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I remember when Chris Wallace joined the Grizzlies back in June, 2007.

The team had missed the playoffs and finished the season with just 24 wins. Those 24 wins were the lowest total in the league but the Grizzlies missed out on the top pick in the lottery. They missed out on the 2nd and 3rd picks as well and were just a week away from drafting Mike Conley with the 4th pick.

Wallace had left the Boston Celtics where he had been replaced in importance by Danny Ainge, who was about to deliver Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Beantown. Wallace was reviled in Boston for trading Joe Johnson to Phoenix for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers. The Celtics reached the conference finals that season but Wallace took the brunt of criticism as Joe Johnson became a perennial all-star and the Celtics declined.

Wallace came to Memphis as the hand-picked successor of Jerry West, the logo of the NBA and an almost mythical personality in the NBA. The man is actually the logo of the league for goodness sake. Wallace was hired AFTER new Coach Marc Iavaroni had been hired. He was given a lesser title than West and a far smaller salary to boot. At Wallace’s first press conference, he announced his goal was to win an NBA Championship in Memphis.

Within the year, Wallace and owner, Mike Heisley, decided that the team couldn’t win a championship. So, over the next few months, the team traded Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and their 2008 draft picks Kevin Love and Donte Green, thus initiating the much-maligned 3 Year Plan.The Grizzlies received O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur, Pau’s little brother Marc and the valuable cash needed for the Grizzlies to continue to remake the team.

But Wallace wasn’t done. Over the next few months, he traded Kyle Lowry and Hakim Warrick to Houston and Phoenix, respectively. He replaced Marc Iavaroni with Heisley’s good friend, Lionel Hollins. He made numerous small deals that facilitated other teams improving while doing little but bring in cash to the team. Then came the horrendous 2009 draft where the Grizzlies picked Hasheem Thabeet with the 2nd pick in the draft.

These were not good times in Memphis. Chris Wallace appeared to be a figure-head GM who was more of a “yes man” for a meddlesome owner than a man with a vision. The 3 Year Plan was considered more of a plan to sell the team than to build a winner. People in this town didn’t believe — couldn’t believe really.

But what people were missing was that Wallace was building the nucleus of a winning franchise. While drafting Thabeet will always be debated among Grizz fans it must be remembered that having Thabeet allowed the Grizzlies to trade Darko Milicic and bring in Zach Randolph. He signed an oft-injured backup SG from Boston named Tony Allen for a very reasonable contract.  In just over three years, Wallace had added Conley, Allen, Mayo, Zach and Marc Gasol, the little brother who grew up to be a big man, with holdover Rudy Gay and the Grizzlies’ future was in place.

Wallace didn’t sit on his work either and this season Wallace has done possibly his best job yet. After Darrell Arthur  went down with a torn Achilles heel, Wallace signed Dante Cunningham. He traded fan favorite Greivis Vasquez for Quincy Pondexter. After Zach Randolph went down, he traded Xavier Henry to New Orleans and a 2nd round draft pick to Philadelphia for Marreese Speights.

The fans in Memphis thought Wallace had lost his mind. Some disagreed and said Wallace never had a mind and he had sold the Grizzlies future for some patchwork solutions. He was making the same mistake he made in Boston when he traded a future All-Star for a short-term fix. Starting the season with three losses to San Antonio, three losses to OKC and an embarrassing 40-point loss in Chicago did little to shake people’s opinions either.

But what the fans didn’t realize was that Wallace knows players. He founded the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He trained under some of the greatest basketball minds including Jack Ramsey, Pat Riley and Red Auerbach. What some people saw as madness, Wallace saw as valuable pieces that would fit together in the tapestry he was trying to complete.

Despite the injury filled start and the roster shake ups, the Grizzlies started winning games. They slowly recovered from their terrible start and began the arduous climb up the standings. Still, the team was missing something, and Wallace knew this. He needed to find a backup PG. His rookies weren’t performing well enough. Something had to be done.

But what?

Then a certain blog reminded Wallace about Gilbert Arenas. Everyone in the league knew Gilbert Arenas was available after Orlando used their amnesty clause on him prior to the season. The hallowed L.A. Lakers worked out Gilbert Arenas three times. No one offered him a contract. Only Wallace worked him out and offered him a contract.

Now, the Grizzlies have a team that is deep, plays together, and knows how to win. The Grizzlies have defeated the Lakers, Thunder, and Heat — all on the road. They are the only team in the league to accomplish that trifecta. They defeated Miami and Dallas, the conference champions from last season, in back to back games. Something no one has accomplished since the 2003-04 season.

The Grizzlies haven’t accomplished anything great yet. They won’t likely win their division. They may not host a home playoff series. All they have done is get the fans of this town believing and, in some ways, that may be the greatest miracle of all. And they have one man to thank for that.

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13 Responses to Chris Wallace: The Genius Behind the Grizzlies’ Rebirth

  1. PatrickNo Gravatar says:

    Great article, but we’re getting that home playoff series. Believe dat.

  2. TonyNo Gravatar says:

    Do not sell Lionel Hollins short when discussing the rebirth of this franchise. Philadelphia had given up on Speights. The league had given up on Arenas. ZBo was largely unwanted when we signed up. The Celtics barely batted an eye about trading TA. OJ Mayo was under all sorts of scrutiny for character concerns. Point is, this team is made up of lots of guys who had worn out their welcomes in previous spots. Only a small and select handful of NBA coaches could get a roster such as this to gel and play together cohesively and win with this team. Kudos to Coach.

  3. Anthony MorrisonNo Gravatar says:

    Nice recap of Wallace’s moves, and it’s nice to know that despite his success, he basically remains a nice, unassuming person who doesn’t act like he is better than other people. Go Grizz!

  4. AlexNo Gravatar says:

    Tony, you make a great point. But who hired Hollins? Wallace did. Hollins had filled in so many other times as a coach i can remember people being like “AGAIN?” when they heard he had gotten the job. Evidently Wallace knew what kind of coach Lionel could be.

  5. DaveNo Gravatar says:

    Big Wallace supportor here, but it is not really a well balanced article not to mention some of his gaffes too.

    Some of his moves have been very questionable. Picking Thabeet and Carroll in the 2009 draft that produced a wealth of high quality NBA players is a HUGE swing and miss on his resume. Stockpiling picks in a terrible 2010 draft was not his best move either. The handling of the Rudy signing is another big thing that comes to mind.

    To say this was his intended plan is probably not very accurate. He stated he wanted to grow through the draft. We now have have one contributor on the team from the last 4 drafts. All in all though, the positives of his time here far out weigh the negatives. He has done an excellent job at bringing talent to Memphis and I hope he and Hollins both stick around for a while longer.

    • ChrisNo Gravatar says:

      Totally, TOTALLY agree. Its more like:

      Kudos for signing Dante… after missing on Carroll.
      Good job re-signing Rudy… a year late for 20% more than it would’ve cost originally.
      Fantastic job getting Speights… since Henry was a miss.
      Way to go on Arenas… after mis-judging Pargo and Selby’s readiness and trading Vasquez.

      And none of this is intended as insult to Wallace. I’d say most GMs outside of LA, Miami, etc… — where the players are willing to offer steep discounts to go — probably hit about 50-50 on picks, roster moves, etc… One of Wallace’s best qualities is the ability to admit when a mistake has been made, not panic, and maintain confidence that the next decision will be correct and work out.

      More of a Grit-n-Grind GM, than a Genius… and that’s the way we like it!

  6. ChrisNo Gravatar says:

    Wallace deserves a ton of creit. A bit of a stretch on the Habeet/Darko/Z-bo analysis, though. I guess throwing away a cheap pair of shoes away after stepping in dog poop “allows” a person to go buy a much better pair of shoes. But that person could have just as easily chosen to give / throw away the cheap pair of shoes and simply avoid the dog poop in the first place. And none of those decisions (recognizing that there is dog poop in front of you, stepping — or not stepping — in it, giving away a cheap pair of shoes, deciding to buy a nicer pair of shoes) would qualify anyone for MENSA. Full credit on the other stuff, though!

  7. SteveRNo Gravatar says:

    Completely agree with Dave and Chris. I felt it in my bones that Thabeet would be a total bust or at least a poor 1st round choice. Also questioned the Love for O.J. trade, but who could have predicted that Kevin Love would have developed into an multi-year All Star. Wallace has made some really good and pretty bad moves, but even Jerry West was far from perfect. All in all….keep Wallace around. Hollins is a great coach.

  8. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    He has done a great job. If he didn’t draft all of those horrible players we wouldn’t have the team we have now. He traded thabeet and carroll for battier. In my eyes im happy he drafted them becausebwe wouldn’t have beat the spurs without battier. He is a good gm and should be gm of the year for what he has done this year

  9. Chris FaulknerNo Gravatar says:

    Amen, Grizzlies brothers and sisters.

    Chip this says it all:

    “All they have done is get the fans of this town believing and, in some ways, that may be the greatest miracle of all. And they have one man to thank for that.”

    I believe.

  10. SteveNo Gravatar says:

    Warrick was not traded to Phoenix. We let him walk for nothing to the Bucks. Then he went to the Bulls, then the Suns as a free agent. I think that is the right order. Wasn’t Lowry traded for a second round pick and Adonal Foyle?

    There have been some great trades (Thabust, Carroll, 1st Rounder for Battier and the best trades that sent Pau for Marc and cap space that was used to flip Darko for Z-Bo) and some equally bad draft picks (Everyone we draft and keep is terrible except Conley….OJ, DA, Rudy were drafted by someone else then we traded for them). I say that we trade all of our picks immediately as we suck at drafting and are great at trading.

  11. GrizrebNo Gravatar says:

    We picked up Dante because DA went down and we picked up Speights because ZBo went down. However I agree on not liking the Vasquez trade but I do like the Agent X pick up for cheap. It is all fluid and Wallace coupled with Coach have done great in getting the very best out of this team. Give coach and the core group kudos for making the newbies understand the true meaning to be a Memphis Gizzly; everyone seems to be buying in.

  12. btrautscNo Gravatar says:

    I agree on the sentiment – I love the Grizz current roster & the way we are playing. Wallace + Hollins should get a ton of credit.

    BUT… being a genius GM is far from true. Noting that it is unfair to rehash past draft mistakes…You kind of have to with this squad.

    Wallace had Rudy Gay to build on – Young, lean, athletic 3.
    He can’t be given a ton of credit for Marc – that is just luck..
    2007 Mike Conley, great pick

    2008 Kevin Love – trades for OJ.
    Yes we all love OJ right now, but clearly Love is the better player and literally a franchise cornerstone more talented individually than anyone on the Grizz. Mistake.

    2008 Donte Green – taken before a few successful NBA players who we could have continued to build around…ie DeAndre Jordan, Joey Dorsey, Omer Asik. Overall, a wash.

    2009 Hasheem Thabeet – this is where the train goes off the tracks and is inadmissible. Harden, Tyreke Evans, Rubio, Curry, DeRozan, Jennings, Daye, Holliday, Lawson, Teague…
    Yes, we already had a PG – but that was a terrible pick and set the Grizz back over a season and a half. Until Marc emerged into an All-Star, it was almost a franchise killer.

    2009 Demarre Carroll – not a bad pick, could have been better.

    Most of the guys after this draft are too young to really judge yet, but just based on those 3 classes…Its really tough to say we’ve done even a passable job drafting. Marc Gasol & Zach Randolph’s incredible development and play have made our team.

    We should “Conservatively” have this roster…

    Mike Conley
    James Harden (insert Curry/ Evans/ DeRozan)
    Rudy Gay
    Kevin Love
    Marc Gasol

    I am of the opinion that would be one of the most dangerous team s in the league.

    Love our team now, love the Grindhouse, love the intensity, but it is really tough to say we’ve done an incredible job on the drafting side. Coaching, acquisitions, “player development” have been pretty great – drafting = miserable.

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