Sunday, June 22, 2008

Back in School: The Chris Wallace Interview - Part 4

This is the 4th part of the exclusive interview Chris Wallace gave 3 Shades of Blue on Friday, June 6th. Part 1 discussed his introduction to the NBA up to his first draft. Part 2 dealt with the draft process and how it has developed. Part 3 dealt with the character and intangible issues of the drafting process.

As in the Michael Heisley interview in April, we are presenting the interview in it's entirety and not taking excerpts out to forward any agenda or point of view. We at 3 Shades of Blue hope everyone enjoys the interview and trust our readers to draw whatever conclusions they want from it.

3SOB: When you are thinking of drafting a player does marketability come into play in the decision to draft that player?
CW: That would if he was a definitive rain maker. I think there are very few players in the NBA that really sell tickets. I think the great ones sell tickets but there aren't many of them. I think the local aspect is over-rated. You guys had Lorenzen Wright here and that guard (Antonio Burks) but it didn't spike attendance a great deal. I remember in Boston we had Dana Baros for a number of years who played at Boston College. He was a great player and a great guy but people didn't turn out just to see him play. They didn't turn out to the Clippers to see Bo Kimble. So that's a little over-stated. So if you find me a player that is a great player who's going to help us win and be a box office draw that's the best but to try and manufacture one, maybe you think this kid has a personality or a flair that will make people come to the games or his team went to the NCAA tournament, that generally doesn't hold out.

3SOB: Would you draft someone either who couldn't or wouldn't work out for the Grizzlies?
CW: Yes. Definitely in this draft because players are all known commodities now. They played on big time college teams or were High School Superstars, you have the physical examinations from the Orlando camp, I have no problem at all doing that.

There is a little bit of a sense of security really in doing that because if the guy doesn't come in because he thinks he is going to go ahead of you or he has an attractive spot behind me that he is happy with even if it drops him a few spots, maybe he has a good relationship with a team, and they are giving him a guaranteed. So the guy might be saying 'wow, I am guaranteed to go 8, 9 or 10 without doing any more workouts. Sure I may end up going as high as 5 but I could hurt my stock in the next couple of weeks and not end up 8, 9 or 10 too. Things might not go right so let me take the sure thing now. So if we know a guy isn't coming in because he is already guaranteed a spot then we can have a great sense of security because the other team has already done the work. They've signed off on him on and off the court or they wouldn't have given him the guarantee. So we can piggy-back on their work without ever having done it.

3SOB: but if he doesn't come in do you feel there is any additional work required because of that?
CW: Oh we're still putting the work in. We're making the calls, countless calls on all these players to anyone we can think of. We're talking to anyone with a valid opinion of him. We're talking to coaches, opposing coaches, conference players, so we have a handle on these players. We check them out. While you haven't met them they are highly regarded and you should know from your research that these are decent quality individuals you wouldn't mind having on your team.

3SOB: You've been in the business for 20 some odd years, what do you feel was your biggest mistake in the draft and what did you learn from it?
CW: Well, it is another thing too that I have to qualify, and I'm not absolving responsibility, but it is hard to say what a person's record is because you don't know how many picks they actually made. Their team has a record. Once you've been on the inside of this business it's like being in congress. Sometimes you have a hand on legislation being passed and sometimes you don't. So you don't know but of the things I have done that I can safely say that I was responsible, I would say my biggest drafting mistake would be selecting Kedrick Brown and I will tell you why because I am a great believer in learning from your mistakes.

One, we made a commitment to him early on and asked him to shut it down. I'm very much against commitments. I've been involved in a number of commitments, some have worked out and some haven't. But when you make a commitment, I don't think it is as common now but it did happen alot in the NBA, it precludes all other possibilities. And all the other information may come.

Mike Heisley has a great saying. I asked him, "Mike, you've been very successful, how do you go about decision making? Mike said I don't make a big decision until you have to." Now we don't have to make this decision until the night of the draft. You don't even have to make that decision the day of the draft. You can wait until 10 seconds before you pick if you like. Theirs a guy named Stu Inman, he's passed away but he was the 1st General Manager of the Trailblazers and was the GM when they won the championship, who said "let the draft come to you." So if you sit back, and theirs no need in most cases, why ask a player to shut it down?

So one we made a commitment. I was very close to his college coach. He'd fed me some pretty good players and he was pushing him. Then I went and watched him play. He was a very physical kid. The best junior college kid in the country, but what I didn't take into consideration was the commitment and not checking him out against other players in that environment. These junior college's, like I mentioned before, aren't as strong as they used to be. The game has changed. Kids are now going to prep schools and maintaining their full four years of eligibility. You see virtually no big time junior college players any more that impact the final 16 teams in the NCAA tournament any more or even making an impact in the NBA. Look around the NBA, how many guys are major players that were JUCO? Shawn Marion, Nick Van Exel was one but he's not in the league anymore. I'm hard pressed to think of any.

So I had a guy that was a junior college player but that isn't what you think it is when you break it down. I passed on Richard Jefferson. He's obviously very good right now. He's been a high level player for a long time. Now Richard was a big time high school player. That does mean something. Those players over the years have succeeded in the NBA at a very high level. So here's a guy that played in the National Championship game, I believe Arizona made it that year, was a top 10 high school player versus a player who was a sleeper. I don' think he was first team all-state coming out of high school. He goes to a junior college and becomes a legitimate JUCO star. It's like law school. You have someone coming out of an Ivy league school going for a job in a blue chip firm versus someone from a mail order law school you know.

It's just different. There's a different pedigree, different credentials. So there is a safety net and a much larger margin for error. And in the final thing, it's that 6 to 5 ratio that we talked about before. If you looked at it on no other basis, if Kedrick really hit it how much better would he be than Richard Jefferson? There is no way in hell he's going to be 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 better than Richard. If all that had worked out for him it would be that 6 to 5 ratio. So if that's the case, why not cover your downside and go for a little bit more of a sure thing? If you take the sure thing then you may give up a little bit of the upside but the upside isn't that great to override the sureness of the sure thing. Okay?

3SOB: I have to ask you this, it was reported that you were confused about how the lottery actually worked, if they used ping pong balls. How is it that with your experience you don't know how the lottery actually works?
CW: Well I'd never been backstage before. I'd been back when they explained these things and they had combinations on the wall. I didn't know exactly how they came up with the combinations whether they used ping pong balls or what. This year I went to the drawing and I saw how it happened. Which is kind of ridiculous. Where they are drawing 4 ping pong balls and that gives you one of the 1000 combinations. There's only 14 balls to give you the combination. I had always heard of this ping pong balls but I wasn't sure where the combinations came from until I sat back in that room.

And that is really not a pleasant experience. You're stuck there for over an hour after the drawing is done. They take all of your communication devices before you enter the room. So your stuck there until the lottery results are revealed.

3SOB: Kind of getting away a little bit from the draft, another question I have to ask is we're going to come out of the draft with 2 more players...
CW: We may come out of the draft with 2 or 3 or even none. Who knows how we will utilize those assets? The most likely way is we exercise 5 and 28 but you don't know what will happen.

3SOB: Well either way we are most likely going to end up short of 13 players at the end of the draft. When do you start looking at the players to fill out the roster for next year?
CW: We're evaluating right now. We have been evaluating players all along. After the draft we will have a good idea of who we want to invite back to work out. We will look to fill out the roster in July although we aren't adverse to not having the roster completed by July. Sometimes there are some gems that can drop down in the form of veteran free agents.

In Boston we signed Eric Strickland who helped us win 3 or 4 games. We picked him up the day the season started. I remember that. We picked him up at the airport and I took him to our house and watched the game on TV. He was playing by the 2nd game. That 3 or 4 games may not sound like much but that made the difference in Boston having home court advantage in the first round and that series went to a deciding game. So those wins made the difference between playing that game in Boston or on the road. So if the roster is finalized in July that is fine. If not then we'll keep looking for something to come up that we don't expect.

3SOB: Along those lines, we have a dwindling season ticket base in Memphis. Do you feel pressure to shake up the roster to get people interested again?
CW: We always like to do something big. We don't want to go out and do the same things we did last year. Sure we'd like to do a Kevin Garnett type deal but it isn't very often those deals come along. So we have to keep building the team, showing improvement, maintaining and improving the assets we have and bring more talent into the roster. It a very simple process. The players we have will continue to grow. The young players are people we are excited about down the road. We may take bits and pieces of those players and trade them away for other pieces however. The idea is to continue to develop as a team every day.

3SOB: Way off topic now but I would be remiss if I didn't ask, I know you saw the article last week quoting Mr. Heisley in a way that sounded like you were being blamed for the Gasol trade fallout. I don't know if you read his rebuttal in the CA or our blog. Do you feel like you are on thin ice right now or are you secure in your job?
CW: I saw the article but I haven't seen the rebuttal but I will say this, everybody job in the NBA from the coaches to the front office is on thin ice. You're always as good as your last pick. You don't see many 5-6 year plans anymore in pro sports. The timetable is much shorter. You saw coaches this year in the playoffs get fired. Owners have paid an exorbitant amount of money to own these teams. The are very much operating in the public spotlight. Other than politics there are very few endeavors that put you in the spotlight like sports teams. Fans don't have a tremendous amount of patience. The consumer just doesn't have that kind of patience so you have to do things or they will find someone else to do the job. That is just the facts of life in the NBA. That is our occupational hazard.

3SOB: Are you worried right now that other GM's think you can be had in a deal? That you can be taken advantage of?
CW: No because in the NBA we don't have to say yes to a proposal. We don't have to say yes. Basically you know all the repercussions of a deal so there are almost no secrets. You know the financial data at the time. That's all out in the open. You know how the math works out. You have a pretty good idea of the talent quotient. Nobody really knows the ramifications. The deal may look pretty good at the time. Now over time maybe you have a winner or a loser in a transaction. Some people get hurt. Some players decline but it is not like you are selling someone real estate. It's not like commercial real estate or used cars. You know a lot about these players. You know the financial situation. You don't know what the future holds however. It's a little bit more difficult than that.

That concluded the interview. 3 Shades of Blue wants to thank Chris for his time and openness in helping our readers understand a little bit more of the inner workings of the draft and how he perceives his job. This interview was far less contentious than the Heisley interview despite some difficult questions. Chris is a likable man that you want success for, not only because he runs our favorite team but because you feel an empathy toward Chris. He is the type of person you want success for. With some big workouts this week and the important draft less than three weeks away we appreciate him taking the time to meet with us.

BallHype: hype it up!

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