Grizzlies Owner Michael Heisley appeared on Ron Tillery's radio talk show Tuesday morning to explain what is happening with the Grizzlies and what the plan is going forward. He made some interesting comments that seem to put into clearer focus the team's plan moving forward.
He talked for just over 15 minutes and fielded some good questions. He did make some obvious comments like "I don't think we have done as well as I or the team or the fans expected starting the year. The owner down to the management has to look at things and say we haven't gotten the job done.' Boy that is a relief to know. I am sure some people were worried this is exactly what the front office and the owners wanted for the team.
On Trading Gasol and the Direction for the Team:
When asked where the team goes from here things started to get a bit fuzzier. Heisley said that
We made an assessment in January before the trade deadline that the team was not going to get 'there' the way we were constructed and we needed to start looking back and trying to figure out how to start building another team with playoff potential. That means from our perspective, since we aren't able to attract as many free agents as other people, that we are going to have to rely very heavily on the draft.So if we can't rely on free agency why are we insisting on expiring contracts? Why not get players instead of expiring contracts? If as Heisley stated the plan is to build through the draft with a lot of young players then why trade Gasol for a very late 1st rd pick and $10 million in expiring contracts? I know, you can't trade a big contract like Gasol's for only draft picks but if the team isn't planning on using the cap space why have it? A few veterans wouldn't exactly kill the future prospects of the franchise after all. Maybe some veterans would have made the team watchable this season instead of what is on the court now.
Whether or not this is accurate is debatable and it is quite likely that he misspoke or 'misremembered' the number of teams that the Grizzlies talked to about Gasol but it was definitely disappointing to hear him say that only 6 or 7 teams were involved on discussions for Gasol.
Heisley went on to say that the decision to trade Gasol was difficult and how much he liked Gasol. He said that his:
"valuation of Pau was probably twice as high as a lot of people in Memphis. I've always felt he was one of the better players in the NBA. I think the situation for several reasons deteriorated and to a certain extent Pau was beat down this year and quite honestly it got to a point this year where I could see it wan't going to get better and so this year around December I decided we would probably have to trade Pau."Sounds to me like the Heisley is saying that the fans forced Memphis to trade Gasol and that this was decided in December which is before the January assessment of the team that the team wasn't going to be able to reach 'there' whatever 'there' means to Heisley. It was also peculiar to here him describe his valuation of Pau as twice that of local people since he traded Pau for half of what the same local people seem to think the team should have gotten for him and dramatically under what inside people like Poppovich and Cuban felt he was worth.
Maybe it was the people of Memphis that Mark Cuban meant when he said Heisley was getting bad advice. I don't think that is what Heisley was saying but it was obvious from his comments that the relationship between Pau and the fans had a large impact on the ultimate decision to trade him. At least as much as the so called lack of the team's future ability to get there.
What About Free Agency:
The next question seemed a little odd following up on Heisley's statement that Memphis won't be able to attract free agents like other teams and that his intention was to build in the draft but he was still asked if the team was prepared to offer someone a max contract either this summer or the summer of '09. Heisley responded that he is:
prepared to build a team the best that they can build a team. We will use some of our cap space to try and attract free agents to Memphis. One thing I am not interested in doing is getting free agents who at the end of their contracts and only have 3 or 4 years of good effort left in them. Somebody 32 or 33 years of age because quite frankly they may have great game but we are looking to build a young team and build it around Rudy Gay and Mike [Conley] and Mike Miller and so on. Quite honestly I don't think that spending the cap room in getting tied into expensive cap situations with free agents nearing the ends of their careers is very attractive.So forget Shawn Marion, Gilbert Arenas and Antwan Jamison but hold your breath for Josh Smith or someone young who can still grow with this team. Of course Josh Smith and other young free agents are usually under restricted free agent contracts and they will be hard to wrestle away from their teams. But Heisley said all he is willing to do is spend some of the cap space money to attract players to Memphis but that he doesn't believe that Memphis can attract them anyway.
On Trading Mike Miller:
Heisley was brief on the possible trade of Mike Miller. He said:
A lot of teams were talking to us about Mike Miller and I think anyone in the NBA, unless they are talking about one of the very, very elite players in the league, wouldn't be honest with you if they said they wouldn't listen to a trade if they felt it would improve their team. Quite honestly we never saw an offer that we felt that we could use.So the team is always willing to listen (well at least listen to 6 or 7 teams it appears) for offers on Mike Miller but cap space is no longer that attractive and teams weren't offering enough in draft picks to put together an attractive offer.
On Ownership of the Grizzlies:
Heisley got a little testy here. You could hear it in his voice. Again I recommend everyone go and listen to the interview. Heisley interrupted Tillery's question on the ownership issue and said this:
What I am doing is basically what I did. You know I seem to have a hard time trying to communicate. After the last go round I got up in front of hundreds of people at the FedEx Forum at one of our conferences and I was asked this question and I answered very specifically. I am focusing my attention on operating the team and so on. I am not involved in...we have not put the team up for auction, we are not hiring one of those companies...that solicits that type of business. If someone were to come in and make me a good offer for the team that I thought would be a good owner then I would sell the team. And that has been my position from day 1. What has changed is that I am not out looking actively to sell the team. I don't want to be a liar. If someday someone wants to come in a make an offer and we sell the team then I don't want someone to say I said I wouldn't sell the team.I personally believe this to be true. Heisley would love to sell the team but he isn't actively shopping it right now. He isn't paying a firm to round up prospective buyers for him. Why pay a firm to solicit what everyone knows is for sale anyway? I am sure, and Tillery apparently implied later (not in the interview) the Heisley is getting plenty of prospective interest as it is. He just hasn't heard anything that sounded interesting to him. He ended the question with a quip about the team not being for sale anymore than Mike Miller. I think that basically should clear up any confusion. If you don't think the Grizzlies are shopping Mike Miller then you can feel confidant Heisley isn't shopping the Grizzlies either.
Bias Against the Grizzlies:
He did say that he understands the questions about the moves the team has made and he figures he will continue to answer questions like this for the foreseeable future.
Do I think people are criticizing us? I think everybody that is competing with Los Angeles in the West is very, very upset. What everybody forgets is Jerry Buss was willing to step up. He's over the cap limit, I mean the luxury tax limit with Pau Gasol. He was willing to step up and basically face that when people such as Jerry Rheinsdorf and a lot of other owners were not prepared to do that. So you hear a lot of comments and so on coming in from coaches and general managers of other teams in the West and you'll hear a lot of comments coming in from sportscasters from all over the country saying it was a pure give away...I think you wait 2 or 3 years and so one and when we build a great young team then everybody is going to forget all those criticisms and we won't hear anyone come back in and say 'boy was I loaded.' For example not too many people are beating up on Minnesota for getting rid of Garnett because those young players are sitting up and starting to play. I think another trade that will be looked at quite a lot is that Phoenix trade because the risk there was much bigger than my risk. We were one of the worst teams in the NBA and we made a deal for our best player to try and rebuild with younger players. There they made a trade when they were leading the Western Conference and they traded off one of their best players for Shaq. That will change the whole appearance of their team and I think that was a very gutsy move.That wasn't a gutsy move. I was a desperate move made in retaliation to Heisley trading Gasol to the Lakers more for cap space than draft picks or young players.
On Season Ticket Renewals:
When asked about season ticket sales, how Cleveland has already started to secure deposits for next season and if he is concerned about sales here in Memphis Heisley had this to say.
Absolutely, We've had a very, very tough time filling the arena and in fact we had a tough time filling the arena when we were in the playoffs. With the team losing like this absolutely you lose fans and making controversial trades upset fans and many of them leave. So obvioulsy we have to get better as fast as we can to get people to get back in the arena and we are doing that as fast as we can.Well Memphis definately has that Chicago type of fans.
One of the benefits of being a fan is you have the right to criticize ownership and management and the players. That's what it is to be a fan and that is what I've done all my life. I screamed and yelled at Rheinsdorff for breaking up the team in Chicago. If I had a radio show I would have roasted him.
On the Business Side of Things:
When asked about possibly hiring Dick Hackett and the overall business side of the team Heisley said this:
We have basically interviewed and looked at several people. We have some consultants in from the NBA that are working with us trying to improve various aspects of the franchise and we have not made a decision on who is going to take that position (replacing Andy Dolich) just yet.He didn't elaborate on what the NBA was actually looking at to improve aspects of the team but I bet it isn't hiring a replacement for Andy! Obviously something is viewed as messed up in Memphis if the NBA sent consultants down to straighten out things.
One final thought, I don't know who Tony is or where WHBQ found him but I have never heard a bigger shill in my entire life. I too am a Grizzlies fan but am not a Heisley fan. When a man steps up and proclaims he wants to build the new team with draft picks and young players then trades his best asset for expiring contracts and late picks you have to wonder about his sincerity, especially when you consider that he doesn't believe Memphis will attract any big names in free agency. You have to wonder about a man who says the team isn't for sale unless he gets a good offer. He says what people want to hear but upon further review you realize this isn't what his plan is. If he believes Memphis is going to model Chicago's rebuild then be prepared for 10 years of bad teams and the Grizzlies only becoming successful when they relocate.
I hear Kansas City is desperate for a full time tennant in thier brand new downtown arena...