The Memphis Grizzlies continue to look for the next person to run their front office in the wake of Jason Levien and Stu Lash being unceremoniously kicked to the curb on May 19 by majority owner, Robert Pera. Almost immediately after that news broke, it was announced that General Manager Chris Wallace would be overseeing the preparations for the draft and impending free agency as the “man in charge” on an interim basis. It has also been stated that Wallace will be retained with the team in some capacity even after a new VP of Basketball Operations is found. That was followed by Dave Joerger’s flirtation with his home state of Minnesota when Flip Saunders interviewed him for the Timberwolves’ open head coaching position.
To say that this has been a tumultuous offseason already for the Grizzlies would be a massive understatement. However, Joerger and Pera apparently had a conversation (their first ever, if reports are to be believed) that resulted in CDJ not only returning, but being given a raise, an extension, and more say-so in the front office’s decision making processes. Obviously, Pera also intends to be more involved in the daily operations of the organization, so that adds two new, strong personalities to the mix going forward.
There are many in Memphis who have stated their wish for Chris Wallace to be given the reins in the front office. Having spoken with Chris on many occasions, I can tell you that there is not a finer basketball mind out there. It is almost impossible to mention a draft prospect over the last twenty-five years and not see him instantly recall the main points of a scouting report on that player. Simply put, he eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball talent evaluation.
While there have been a few moves that were made on his watch that might seem questionable from a monetary standpoint when contract extensions have been signed or players have been dealt with in free agency, most feel that his draft selections have been on-point and that the miscues (*coughHasheemThabeetcough*) can be blamed on the meddling of others (Michael Heisley and Tony Barone, Sr.). When news broke about how Wallace was forced into the background by Levien after he became the CEO of the Grizzlies, there was an outpouring of outrage that such a nice guy as Chris was treated so poorly. Again, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who has a bad word to say about the man because of the way he has integrated himself so fully into the community.
With that being said, even though I’m a big fan of Chris Wallace, I wouldn’t fully endorse him returning to the full-time position of VP of Basketball Ops with this team. As mentioned previously, Robert Pera and Dave Joerger have made it clear that they both intend to be much more involved in how this team is run moving forward. While no one is sure how much influence John Hollinger wields, it seems readily apparent that he will continue to be a big part of how the organization evaluates players. That means that whomever is the new VP will have to deal with those three personalities on a consistent basis at a minimum. That also means that person will have to make tough decisions that could see one or more of those men unhappy with the initial outcome. It is that portion of the scenario where I feel Wallace is not as well-equipped to handle the duties of this job.
The problem with evaluating Chris Wallace is that it is so difficult to separate his moves from those of the owners he has worked for. In Boston, he didn’t have carte blanche, which saw him overruled on draft picks and contract issues. In Memphis, we know that Heisley dictated to him specific players he wanted to draft and extensions that he saw as necessities, as well as trades he desired to happen. The O.J. Mayo/Hasheem Thabeet era in Memphis is a direct result of that, while most credit Wallace with the ZBo/TA-led team that followed it.
However, the facts are as follows: Wallace was shuffled to the background in Boston when Danny Ainge was brought in. He was given orders from Heisley consistently that might not have been the best basketball moves. He allowed himself to meekly accept once again being forced to the sidelines by Levien when the team was sold, going so far as to not even have to come to the office during that time. He interviewed with Sacramento last offseason, as noted in the link above, but after failing to get that position, returned to Memphis to ostensibly act as the highest-paid scout in the league. While he might be an immensely likable guy and a first-rate basketball mind, those are not actions that proclaim leadership to the casual bystander.
The next “man in charge” of the Grizzlies’ front office will have to be willing to deal with the emerging forceful personalities of both the owner and the coach, as well as knowing when to choose sides between the two of them. I’m fully aware that there are only 30 teams in the league, so that means there are only 30 VP/GM positions available — and nobody wants to lose one of those spots willingly. With what we have seen thus far from Pera and Joerger this offseason, there will not be any room for someone who is a passive personality in this front office unless they want to justifiably be referred to as a powerless puppet just posturing for a paycheck.