Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Michael Heisley Tells It Like It Is - Part Three

This the continuation of the interview 3 Shades Of Blue had with Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley on Friday, April 4th before the Chalk Talk. Due to the length of the interview it is being presented in sections to make it easier to read. Part 1 and Part 2 were posted earlier. Part 4 is up now as well.

3 Shades of Blue appreciates Mr. Heisley taking the time to do this interview.

3SOB: Moving away from the business side for a moment, you made some incredibly nice comments about Pau after the trade. One thing in particular I remember was your saying you were really glad that you could trade him to a team that was competing and could appreciate his skills. Pau came out 3 or 4 days ago and said some particularly disparaging remarks about the team. How did that make you feel?
MH: Well it doesn't make me mad. You see I realize who made the comments. I don't expect Pau to be a general manager. He's just a player. I think he speaks from his experience. His experience was with a world champion with Spain. He was the Olympics champion with Spain (sic). He'd won championships and he came here with a team that basically never made a charge at winning the championship.

And that happens to people. Charles Barkley never won a championship. So I think his point of view is that it is a lot easier for Los Angeles to win the championship than it is in Memphis. You know what. He is absolutely correct. You know what. It is a lot easier. They can afford to go into the luxury tax. Pau could cost them, if they don't cut some other players, $30 million next year because of the luxury tax, but they can do that. So my point is that I think Pau's viewpoint is one that he isn't right. New Orleans is a prime example of that. Cleveland is a prime example. If we got LeBron James, if we got one turn of the ping pong ball, we would have had LeBron James. We wouldn't be seeing 4000 people in the stands. We'd be seeing sold out crowds. When I looked at buying the Vancouver Grizzlies, the Cleveland Cavaliers were for sale and they had 70% of their skyboxes empty. They were having 3-4000 fans in the stands. When they got LeBron James they started selling out the arena and went all the way to the NBA Championship. That's what one player, and in this game with its dispersion of talent across being such a huge thing, that one player can make so much of a difference.

We've never been successful at getting the #1 pick although we've been one of the worst teams for years. It's crazy this system they have. It isn't just that we didn't get it last year. I mean what is the sense of it? It's devastating to a team, the worst team in the league, and all of a sudden you have a chance to get a player like Oden, who everybody says is going to be an impact player in the league and something happens and they are picking 4th instead of picking 1st.

And if you go around and ask fans they assume that if you have the worst record you will get the first pick. And why? Because the NFL does it. Major League Baseball does it. I mean that is the way it generally works. If luck were to come to us which is what we're hoping for we might be 5th. I did a statistical study of every year and every team and where they picked and what happened and position 5 has gotten twice as many top 2 picks as position 1. So we're in position 5! So I don't know. Are we going to have a chance? Knowing our luck we'll probably end up in position 8.

So I don't agree with Pau. Am I upset with Pau? He is a wonderful person. It never gets reported but Pau's mother does volunteer work at St. Jude's Hospital since she was here. They've been active people in the community. They're wonderful people. Pau never gave us a bit of trouble. The worst thing he ever did to people, sometimes criticized by people for playing for Spain. I was the guy who was killed with it. I was paying him when he wasn't playing but a lot of people were upset that 'Pau was injured and didn't play and then asked to be traded.' Nobody was in the room. How could the guy insist it? I never said it. I don't know how people got that, but someone went and talked to some reporter and the reporter put it in the paper and they put it in that Pau's asking to be traded. That's not what happened. Pau said if I get traded would you trade me to a championship team?

Did I try to trade him to a championship team? I tried to trade him to the best team for us. Was I happy he went to LA? I was ecstatic. Why? I was going to get the best deal for me, but at the same time if I could do something for a young man, an outstanding individual who never did anything but the best he could for the Grizzlies, I was happy for him too. That's the whole net end of it. I didn't trade him to take care of Pau. I didn't trade him because the fans were down on him. I traded him because the coach, the General Manager, all of us, sat down and we said we're not going to get there with this team. We're going to have to break this team up, try to start from the ground up and build a team. Pau is young. He's 27 but I can't get there in two years I didn't think and therefore Pau, who is injury prone and so on. So the point was now was the time to basically trade him and get value for him. Young value.

All of these coaches around the league - they all knew, they read it in the paper, everyone knew he was on the block - none of them stepped up. Then we went to Chicago. We tried to trade for dollar by getting an expiring contract. They didn't want to go into the luxury tax. Then we went to LA. They were willing to do it. So we traded him to LA.

Everybody thinks how can Heisley be so stupid. The point is we're trying to make this work. Will it work? If it does somebody is going to be writing about me like I am a genius. If it fails they are going to be basically beating me up.

That's what it means to be a sports fan. I am a fan and a fan buys tickets or they watch on TV. Part of being a fan is being able to bitch about everything. What makes it so interesting is that every fan including me truly believes they could be the General Manager. Otherwise we wouldn't have fantasy leagues. They really truly believe they can do this. They know who you should draft. They know who you should play. They know who you should trade for right now but the interesting thing is when they make a pick and it is an absolutely horrible idea and it turns out if you had done it would have been a disaster you never hear of it again.

Let me tell you, I'm not so sure the professionals have that much more going for them than the fans have going. A lot of it really turns out to be luck. How many trades do you make that turns out horrible because the guy gets injured and he hardly ever plays for you? How many trades do you get where the guy goes out or beats his wife or basically gets thrown in jail or something or gets suspended from the league. There's so much that goes into this thing and so much mystery involved, that's what makes it so exciting. And that's why playing fantasy basketball has so much appeal to the common man.

3SOB: This kind of goes along with what we've been talking about. Some of these questions actually come straight off the Grizzlies message board from people who couldn't be at your Chalk Talk tonight. Are the Grizzlies going to attempt to bring in a young established player to let the fan base know you are serious about competing in the Western Conference? I know you can't promise to sign someone but are there players out there you are going to be trying to go after?
MH: I don't know if you will be hearing about them or not. I don't know. My answer to you is we're going to try and put this program together. You've got the General Manager, myself, the coaches, we're going to look at it and try to do the best thing. Does that mean we are going to be guided by fiscal responsibility? Yes we are. I don't mean that this is going to be the defining motive but I tell you, I am not going to get myself into the luxury tax or something like that down the pike. I am going to try and have a plan that is laid out that we're looking at: what do we need. How do we fit in. A lot of that is going to be told by how we do in the draft.

So the point is I don't know where we will be after the draft. I don't know who is going to be available. So I don't know what you will be hearing. If you hear a lot of stuff out there I would hope my people are smart enough to be like [Jerry] Krause was in Chicago and that is nobody knew who he was going to draft, nobody knew he wanted to trade for until he did it. And the reason wasn't that he hated the press. It was that it made him a more effective general manager. I would think that's the way we hope we could be. I don't want people to know who I'm trying to get and I don't want people to know who I'm trying to draft because that might send someone to do something I don't want them to do. In the past, and I don't know it we will be do that, too much information went out of this place as to what we were going to do.

Since I am going to have something to do about a deal, if you hear something, then I would say to you probably got partial information because I tell you I'm not going to be telling anybody. So my answer is I can't really tell them because I'm not quite sure what will happen in the draft and who's going to be available. We're going to try and run this team and build a championship team that is going to take us in my opinion 3-5 years.

3SOB: Kind of along this same line here, are you willing to spend $9 million or more on a free agent this summer or in the future?
MH: I don't know. I tell you what. If they give me a superstar for $9 million I'll take it. You think I'm kidding. Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds? My point is that's the problem in these situations. The question isn't am I willing to make a $9 million investment. The question is will I make an intelligent business decision. Am I willing to pay $9 million for a Joe Baknickknack. No way! Do they think Joe Baknickknack is a superstar? Maybe. I don't know but I'm going to basically do the best thing I can do.

If I get a superstar player, you know I said 3-5 years, hell I might be able to get there in 2 years. I might be willing to do what I said I wouldn't do and get an older player so everything changes depending on what the opportunity is. I'm going to tell you point blank we are going to be fiscally responsible. Let me just make a point to you. At our average ticket price, somebody with a $12 million dollar salary I have to sell almost 5000 seats to every game to pay for his salary. People don't look at it that way. You have to put 5000 people in the stands EVERY NIGHT to make it worthwhile. People will say well there are people out there who do this. Well there aren't many people out there selling 4, 6, 8000 season tickets a night going out running into the luxury tax.

No one should ever assume that I didn't pay and didn't make the effort, and may also make the effort into the future to basically build this team by spending money. Because that is never been an issue. Jerry West will look you in the eye and tell you he was never turned down once on the issue of money. Not once. And we basically had at one time the 4th highest payroll in the league. That's something to say for one of the smallest markets with the 4th highest payroll in the NBA. We were trying to get there. We didn't get there by making mistakes. We didn't get to where we are today because when we tried to cut that salary back some of the guys got older. Some were from bad trades. Quite honestly we tried to go forward.

We traded Battier to try and get Rudy Gay in. When we first did it people said it was the worst trade. People in Memphis wanted to lynch me. I loved Shane Battier. I think he is one of the most outstanding guys. When my son and I interviewed him my son asked me what I thought and I said if he wasn't a basketball player I would put him in charge of one of my smaller companies. That's the kind of leadership guy he is. So no one had to tell me who he was. We had a great relationship. We made decisions to try and improve the team because Jerry felt Rudy Gay was an outstanding opportunity. We brought him in and in the first year he was very young. Rudy didn't catch on right away and everyone thought it was the worst mistake. I'm not so sure people don't feel different right now and next year or the year after people might think they like him even more.

Notice I take the ones who turn out good. I can also take the ones who turned out pretty bad...

3SOB: I'm not going to ask this next question...
MH: Why? What is it?

3SOB: Well, how are decisions being made now in the front office? Is Chris Wallace wielding the same influence Jerry West was rumored to have? Does Jerry West still have any influence?
MH: Jerry West is a good friend of mine. Obviously, I talk to him all the time. Obviously Jerry gives me his opinion. Obviously I listen to him some because he is a bright guy but Jerry West is not actively involved. He doesn't call me and tell me what he thinks I ought to do. In the course of playing golf together or something he may say something.

Chris Wallace is the General Manager. Chris Wallace is responsible for putting together ideas and so on. As opposed to when Jerry was here, I do take basically either approve or disapprove the decisions going forward involving the team. I am more involved. I don't necessarily come up with the trades. I do basically look at the trades. I can't say I can think of anything that Chris has wanted to do that we have turned down. Most of the player moves and trades it has been Chris that put it together. I did not call LA for example.

To be continued...

BallHype: hype it up!


hptmatt said...

hey...can "Joe Baknickknack" play some perimeter D????

I say he's worth $9M!

Sign him Heisley!!


ChipC3 said...

I didn't know if that was exactly how to spell his last name but that's what it sounded like Heisley said!

AussieGfan said...

What he said about Pau makes me pissed off at Memphis fans. :(

It's not everyday you get to see GM's interviewed like this, well done.

Commadoor Sixty-four said...

Not a GM, the owner.

Great job Chip. How did you come by with such a good in-depth interview with Mr. Heisley?

ChipC3 said...

Commadoor - I met him on the elevator leaving a Grizz game. I asked if he would be interviewed for the Blog and Stan Meadows said the blog was great so he agreed to do it.

ChipC3 said...

It's amazing how many cool things happen when you ATTEND Grizzlies games!

Commadoor Sixty-four said...

Did he happen to mention how often he looks at the blog or any message boards?

Was Stan Meadows there playing the role of lawyer, too?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what happened was MH whispered into stan's ear, then stan ran it through his filter and spoke!!

Awesome interview, again, thanks to the 3SOB's and Heisley for giving such an honost seeming interview. He gets a bad rap, but really, he has provided me with a great entertainment venue that otherwise would not be here, and its not like he is making a killing doing it.

I just dont understand people that think an owner would not do everything in their power to win, short of spending their entire fortune for lux tax.

Anonymous said...

I HATE interviews with GM's and owners since they are nothing more than spin but this guy is different.
I understand why you felt you had to censor him to protect him from his words.
This was just awesome:
"How many trades do you get where the guy goes out or beats his wife or basically gets thrown in jail or something or gets suspended from the league."

We got to get this guy his own blog.

Anonymous said...

Spectacular work. Great interview of an interesting man, who sounds like a good one too. Shame that he's been villified a bit in the media. Since I'm in LaLa land, we thank him from the bottom of our hearts for Pau. He is a joy to watch.

NancyW said...

Chip, you're a VERY lucky person! There aren't too many fans who've gotten to spend time both with a GM and an owner!

PMI said...

'If they give me a superstar for $9 million I'll take it.'

No joke Sherlock.

News Flash...superstar free agents almost always cost more than 9 million dollars.

He also acknowledges the impact 1 player alone can have on a franchise (Lebron)....yet he won't bring one in.

With that said....thanks for asking a variation of my question anyway..although the reference to our history of not having one besides Gasol would have given more emphasis to my point of contention with how we have been trying to build this team.

And we have more than 4000 fans in the stands Mr. Heisley. We're averaging close to 13,000 currently. That should come close to paying for 3 players of Gasol's average salary (using your 4-5000 fan mathematics). Where are they?

'Jerry West will look you in the eye and tell you he was never turned down once on the issue of money. Not once.'

Hmmmm...I wonder if that applies to Allen Iverson.

Anonymous said...

really well done interview. Good work.

MemphisX said...

What superstar has become available? If you want to say Iverson, fine, but he might be sitting next to Rudy at the lottery. KG and Shaq are the only ones that became available. Now I would have loved to trade the #4 for an All Star and then trade Rudy/filler for KG.

Lowry, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, KG, Gasol...hmmmmmmm.

Anonymous said...

If Heisley wants to sell out crowds and to build a championship team in 3-5 years and the Grizzlies get the #1 or #2 pick, here is what they should do: First they can trade trade Mike Miller and Kyle Lowry, maybe even Navarro or someone else like Marc Gasol to the the team that gets the other #1/#2 pick for that pick. So then we could have Derrick Rose and Beasly. Then trade Mike Conley for a lottery pick and draft DeAndre Jordan or JaVale McGee. Finally we can either draft Chris Douglas-Roberts if he is there or Joey Dorsey when we pick with the Lakers first rounder. Then we can sign Monte Ellis. So our starting five turns out to be Derrick Rose, Monte Ellis, Rudy Gay, Michael Beasley, and DeAndre Jordan/JaVale McGee with the bench consisting of Javaris Crittenton, Hakim Warrick (if we don't trade him), CDR/Joey Dorsey, Darko Milicic(not a fan), other small free agent signings, and Jason Collins' expiring contract which we could use to trade for another first rounder. That is the absolute dream team but it is very possible, as long as we try hard enough to make it happen. We would dominate for 10+ years and get at least 2 championships. Also, we would sell out every game because this team would be the most exciting in the league.

ChipC3 said...

"What makes it so interesting is that every fan including me truly believes they could be the General Manager. Otherwise we wouldn't have fantasy leagues. They really truly believe they can do this. They know who you should draft. They know who you should play. They know who you should trade for right now but the interesting thing is when they make a pick and it is an absolutely horrible idea and it turns out if you had done it would have been a disaster you never hear of it again."

I think you could say that Heisley has answered the previous post.

PMI said...

It's not that everyone wants to be the GM. It's just that every reasonable adult (adults are the ones who pay hundreds/thousands of dollars for this product) would like to see decisions made regarding this team that make sense on some level. We have not gotten that in a very long time with this club.

MemphisX said...

Reasonable? I don't think fans are reasonable. I am not worried, Chris Wallace will get a lot smarter after getting Beasley.

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