Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Trouble with Heisley

As I was finishing up the blog on the Chris Wallace interview I ended it saying that

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.
His detractors biggest criticism has been he is too available to the media and that he does what the owners ask him to do. These are hardly negative character traits. It struck me later that this is different from how I feel about Michael Heisley.

Don't get me wrong -- I want the Grizzlies to succeed. I hope that every move the team makes turns out to be successful and the fans come back and all is well at the Forum again. Naturally, if that happens then Heisley will benefit tremendously.

I just don't care on an emotional level if Heisley succeeds or not. Emotionally, I want Chris to succeed. He's a great guy. Heisley may be a super person away from the franchise but as an owner he doesn't endear people to him in that way.

Micheal Heisley is an incredibly smart businessman. He is also one of the more difficult men I have ever talked to. Heisley is blunt and seems to have little or no concern for the feelings of the people who work with him, around him or even interview him. This gets him in trouble with reporters who take what he says and uses it in a way he may not have intended like the Adrian Wojnarowski article.

Heisley called me to clarify his comments after I emailed his office asking for an explanation. He also called the Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery. He did not call Chris Wallace to tell him that the quote was taken out of context. Heisley didn't call Wallace to inform his GM that he wasn't unhappy with the job he was doing. He left Wallace with no idea why he said that and what he meant by it.

Perhaps Heisley didn't feel that a phone call was needed. Perhaps he wanted to give Wallace that impression but didn't want it to appear that he said it. Perhaps he figured that Wallace knows how he feels and he didn't need to make amends for his comments, but as a good ole Southern boy I can tell you my parents didn't raise me that way. The first person I would have called wouldn't be a newspaper or a fan blog (even one as highly respected as ours has become). It would have been the person who was hurt by my words. I just wasn't raised to say something that could hurt someone's feelings and not apologize about it. Heck, I apologized to Adrian Wojnarowski about what I wrote in a blog about him and all I said was that he was a blogger looking for his 15 minutes of fame at the expense of the truth and the Memphis Grizzlies.

By the way, Adrian is an award winning writer and I was wrong to call him that and to belittle his reputation. I still don't agree with the article, but I was wrong to write it that way. So again I am apologizing.

The thing I can't say about Heisley is that he is a liar. I may dislike his view of things but I can't say that he is being untruthful as he sees it. At times, I just wonder how he sees things the way he does. I think Heisley's way of communicating is brutal but honest in other words.

He bullies people with his speech but that doesn't make him untrustworthy. I believe him when he says that the team tried to trade Gasol for equal talent and when that wasn't possible that the team decided to rebuild with youth and to get as much cap room as possible in the deal. I believe that Wallace brought him the deal he asked for. Heisley has been quoted saying Los Angeles offered him something no other team had in a a $9 million expiring salary. The draft picks will help and the players offered (Crittenton and Marc Gasol) could develop but the money off the bottom line is what Heisley wanted more than anything else. That was what he was offered from LA that no one else was willing to give.

Heisley may wonder if he could have gotten more (like an additional $5-6 million of expiring contracts for Brian Cardinal), but that doesn't mean he is unhappy with Chris's deal that he approved. I believe him when he says that that he is to blame for accepting the deal -- not Wallace. Wallace can't do a deal without Heisley's approval. These aren't the Jerry West days of Heisley being a hands off owner. These days Heisley has his fingers in almost every aspect of the club. If you are displeased with the deal, the fault lies with Heisley not Wallace. Wallace gave his employer exactly what he asked for.

Therein lies the problem too. What do we know about the franchise right now?

If we take Heisley to be an honest man, and I understand that a lot of people don't for whatever reason, then we know he wants to bring the Grizzlies back into contention using young players (presumable on their rookie contracts) and most importantly, to do so while remaining under the salary cap. Not the luxury tax but the salary cap. That is the line that only 3 teams are currently operating beneath (Atlanta, Memphis and Charlotte).

Atlanta did make the playoffs last season using a team of young players with only one mega-contract (Joe Johnson). They also won only 37 games. Atlanta had some of the worst attendance figures in the league prior to last season when the playoff run propelled them up to 20th in the league, barely out of the bottom 3rd of the league and Atlanta has a lot more people than Memphis. Charlotte is 24th in the league and Memphis 29th. There does seem to be a connection between not having a league average payroll and drawing fans to the games. The connection isn't a pretty one either.

Only three teams made the playoffs in 2008 whose team payroll was in the bottom third of the league (Utah, Orlando and Atlanta). Again there seems to be a connection between being competitive and paying competitive salaries. If we take Heisley at his word, and again I have found no reason not to, then you can expect the Grizzlies to be among the lowest in attendance and out of the playoffs for the next few years. Memphis is not looking to spend money for a mega-contract player like Rashard Lewis or Carlos Boozer unless he has two traits: a young age and a known ability to put people in the seats.

By the way, those type of players don't grow on trees and they are even rarer to find via free agency.

So it is highly unlikely that Memphis will be able to attract such a player to this team via free agency. The best way to find such a player is via the draft. If the Grizzlies should somehow win the lottery one day, get a sure fire superstar in the draft and swing a deal to acquire an experienced veteran to team with the young guns then Memphis could buck the trend and produce wins despite a low salary and no experience. Until then I wouldn't expect much to change around the Forum.

And I wouldn't expect a phone call from Mr. Heisley apologizing either.

Addendum: Mr. Heisley was on the Sportsbar after this blog was completed if you want to hear what he said.

BallHype: hype it up!


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog and the majority of the posts. However, I must disagree with the statement that Michale Heisley is not a liar. As a Vancouver resident and one-time contract employee of the team, I can say without hesitation that Michael Heisley is one of the biggest and boldest liars I have ever met. Yes, his people skills can be a little rough but that's not the problem. The out and out lies he told in Beautiful BC took the cake. I wouldn't believe one word the man utters, whether it is in the Pacific Northwest (I love Vancouver, the team is staying, let me sing the Canadian anthem at the opening game) or barbecue country (we didn't move Gasol because of the money, the FedEx Forum will be a huge moneymaker).

Michael Heisley = Liar.

Chip Crain said...

I understand that attitude, especially from Vancouverites (is that the proper way to say that?) but I ask you can you show me a direct quote where he lied?

He gives the impression of saying one thing without saying anything that can be said to be a lie. Can you show me a direct quote where Heisley said he wouldn't move the team or did he say 'I don't want to move the team'? There is a difference. I think Heisley says the truth. I don't think he wanted to pay the league $30 million to move to Memphis if he felt he could be profitable in Vancouver. When he realized he wouldn't be profitable in Vancouver he moved the team.

I know for a fact that Heisley has never said that the trade was simply a salary dump. He has said that LA offered him something no one else would in a $9 million expiring contract but he also got Marc Gasol, Javaris Crittenton and two #1 draft picks. Was it a salary dump? Yes but was that all it was? No. I don't believe it was.

You have to listen to every word Heisley says to get his real meaning. I have been fooled many times into thinking Heisley was saying one thing when he never actually said that but that doesn't make him a liar. It just made me focus more on every word he said.

But I am open-minded. Give me a direct quote that he said he wouldn't move the team, that he was only wanting to dump salary or that he didn't believe he has the opportunity to make more money in the Forum than he did in Vancouver then I will ask him about the contradiction. I have looked for contradictions and have not found any yet. Was he misleading in the way he said something? Possibly but he never directly lied in what he has said to me.

Anonymous said...

In relation to the connection between payroll and attendance it seems to me that the low attendance causes the low payroll rather than the other way around. In smaller markets, unless you have a Mark Cuban who is willing to bankroll the team and absorb any losses then low attendances are going to cause a lower payroll on average. Spending money may increase attendances but it will still be difficult to compete with the bigger market teams like LA that will always draw crowds no matter what.
A solution to this problem (salary dumping - or at least the appearance of salary dumping)may be fixed by setting a minimum payroll, say 90 or 95% of the salary cap. Then there is no incentive to shed salary for the sake of it as the money has to go to someone

Chip Crain said...

Actually there is a minimum salary but Memphis, despite their salary readjustments, is still way above that mark for the 2008-09 season but currently will be way below it next year (when Collins expires and Memphis has options on Conley, Gay, Warrick, Crittenton and Lowry. If they are all re-signed then Memphis will plummet the next season when Miller, Cardinal and Milicic all come off the books.

GrizzledGrizzFan said...

Nice read Chip. The only statement that I take issue with is "That was what he was offered from LA that no one else was willing to give."

The deal was made a full two weeks before the trade deadline. I still think, and always will believe, that a better deal could have been had.

grizzglenn said...

Let's not forget that a few years ago the Grizz had one of the highest payrolls and yet could still not win even a single playoff game. Heisley's rebuilding plan is sound only if Wallace is a good talent evaluator. Time will tell. Go Grizz!