then-Seattle SuperSonics. Presti hired first-time coach Scott Brooks to lead the Thunder.

In Dallas, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the longtime Mavericks decision-makers, surprisingly hired Gerrson Rosas, 35, away from Daryl Morey‘s front office with the Houston Rockets to serve as general manager.

Major League Baseball first embraced the analytics movement so prevalent in today’s NBA, and also seems to have cracked the door for the NBA’s front-office youth movement. The Boston Red Sox made then-28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein built a powerhouse that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” with two World Series titles. The Texas Rangers soon hired Jon Daniels, who was also 28 when he took control. During his tenure, the Rangers made both of the franchise’s World Series appearances.

The old-school GM played the game and then moved “upstairs.” As precision dollar allotment continues to play a larger role in overall player evaluation, the position is trending toward sharp, young minds, students of the game who never actually played in the NBA, and were only learning how to read when Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was in his prime.

Hollins’ Ouster Puts Memphis’ Brass Squarely On The Hot Seat



Lionel Hollins, the gruff, old-school head coach who delivered the embraceable blue-collar, Grit-and-Grind identity to the once-floundering Memphis Grizzlies, is officially out. And the organization’s new ownership group, led by young tech billionaire Robert Pera and his analytics-charged management team headed by CEO Jason Levien, is officially on the hot seat to keep a good thing going.

The apparent choice to replace Hollins has been his understudy, Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger. Joerger is credited as the architect of Memphis’ stone-cold defense and would take over a club that won a franchise-best 56 games and appeared in its first Western Conference finals.

“On behalf of the Grizzlies organization I would like to thank Lionel for his service and hard work in helping this organization throughout his years in Vancouver and Memphis,” Levien said in a statement. “We have begun to identify our next head coach, who we feel can best move us forward.”

Where will the staunch Hollins, 196-155 in four-plus seasons with Memphis, land? Perhaps with the stylistically opposite Denver Nuggets. Reports out of Los Angeles have him on the Clippers’ long interview list for this week.

Lionel Hollins, Mike Conley

Lionel Hollins was key to the development of point guard Mike Conley.

But back to the Grizzlies. Memphis is a fragile small market and Hollins, along with key player acquisitions by general manager Chris Wallace — who took a back seat to Levien and is reportedly a top candidate for the GM job with the Sacramento Kings — turned a second-class citizen to its FedExForum co-tenant, the Memphis Tigers, into the pride of the city.

That’s rare stuff. Even so, Memphis’ attendance ranked 19th out of 30 teams this season. They played to 91.8 percent capacity. Only 13 teams played to fewer home fans (in terms of arena capacity) and only three were playoff teams — Indiana, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

“One thing I think is very unique about [our] market which helps us is that we’re the only game in town,” Levien, a former agent and former assistant GM with Sacramento, said last month in an interview during the second round against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So if you’re in L.A., you’re competing with all these pro sports teams and all this other entertainment. If you’re Memphis, the FedExForum is the spot. The Grizzlies are the team. And even though it’s a smaller market, we need to do a better job of commanding that attention consistently, but we think that’s an advantage for us.

“The great thing about Memphis also is we’re in the Southeast. This is a basketball city, this is a basketball region. Even though SEC football is big all around us, people love basketball and a lot of that is the Tigers’ tradition. So we are very cognizant of the fact that we are growing on the backs of the Tigers and what they built here in terms of the love of basketball.”

The Grizzlies’ plan is to keep growing, to widen their fan base by expanding television deals into regional markets such as the recent TV and radio deal into Little Rock, Ark. To sustain and grow attendance and increase television reach — which often creates new sponsor opportunities, ticket sales and other revenue streams — Memphis must keep a winner on the floor.

Levien has major decisions ahead and tough ones in shaping a team under the constraints of the salary cap. A coach is No. 1. Then comes whether to re-sign defensive specialist Tony Allen. The free-agent swingman is affectionately called “The Grindfather” by fans who wear T-shirts bearing that name in the style of the “The Godfather” logo from the movies.

Will Levien shop Zach Randolph, who turns 32 next month and is owed $34.3 million over the next two seasons? Randolph became a beloved figure in Memphis as well as a two-time All-Star under Hollins, who deserves credit for sticking with and developing point guard Mike Conley and 2012 All-Star and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. Does Levien prefer the Grizzlies move away from the Grit-and-Grind foundation and to a more up-tempo attack to mirror the rest of the West?

Levien said he had begun earlier in the season the process of calling every season-ticket holder to share his vision for the club.

“The thing I’ve noticed in Memphis is they were down for so long they want to know that you want to win,” Levien said. “And If they think that you are serious about it, and that you have a process, and that you have a strategy and that you really want to win, I think they’re with you and they’re excited about that.”

Dismantling the structure of an operation that reached new heights is risky business. Mark Cuban took apart a championship team (his reason being to better deal with the changes of the new CBA) and two years later the Mavericks are out of the playoffs. Memphis doesn’t possess the longstanding fan goodwill (or deep-rooted corporate sponsorships) as Dallas does to sail through a public relations storm of a precipitous fall.

And its players that are locked up don’t want to even think about that.

“I’ve seen both ends of it,” Conley, who went 22-60 as a rookie, said during the West finals. “We were terrible, the support was pretty bad and now we’ve seen it hit an all-time high and I don’t want to go back to what it was before. Trust me. It would be huge if we could just stabilize what we have and just keep moving forward.”

Hollins Wants To Stay With Grizzlies … What’s The Hold Up, Memphis?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is where the coaching carousel business starts to get a little silly.

The Grizzlies are coming off the greatest overall season in franchise history which included their first trip to the Western Conference finals. They have a solid roster and an excellent coach in Lionel Hollins, who has publicly expressed his desire to stick around and try to take the Grizzlies to that next level.

“Hopefully, I will be here,” Hollins said. “I love the guys. I love this city and the fans and everybody associated with the team. But we’ve got to be very, very realistic in what the future holds.”

When a man speaks like that, you have to wonder what’s not being said. What’s the hold up for the Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies are not going to publicly negotiate with their soon-to-be free-agent coach. And Hollins would be wise to use whatever leverage he has to get the deal he wants (and deserves). There are, after all, only four coaches in the league who can say they took their team to the postseason’s final four.

While a handful of teams around the league, including the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers (L.A. owner Donald Sterling was reportedly at Game 1 of the Western Conference finals observing Hollins) are searching for the right coaching fit or the next Hollins or Frank Vogel, the Grizzlies have the guy that fits perfectly with their roster under contract until June 30.

If it’s just numbers they are dealing with in the negotiations, fine. Both sides want the best deal possible, and there’s still time to haggle over details. But if there is more going on here, if there are some philosophical differences between Hollins, Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and his front-office staff, there is no telling where things are headed.

If the Grizzlies think that a different coach can get the same things out of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and the rest of a team that, up until being swept by the San Antonio Spurs, looked like a team built to compete for a championship, they better be sure.

Proven commodities in the coaching ranks don’t always pan out in every situation (just ask the Los Angeles Lakers how that Mike D’Antoni thing is working out). Hollins has already shown what he’s made of. He didn’t take over an elite team, but the Grizzlies have become exactly that under his stewardship.

Why anyone would want to tinker with that chemistry, with that tangible success, is beyond me!

Hollins wants to stay in Memphis. He loves his team, the city and the direction the franchise is heading in with the new ownership and management.

Sounds like a slam dunk.

What’s the hold up?

Small Markets Scrap For Success


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When a couple small-market Western Conference teams battled for seven grueling games in the semifinals of the playoffs two years ago, who could have foreseen that they would meet again this postseason — after each was forced to deal with the inescapable repercussions of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Rudy Gay was injured and out of that postseason two years ago. But at only 24 and locked into a lucrative contract, the No. 8 pick of the 2006 NBA Draft was a central figure for the fast-rising Memphis Grizzlies. Yet on Jan. 30, 2013, Gay, the team’s leading scorer, was traded to Toronto.

In Oklahoma City, the Thunder were coming off a loss to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals when, days before this season began, Thunder general manager Sam Presti dealt former No. 3 pick James Harden, just 23 and an integral part of the team’s success, to Houston.

In a postseason marked by a surprising domination of small-market teams — all four teams remaining in the playoffs are in the bottom half of the league in market size — the second-round showdown between the Grizzlies and Thunder (won by the Grizzlies in five games) demonstrated just what many teams have to do to thrive in the era of the still-new CBA.

“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” said Jason Levien, the first-year CEO of the Grizzlies under a new ownership group led by one of the world’s youngest tech billionaires, Robert Pera. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team, how you build a roster, and you’ve got to keep the cap and the tax in mind.”


Avoiding the taxes

Cap and tax are at the forefront of the strategy the Oklahoma City management team is using under the ownership of billionaire energy mogul Clay Bennett. Presti, who has managed to re-sign superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, plus emerging power forward Serge Ibaka, to long-term deals that fit within the team’s cap structure, chose to hold firm to a policy of not commenting on matters related to the CBA.

In Memphis, where the Grizzlies will look to start digging out of a 2-0 hole against the San Antonio Spurs in Saturday’s Game 3 of the West finals (9 p.m., ESPN), Levien has defended the trade of Gay (for veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and youngsters Ed Davis and Austin Daye) as being made to improve the team.

While that might be true — Memphis won a franchise-best 56 games after a strong start with Gay — the Grizzlies also got out of the $37.2 million owed to Gay over the next two seasons. Memphis will pay Prince, Davis and Daye a combined $26 million over that span ($22 million if Daye is not retained beyond next season). With Zach RandolphMarc Gasol and Mike Conley owed a combined $40.9 million next season, keeping Gay and a payroll under the tax line (this season it was $70.3 million) would have been a near-impossibility. (more…)

Two Coaches With Everything To Lose

LOS ANGELES — Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.

Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.

And, finally, job security: Neither man has it.

In a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence, the first-round playoff series between Del Negro’s Los Angeles Clippers and Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies, a rematch of last season’s seven-game, first-round thriller won by L.A., features two lame-duck coaches.

While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.

“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.

L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.

“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)

Grizzlies Need To Stay The Course

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Members of the Memphis Grizzlies need to turn their phones off, stop answering emails and cut off all lines of communication with their colleagues around the league in regards to Rudy Gay.

Seriously, enough is enough.

We’re talking about the longest-tenured member of the team, a player that, even when he’s struggling with his shot, finds way to produce for one of the best teams in the league.

While it’s easy to see why so many people are interested in trading for him, it’s hard to understand what the Grizzlies are thinking when they dangle Gay out there for other teams to paw at on the trade market.

All that consternation about Gay not being able to co-exist with All-Star power forward Zach Randolph has been put to rest. The Grizzlies have one of the best young cores in the league. They have their big man tandem in Randolph and Marc Gasol, Gay on the wing and a still-improving young point guard in Mike Conley. And they have the right man pushing the buttons in coach Lionel Hollins.

For the Grizzlies’ advanced-stat happy front office, take the words of your head coach to heart when and their stat-happy between now and the Feb. 21 trade deadline:

“Analytics has a place, (but) it can’t be the end-all, be-all,” Hollins said on a local radio show. “I’m trying to still figure out when the Oakland Athletics have won a world championship recently, with all the analytics they have.”

No matter what those numbers tell you about Gay, his performance and contributions to this team, trust your eyes. Whatever issues these Grizzlies have — and like all teams, they have them — they don’t revolve around Gay. He’s on the short list of elite-level players at his position.

That said, I applaud the Grizzlies for taking a long-distance view of things and recognizing that with the bulk of their payroll tied up in Randolph, Gasol, Gay and Conley, future roster flexibility is limited. How they’ve come to the conclusion that Gay is the expendable member of the core four, however, is beyond me.

He’s 26 and just now entering the prime of his career. There is still plenty of “upside” where Gay is concerned. What’s not to like about him and what he brings to this team?

Look around the Western Conference and you’d be hard pressed to find a better and more balanced core four than what the Grizzlies have, especially when you consider the age, ability and production of a team’s top four players.

Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien seems to agree with that sentiment, given what he’s said to local reporters recently. That’s why the Grizzlies made that multiple-player deal with Cleveland to clear more than $6 million in payroll and avoid the luxury tax threshold that forced them to consider trading Gay in the first place.

They accomplished both of their objectives with that deal, getting their books in order and giving themselves future flexibility.

Now the Grizzlies’ brain trust has to do the hardest thing in the world for a crew fresh on the front office scene, they have to stay the course with the nucleus of this team and resist the urge to tinker with the foundation of this team just because they can.

Stay the course!