This continues the conversation 3 Shades of Blue had with Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace. In part 1 Wallace discussed the team’s success this past season and what the team is looking to improve on in the upcoming season. In Part 2 he goes into more detail discussing individual players and positional needs on the team.
3SOB: You touched on earlier that you didn’t have Rudy Gay. Obviously Small Forward is one of those cloudy positions on the team right now. Do we know…
CW:Well it isn’t cloudy once Rudy’s back.
3SOB: Do we know how Rudy’s recovery is going? Are the doctors pleased with his progress?
CW: Well he’s doing as well as can be expected at this point. It’s one of those injuries that’s not insignificant. He’s undergone a major surgery. He’s not expected to be back at full strength until next fall.
3SOB: When you say next fall are we talking August, September, October…
CW: October. Now I am not a doctor but from everything I have been told the success rate is very high. The players who go through the complete rehabilitation – which he will – and remember we are not playing tomorrow so we have time for him to get ready.
3SOB: Shane Battier can still sign a contract until June 30th but he tweeted the other day that he didn’t think he would not be able to commit to anything until after the new CBA was completed. Can we assume from his comments that there is no negotiation going on?
CW: Well you can never say never in this business. We have just under a month left. I’m not going to make any predictions but we are very pleased with Shane’s performance. what he did with us, not just in terms of his statistics but the overall impact on the team, on the court, on the bench, in the locker room, in the press, in the community and all. He’s a player that covers an extraordinary amount of areas for an organization.
3SOB: Sam Young went from hardly playing at all at the beginning of the year to moving into the starting lineup and having the highest success rate on the team as far as a winning percentage as a starter to ending the season back on the bench. How much upside do you see left in his game. Can he round out more?
CW: Well Sam is a bit older than most of the guys that enter the draft these days. He’s improved considerably during his time in the NBA. If it hadn’t been for Sam the team would have been in big trouble this year when Rudy went down. If you don’t have a player of his ability sitting on your bench ready to step in then we may not have made the playoffs.
3SOB: Very true. You tried to trade O J Mayo before the trade deadline.
3SOB: Well O J played big in the playoffs so the question is what was behind the reason for making the trade?
CW: Well…I don’t want to discuss that trade. A great deal has been written about it already. We tried to make a deal. It didn’t get done before the deadline. Both teams had individuals that would have been gone and as your question mentioned he played a significant role for us in the playoffs. He did a good job when we put him on Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker and he gave us a jolt when Lionel Hollins inserted him into the starting lineup.
So I am glad we have O J. He’s served us well and we’ll see what the future says.
3SOB: You said the team needed to find a quicker back up PG. Is this a comment on Vasquez’s future with the team?
CW: It doesn’t mean as an exclusion of Vasquez. Now that may come from Ish Smith. We just don’t know yet.
You hope from these positions, and you aren’t always successful with it, but you’d like to create a version of a baseball bullpen. Greivis is a taller point guard. His strength is not speed. He still finds a way to produce. We’d have been in big trouble in Game 6 of the San Antonio series without him. But just as you don’t want a bullpen of all fast ball pitchers or left handers, You want a fastball guy, a knuckleball guy, a change up guy. What we didn’t have as an alternative on a regular basis this year that Lionel desired was a quick player who could produce.
Now Ish is fast but he is very young. He may be that guy to fill that role in the future. We’ll just have to see.
3SOB: Do we have a team option on Ish’s contract or is he a free agent?
CW: He’s signed for next season.
3SOB: You signed Tony Allen last summer. Did you expect him to have the kind of impact on the team and the community that he did this season?
CW: I would be disingenuous to sit here and say I knew at that time that Chris Vernon would be making T-Shirts and there would be cut out posters of him in the playoffs. Who knew that the town would embrace Tony to the extent he was embraced.
But we didn’t sign him to be window dressing. He provided a crucial element that was lacking which was a high powered perimeter defender. A guy who had success guarding the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and people like that in the playoffs. He’d been on a world championship team and a team that had gotten to the NBA finals. As deep as you an get without winning it all in a Game 7 last year against the Lakers. So he was going to bring that experience to the team. He was going to bring his considerable defensive ability. He plays with great intensity.
Nd for a guy that is not quote/unquote a great outside shooter or go to shooter offensively, but as evidenced by many games especially the Oklahoma City game on the road, he can score. We were confident he was going to help us. He could be a big factor if the team reached the playoffs.Everything we did this season, this year, was geared toward making the playoffs. We weren’t a future playoff team in our outlook. George Allen’s saying was our mantra “The future is now.”
And Tony delivered. He did everything we wanted.
3SOB: At the beginning of 2011 the team was 4 or 5 games below .500. The team went out to Utah and the team lost again. The team was headed to LA against the Lakers the next night…
CW: Back to back.
3SOB: Did you think at that point the team was going to tur things around and they would be back in the playoff picture?
CW: I thought that was possible. Yes.
One, an NBA season is so long. It’s very difficult to say a team is out early. You really have to be knocked out early. Two, and it’s an important fact that I always focused on, the schedule was very home friendly for most of March and April. I think it was plus 5 or plus 6 home games to road games. I felt that if we were just in the hunt at the beginning of March then we could mount a charge.
3SOB: Well also from February 28th to March 28th the team played 14 games in 28 days against 11 playoff or near playoff teams including 7 games against division leaders. So while it was home friendly it wasn’t exactly like you have easy games.
CW: Well there are no games that are easy in this league. No games where you can say hey there is just no way we are losing. I was more concerned about the home-away ratio than I was who we were playing.
We beat Miami early in the season. We took Boston to overtime. We beat the Lakers and Thunder in early January. I was very confident we could beat anybody in the league at home. And on the road we had some great wins as well. We didn’t have the quantity you would like. We had wins at LA. We won both games in Dallas. We had a win at Oklahoma City without Rudy. We were competitive on the road as well.
3SOB: It was after the Oklahoma City game that Tony Allen started with Rudy Gay out, with foot problems I believe, that Tony made the comment the team was all heart, grit and grind. That sort of became the rallying cry of the team. How do you replicate that next season?How do you get that motivation and bond together?
CW:We have a head coach that is extra-odinarily competitive in nature. We have a group of players that are very tough mentally and physically resilient. They are not the least big satisfied with what we’ve accomplished so far. They have the thirst to want to go even further. How close that team was to advancing another round drives them. So we will just come back and I think they’ll be an even better team due to continuity. We get Rudy back. Hopefully we add some new players that will fit into the rotation in the off-season.
You have to remember this team’s core has been together for two years now. Lionel is going on his fourth season here. There’s tremendous confidence and a hardening effect once you have gone that far into the playoffs. The team is together. You have the season. Then you have the playoffs. You get your first win. You get your first series win. You get 13 games of playoff experience under your belt. So there has been a tremendous amount of growth that has developed both individually and collectively. There is no reason not to believe the team can’t continue to grow next year.
3SOB: When you talked to 3 Shades of Blue last year you mentioned the team would be greatly improved from maturation and chemistry even if the team doesn’t add anyone new. You mentioned that one thing that people aren’t considering is the coaching staff is coming back in tact. You told us then that this team is better even without any additions. Do you feel that is true coming into this coming season?
CW: We have a player that is technically not an addition because he’s been under contract but in reality he is an addition in Rudy. I don’t know how many games he missed last season (35) and then 13 playoff games without him. So it is essentially it is like having to go out and hit a home run in the draft or sign a big free agent. So I think we could be a better team from within and bringing Rudy back in full health.
But we don’t want to stop there. We want to be aggressive with the tools we have available to improve the team.
This concludes part 2 of the interview.