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4-Around-1: Four Candidates For Front Office Help in Memphis

by Tyler Springs

If you read Josh Coleman’s recent post regarding the apparent overall meekness of Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace and shook your head in disagreement, here’s a disclaimer: don’t read this post. It isn’t really for you. This piece begins from the premise that Wallace may not be the best man to handle all the duties of a GM on his own—true or false, that’s the jump-off point, so bear it in mind. With a bit of research and some opinion as well, the following is an abridged list of potential candidates that can assist Wallace or take a position to which he reports and advises. Many of these guys are not necessarily what you would call “traditional basketball minds”—instead, they complement the expertise that Wallace already has while providing a slightly different perspective.

Rich Cho - Charlotte GMRich Cho, Hornets GM (since 2011-2012)

As the assistant Sonics/Thunder GM for 10 years, Cho stayed with the team through the move from Seattle to Oklahoma City. During his time in the front office, successful draft picks included Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour (’03), Kevin Durant, Carl Landry, and Glen Davis (’07), Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka (’08), James Harden and Rodrigue Beaubois (’09), and Eric Bledsoe and Quincy Pondexter (’10). He jumped over to the Trailblazers for the 2010-2011 season, after which he was fired despite a successful deadline-time trade for Gerald Wallace that helped Portland get a playoff berth. With Charlotte, he helped draft Kemba Walker in 2011, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor in 2012, and Cody Zeller in 2013, among others. He has a background in law and engineering, and according to his bio on the Hornets’ site, his time with the Sonics saw his assisting Microsoft programmers to “design and implement one of the NBA’s most advanced and comprehensive college and professional player-evaluation systems that integrates player statistics, scouting information and contract details.”

Given that Cho has been in Charlotte for 3 years and they’re coming off a strong season, you could make the argument that he’d be leaving the Hornets with at least a half-full cupboard if he were to be offered a job in Memphis. On the flip side, his sustained run with OKC would suggest that he’s a long-haul sort of guy and the Grizzlies might not be able to pry him away from Charlotte. He’s been able to withstand Michael Jordan as an owner, so you would think he could be enough of a leader to not be cowed by Robert Pera but still make sure Wallace’s insight carries weight.

April 28, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers (left) and assistant general manager Travis Schlenk (right) watch before game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY

Travis Schlenk, Golden State Warriors Assistant GM and Dir. of Player Personnel(since 2011-12)

Three of the six players that Golden State has drafted in the last 2 years (Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson) have averaged more than 20 minutes per game on a 51-win team this season, and they might’ve had another in Festus Ezeli if he hadn’t missed the whole year with a knee injury. That’s a pretty good track record with Schlenk and GM Bob Myers at the helm. Schlenk had five years as a Warriors assistant coach and scout before moving up to director of player personnel in 2009. As a tenured director of player personnel, he has to have solid familiarity with business-side elements like the salary cap and CBA. In rising through the ranks, Schlenk has been able to take notes from high-caliber minds like Chuck Daly, Pat Riley, Stan Van Gundy, Erik Spoelstra, Mike Montgomery and Don Nelson, according to the Wichita Eagle. He played one season of collegiate basketball and later studied Sports Administration at Wichita State while earning a master’s degree in Education.

In a June 2011 interview, Schlenk sounded fairly plainspoken and measured, but he was thorough in answering questions about the process that the Warriors followed to select their players (that year, they took Thompson at #11 overall), including the usefulness of some new-age websites that pair a player’s statistics with video clips of how they earned those numbers. Whether he would work under, over, or side-by-side with Wallace is hard to say, but his team-first personality could be a welcome addition in the aftermath of the now departed Jason Levien, who seemed apt to embrace the limelight when it found him.

Matt Lloyd, Orlando Magic Assistant GM (since 2012-2013)

Norris Cole, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Seraphin, James Johnson, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah. Those names comprise seven of the 11 draft picks taken by the Bulls under Lloyd’s watch as director of college scouting, so it’s not hard to see why Lloyd’s name recently crossed the lips of more than a few Grizzlies-interested parties. Lloyd, like Cho, is thought to have succeeded with the Bulls in part because he “implemented and maintained a database which organized scouting information” on pro and college players, according to his bio on the Magic’s website. This is an information age, and the people who can best supply, organize, and filter it have become valuable assets. Don’t take that the wrong way—Lloyd worked for the Bulls beginning in 1994 and only became a basketball operations staffer nine years later, so it isn’t as though he had anything handed to him just by being good with data.

Last year, the Magic took Indiana guard Victor Oladipo with the 2nd pick in the draft—all he did to repay them was play an average of 31 minutes per game and finish 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting. For those people begging for the Griz to find a playmaker in the draft, this is probably a guy you want in your draft day “war room.” Wallace and Lloyd are of similar backgrounds, each having scouted a lot, though Lloyd has more videotape experience, having worked with the Bulls and the Chicago White Sox of the MLB in gameday video operations. Regardless, talent is talent, and they can both see it—this pairing would seem to make more sense as more of a partnership than an adviser/decision-maker relationship, but that, of course, is up to Pera.

Brian Hecker - Miami HeatBrian Hecker: Director of Basketball Information Technology & Scout, Miami Heat (since 2013)

When he joined the Heat in 2003 as a Scouting Coordinator, Hecker had already been a D-I assistant coach for 11 seasons, sharing benches with the likes of Stu Jackson, Stan Van Gundy, Dick Bennett, and Ray McCallum. As a scout, Hecker has been vital to Erik Spoelstra’s ability to exploit weaknesses in other teams. From NBA reporter Brian Windhorst:

“The Heat generate their own advanced metrics, blending those of a database service with the team’s own statistical analyses. This duty falls on another member of Spoelstra’s staff, Brian Hecker, the 43-year-old director of basketball information technology, whose résumé includes stints as a college assistant coach at Wisconsin and Houston. These days, it’s Hecker’s job to discern what’s statistically important, explain why it’s important and deliver it to Spoelstra in charts, graphs and digests.”

Reading that, you’d probably have to peg Hecker as a very details-oriented guy. His current position lets him be an ultimate liaison between numbers guys and ball coaches, with the added layer that he’s allowed to use his discretion (within certain parameters) to pick and choose what’s useful and what’s not. He may not be ready for a GM position per say, but if Memphis could get Hecker to do a similar job and be a special adviser to Wallace, he could make Wallace look really good.

A few honorable mentions that missed the cut…

Bryan Colangelo—former Raptors & Suns GM, currently out of basketball

Scott Layden—current Spurs asst. GM, former Knicks & Jazz GM

Milt Newton—current T’Wolves GM, former Wizards VP of player personnel

John Hollinger—current Grizzlies VP of basketball operatons

Whether you agree or disagree with these selections, note that Wallace and Hollinger will still more than likely be the brains of the operation behind the Grizzlies’ 2014 draft picks—it’s pretty late in the game for someone else to be putting their stamp on amateur talent evaluations. That said, Lloyd and Cho were both June hires for their current teams—as Grizzlies fans know by now, you can never be sure when a shakeup is coming.

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