Michael Heisley conducted a radio interview on Friday morning with local radio personalities Ron Tillery and Peter Edmiston. While it was nice to hear the owner talking positively about the team, Heisley brought up a couple of thorny issues which need to be addressed by fans of the team.
Heisley discussed the freedom he has given Chris Wallace and Marc Iavaroni in building and running the team. He clearly placed the signing of Darco Milicic and Juan Carlos Navarro on their shoulders. He said
Surprisingly he didn't say that Mike Conley was clearly their decision. It left the impression in my mind that West had a stronger hand in the drafting of Conley compared to the free agent moves of the team. While this may not in fact be the case it was a curious omission.
Jerry still spends time talking to me and talking to Chris and Marc. I think he still has interest in the team but I think it's Marc and Chris's team and I think they will add their own flavor to it. I think that Milicic was definitely their move. I think that Navarro was definitely their move. My point is that they are definitely putting their stamp on the team and that is what I want to see.
Another point Heisley made was that
They (Wallace and Iavaroni) work very well together and that is very important for the General Manager and the Coach to be on the same page and I am very, very pleased with that.A definite implication that this was not the case with West and Fratello. Heisley also clarified the issue of Jerry West saying he is not paid but is a consultant. West still feels a connection with the team but is not interfering with how Wallace and Iavaroni run the team.
Tillery asked a pointed question about Darko Milicic and what Heisley expected from him this season. Heisley's reply was to clarify that while his expectations were not certainty he did believe Milicic could be a fantastic acquisition for the team. He mentioned how respected Joe Dumars' talent evaluation is (Dumar's drafted Milicic with the 2nd pick in the 2003 draft ahead of Carmello Anthony, Chris Bosh and Kirk Hinrich among others), how his development was slower but that Bill Russell once told him that big men take longer to develop. Darko has been maturing and that talent is there. When his talent and development come together then he could be a real force for the Grizzlies.
Heisley clearly stated that he doesn't think about the Grizzlies every day and even when he does think about them then it is only a small part of his day. When he is in Memphis it commands 100% of the team but otherwise it isn't very much of his day. He discussed his desire for a local owner or ownership group but did not go into the difficulty that has been rumored with relationship with the local ownership group. He stated that he turns over more responsibility to the team's professionals than most owners and that is how he runs all his business. He also stated that he feels it is the team's responsibility to attract fans to the game and that it isn't the fan's responsibility to come to the games. He plans on building long time devout fans and to do that he feels the best avenue is through the younger fans.
He talked about the difficulty of being financially successful in a small market city like Memphis. He referenced that the LA Lakers make a lot more money from their local TV contract than the Grizzlies but still have to pay salaries commiserate with the league. He stated that teams like the Lakers and Knicks make more money from their local TV contracts than the Grizzlies make in total revenues. Without the income of the local contracts that other teams have in major markets it is difficult to be financially successful and that the team could no longer afford to be among the highest salaried teams in the league. This was an reference to the league for revenue sharing which has been a passion of Heisley's for the last few years.
Heisley also discussed the rebuilding of the team. Heisley reiterated that with the right people around Gasol that the team can be successful. He believes that people will eventually thank the team for not trading Gasol. He also stated that he holds no grudge with Gasol for asking for a chance to compete for a title. He referenced players who left organizations in search of a ring like Karl Malone who had far greater histories with their team than Gasol.
Heisley also discussed the Tim Donaghy scandal and held the commonly held belief that if this is a one time scandal then it is bad but not that bad. If it is found to be more widespread then it could be terrible for the league.
This is where Heisley is good. He is an open and honest man who sincerely answers questions. Sometimes the answers aren't as rosy as people would like but he tells the truth. While the questions left something to be desired (who cares about Mark Cuban and dancing with the Stars?) Heisley did leave people with an optimistic feeling about the franchise and the direction the team is headed.