Friday, June 20, 2008

Back in School: The Chris Wallace Interview - Part 2

This is the continuation of an interview Chris Wallace gave exclusively to 3 Shades of Blue. The first part of the interview began with his Blue Ribbon Basketball Digest up to the point he made his first real pick in the draft.

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: So you would say your first hand picked player was Kevin Gamble. Now he ended up playing for the Celtics didn't he? Was he there when you were there?
CW: He played for the Celtics, Kings, the Miami Heat. He was a journeyman but he had a good career though. Now I did a total of three years with them with the amount of traveling I did and responsibilities growing. Then I went to the Denver Nuggets. I lasted there 8 months. Jon Spoelstra took me to the Nuggets with him when became President of the team. He got fired 3 months into a 4 year contract.

3SOB: Was there a change of ownership or what?
CW: No. He came in with new ownership and there was a controversy about a player that got signed, Blair Rasmussen. He was signed to a very hefty salary at the time for a center especially at his level. The General Manager said Jon had signed and Jon said the General Manager did it and it became a kind of hot potato. And he ended up getting fired. So I had just moved out there. I had no contract. I don't know anyone. Lasted eight months there before they brought in a new management team and I got fired. Then I went back to West Virginia and did some work on my magazine and did some work on basketball litigation and I worked for the Clippers and New York for two years on a part time basis out of West Virginia.

The Knicks situation was different because I talked them into, in 1991 or 92 at the beginning of European scouting, sending me to Europe to scout every European and American player playing abroad for 3 weeks. So I got a 3 week trip out of it. It was in Denver, the most important thing I did there, I took my first European trip. I scouted Toni Kukoc when I was there. So with that experience and what I had before it really sparked an interest in international scouting which has become a passion. Then in December of 1993 I went to the Miami Heat.

3SOB: Now when you went to Miami you are no longer just that guy somebody hired. You went there as a major player.
CW: Well I didn't really go there as a major player. I mean everyone involved is a major player because it's not that big. Even a team with the most extensive staff is still a small number of people. It's just a small world and the impetus to make a pick can come from any part of that. Scouts drive it. General Managers drive it. Coaches can come in and drive it. It's really hard to explain unless you've been in it but often there is not a clear cut pipeline like there is in other businesses.

Certain companies may have a research department come up with something and it gets moved to the top, then accounting people come and so on and it's a well defined process. We have all the names in the draft, or virtually all the names - some get added on along the way, then the lives of these players inside the personnel department kind of take a life of their own. This year the General Manager may drive it a bit, another year some guy from the scouts like an international scout might be particularly excited about a player and he drives it. So the ideas and the momentum for the choices come from all over the organization.

3SOB: Well do the Grizzlies have an extensive scouting group?
CW: Yeah we do and you have to understand the difference between our endeavor and football or baseball. You don't have the volume of players these other sports do. For example, baseball has a draft that involves college players as well as high school players that we don't have anymore in the NBA. Baseball also doesn't have an international draft I believe. So the Red Sox, Dodgers and Braves are in fierce competition in places like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela for the next great 15 year old shortstop. So that takes a tremendous amount of manpower with the farm clubs and all. To get ready for some 60 round draft with college and high school players and then stay ahead of the competition in Latin America and the volume of signings of 15 and 16 year olds signing hundreds of them and hope you uncover that next one or two gems.

So there's no way one person would have the familiarity to assess that talent pool and be able to make a decision. In football there obviously more players than even in baseball much less basketball. In football there is only about 13-14 games to judge players in. There is no AAU football. Some players may not even play for 2-3 years too. Players like Willie Parker for the Steelers. He's a star running back now but only gained like 4-500 yards his whole college career. He wasn't even a starter. That's not happening in the NBA. Some guy who's a very minor player and doesn't even start until maybe his last year and doesn't have numbers goes on to become a starter on an NBA team isn't going to happen.

So these other sports don't have the benefit of common competition that we have in the NBA. See these guys play AAU ball. Now we can't go watch them now but you hear about who the best guys are. You know who the best guys are in Memphis, Baltimore and Detroit. These kids rise to the top of the draft. Anyone who looks at the 2008 draft, if you read the internet and read the publications you knew who these guys were since they were 15 or 16 years old. They were separated from their peers. So the top guys in basketball tend to stay in the top. In football picking the top high school guys is more difficult because they may not make it in college. So these other sports have a much larger task as far as the numbers are concerned and they don't get to see the players compete that often.

You know if you went out and tried to scout football games you would find it difficult to see many games. I mean they play some on Thursdays now and maybe you can find a way to see 2 games in person on Saturday but you can't take in many games. We can see games from November all the way through the NCAA tournament almost every night. Thanks to TV we see a lot more in the way of competition with inter-sectional games and pre-season tournaments, post season tournaments so the guys we are looking at go up against each other more often than in football.

We only draft 60 players. Every year there are probably 75 or 80 players that can go in that 60. These other sports you are looking at hundreds. So what I'm getting at is we don't have, or I don't think we have, as arduous a task to see these players. This is where the mechanics of the job take place. You know who the guys are in this game. I mean you can just go off of mock drafts from the beginning of the college season on. You may not have them in the same order but you would have 2/3rds of the lottery. I mean everyone knew O J Mayo was going inside the lottery. Derick Rose, Beasley. They are out there early.

And what also has happened which makes the job easier is the dispersion of this talent. There aren't many NBA players who didn't come from high profile Division 1 schools. The junior college player has virtually dried up. There are almost no small college players of any significance. The historic black schools just aren't putting the players out they used to. The Willis Reed's, the Earl Monroe's, the Bobby Dandridge's. It just doesn't happen anymore. I don't know if there are any NAIA ball players in the league anymore. Maybe Devon George might be an NAIA player. That's like 1 guy out of 400 something players. The Juco players or players coming out of JUCO to Division 1 schools, that has come to a halt. So what we are dealing with is basically big time high school players who came out of the BCS conferences with minor exceptions and the high level European players. So you don't have to go out and beat the bushes like you used to do. We're not trying to outfox the experts for the next great player out of Uzbekistan. These are all known players.

So our object is not discovery. It is catagorizing. Getting those known players in the right order. Now that's no small feat. If you look back at past drafts you'll see that a lot of times the names are all upside down. Every team in the NBA has blown many drafts. Partly because it is an inexact science at best and more I think because of the decision making and the outside stimulas in the process more than people just don't know talent. So my point is having more people, a large group, doesn't neccessarily lend to a better result. Take the top 10 and there are at most 12-13 players being considered for those spots. Everybody knows who they are. The most casual fan can name them because outside of Gallinari they are all branded players. Now the trick is getting them in the right order.

Since I've been in the NBA, which is more than 20 years, there has never been so much manpower devoted to talent aquisition as there is now. More travel, greater use of technology yet the end result is not any better than it was 20 years ago.

to be continued...Part 3

BallHype: hype it up!


Anonymous said...


jp said...

disagree, quite interesting, look forward to part 3. keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Sure makes me feel good to know that the GM is depending on mock drafts and internet reports to pick players. And his denigrating Juco and black college ball is disrespectful, arrogant, and ludicrous. All the talented ballplayers don't all congregate at BCS schools, no more than all beautiful women congregate in warm climates or all smart people congregate in Ivy Leagues. Yes you can look in all those places for a higher density of those characteristics, but part of due diligence is looking where your couunterparts aren't. Way to follow the pack C. Wallace!

Anonymous said...

All that insight and intelligence and the trades he has done while he has been here have not been very good at all. He made a huge mistake when he first got here with the philosophy of building around Pau when those already here knew that Pau was not worth building your team around. The subsequent Pau for a "ham sandwich" did not help matters either. With this draft he can start anew and atone for the debacle of last year. In doing that he needs to make a bold move, something that will give the long-suffering fans reason to remove the paper bags from their heads.
Give the fans something to be optimistic about. Make a deal to get Beasley first. If not, then make a deal to get Mayo.

Chip Crain said...

He made a huge mistake when he first got here with the philosophy of building around Pau when those already here knew that Pau was not worth building your team around.
-Just who were those people saying Pau couldn't be built around? I have been pretty close to the Grizzlies for some time now and have never heard anyone suggest such a thing.

The subsequent Pau for a "ham sandwich" did not help matters either.
-I believe that Wallace did what his boss told him to do in that trade. I don't like the order coming down from on high but I don't blame Wallace for getting the largest expiring contract either.

With this draft he can start anew and atone for the debacle of last year. In doing that he needs to make a bold move, something that will give the long-suffering fans reason to remove the paper bags from their heads.
Give the fans something to be optimistic about. Make a deal to get Beasley first. If not, then make a deal to get Mayo.

-Great idea. Now just how does Wallace do that?

Joshua Coleman said...

Anyone else think that Anon (3:35 PM) has a reading comprehension problem? He didn't say that he relies on internet reports/mock drafts and he didn't say anything negative about historically black schools or junior colleges. He said that everyone knows about the overwhelming majority of NBA prospects due to the coverage of these kids from AAU teams through college nowadays. He also said that very few players come from outside of the Division I schools anymore, which has almost always been the case. He mentioned Devean George, who is the only Division III player to be selected in the first round and one of only seven D-3 players to ever make it to the NBA. Those are simply facts, my cowardly commenter. Love the fact that he/she/it can't be bothered to leave a name either. Nice display of intestinal fortitude and intelligence. :-p

Anonymous said...

So does the interview talk about who we are thinking about drafting or potential trades? I'm sure he's not allowed to comment about that, but it would be pretty cool.

Chip Crain said...

So does the interview talk about who we are thinking about drafting or potential trades? I'm sure he's not allowed to comment about that, but it would be pretty cool.
Regreatably no. Wallace will go into more depth on what he looks for in a player and what worries him about them. You can learn a lot about what to expect from this draft however.

Joey Brown said...

Hey Chip, since you are answering a lot of questions I was wondering- since Marc Gasol supposedly agreed to sign with us, do you know if we are still going to have enough cap room to sign a top tier free agent this summer like Josh Smith, Monta Ellis, Andre Iguodala, or Emeka Okafor? I mean I'm not sure we would if we had the money anyways, but is there a chance we go after a guy this year or do we wait until next year when Jason Collins' contract expires? Will we even spend the money at all?

Joshua Coleman said...

Joey, no one will know for sure how much cap room the Grizzlies will be left with until the NBA determines what this year's cap actually is. Memphis cannot even sign Marc until that happens, in fact. The Grizzlies will probably be left with $8-11 million after signing their two draft picks and Gasol, so there is an outside chance that they could pursue one of the big name restricted free agents. However, Chris Wallace has said repeatedly that the only way you can acquire an RFA is to overpay and that the team isn't going to spend the money this offseason just because it is available. I doubt that they will sign anyone for more than a mid-level type contract, something in the $4-5 million a year range to shore up whatever weaknesses are left after the draft has concluded.

Anonymous said...

Chip: It is obvious you have not followed the team the past year if you question what their main philosopy was last Summer. Just read Calkins' articles since last Summer and you will see that when Wallace arrived and decided not to trade Gasol then that many questioned his decisionmaking. Subsequently, Wallace made deals to build around Pau. Free agent Darko so Pau could play the 4, Jacobson for outside shooting to space the floor so Pau could operate on the low post, Conley who was a pass first PG to pass the ball to Pau and the most obvious, JCN his best friend from Spain. How many more examples do you need?
Sure Heisley had to approve the deal for Gasol but Wallace was the one to put the pieces together.
The Beasley to Griz trade rumor is all over the Internet now and the pieces to make it happen are all known. Miami picks Beasley at #2, MN picks OJ at #3 Griz pick Love at #5. Two scenerios then happen: We trade our #5 and a PG to MN for Mayo. Then we deal Mayo and Miller to Miami for Beasley. There may be other pieces involved but this is the main deal making the rounds.

Joshua Coleman said...

Michael, I didn't see Chip refute that they attempted to build around Gasol last year. He asked who it was that said that Gasol could not be built around last summer. Was Wallace just supposed to come in and started cleaning house from Day 1?

Jeff said...

This piece reflects poorly on Wallace's abilities as a GM. While it is true that most NBA players are known commodities coming into the League that does not mean the universe is limited to 80 players in the draft and top international players. How about Jamario Moon? Wallace is correct that unlike baseball a huge staff is not needed to run an NBA front office. However, scouting outside of the box is important. Some of the best run NBA franchises are San Antonio, Detroit, and the LA Lakers. All of those teams make use of international players. They all also have picked up on details other franchises missed. Detroit drafted Rodney Stuckey last year out of little Eastern Washington and he was a great pick at 15. Detroit also saw that Ben Wallace who went to a historically black university was being under utilized in Orlando and made a trade for him. San Antonio has had success with 2nd rounders like Ginobili and Scola (traded). The Lakers last year used a second round pick on Sun Yue of China who may or may not pan out to join their highly international roster. All three franchises keep some of their draft picks oversees and monitor their development closely in foreign leagues. Wallace implies that the universe he is looking at is the same as that of mock drafts. That is no way to beat the competition. Kudos to Wallace though for granting the interview with 3 Shades of Blue.

zack said...

it would have been awesome (even if unrealistic) if CW and Ivy would have cleaned house and traded Pau immediately...


hey, I can still dream of if we were to draft Horford at #3 last year...