Chris Wallace has been managing the Memphis Grizzlies basketball operations for over four years now and he has always been available to talk about the Grizzlies. So it came as no surprise that Wallace agreed to sit down with 3 Shades of Blue to discuss the season past and the team’s future.
Not so long agoWallace discussed why fanshad a reason to be optimistic about the future. In this interview Wallace was able to discuss the success of this season. However Wallace wasn’t about to say “I told you so.” Instead he focused on the team’s prospects for the future and why the fans of Memphis have plenty of reasons to be excited about even greater success in the future.
Chris has never been accused of being short winded so to make it easier for our readers we’ll will break the interview down into three parts.
So without further ado here is the interview.
3SOB: You’re beginning your fifth season as Grizzlies GM and in that time you have seen a lot of games where the stands were close to empty. Were you surprised by what happened over the last few weeks between the team and their fans?
CW: No. I was very encouraged by it but the town and the assent of the team finally criss-crossed and came together as one. This was a team that won a vast majority of their home games. This team won the 2nd most games of any team in the Western Conference at home. Fans like to go out and see a winner at home. We’ve got some very talented players that they came to like. It was a team that never said die. That virtually every night if they weren’t ahead they were going to get back into the game and make it interesting.They played very hard.
And it was the first time they had success as a team. That’s very special. There’s just a special feeling in the air and it’s hard to duplicate that as a team. This was probably the first time the city felt that not only could this team make the playoffs but had a chance to do something once they got there. You look at the record we had against the other top teams in the Western Conference. How we played at home. We’ve gota an all-pro player in Zach Randolph. The other guys on the team were not totally young anymore. We’re getting closer to middle-age than previous teams. These factors came together and the city responded.
The thing that I am most proud of is the impact that our run had on the city of Memphis. Memphis is a great basketball city. It’s the best basketball city in the south. And the town was just looking for a Grizzlies team that they could get behind. They adopted them. The playoffs really got people excited and fortunately we were able to deliver 13 games over a month. We won at home. We won our first game on the road in the playoffs in franchise history. We won our first series. We beat one of the all-time great franchises in the San Antonio Spurs. So it was a magical time.
3SOB: Now that you look back on the season, and as you said we are more approaching middle-age than a young team now…
CW: Now I know people point out that we are one of the 2 or 3 youngest teams in the league but I don’t look it that way.
3SOB: If you look at the absolute age of the players the team is young but if you look at the actual minutes played by age the team more approaches the league average. So while the team is young the Grizzlies played their older players more especially down the stretch.
CW: You have Zach Randolph who’s been in the league nine years. You have Tony Allen who’s not far behind approaching 30. Shane was 32. Conley, even though he’s chronologically young, this was year 4 with him. Rudy Gay was in year 5. Arthur and Mayo were in their 3rd year each. So we weren’t a total rebuilding young team. Our guys have some miles on their odometer.
3SOB: So looking back you lost to Oklahoma City and they are a young team, both in age and in court time. At many times in the series they put a group on the floor that was all 22 years old or younger. How do the Grizzlies pass them in the future if they are young and we are approaching middle-age?
CW: Well the NBA is not a game that you handicap by age. For one we have Rudy Gay. He’s going to be the best returning red shirt in the league next year. He scored 19 points a game. A guy who’s got all-star potential in the future. He really came into his own this year. Then you fill the holes on the team as best you can. For us that means outside shooting and more muscle down low than just Arthur and Randolph. We need more speed at the backup PG. We can always use more veterans. You just do the best you can adding to positions.
What’s not talked about enough is the development of the guys you have. We had more guys get better than didn’t last year. That’s a credit to our coaching staff. Now we have to get them up another rung on the ladder. This coming season we have to make another run and I think we have a host of players who have more development still to come.
3SOB: You mentioned coaching. We’ve lost Damon. Dave Joegger, who I’ve always had a lot of respect for, is interviewing with Houston and could be gone. What do you and Coach Hollins talk about when you try to replace guys like this?
CW: Well it’s ultimately Lionel’s call. I would never tell a coach that he needs to have this guy or that guy. First of all I’m not the coach. He has a better insight into coaches than I do. And two they have to live with them.If he asked me I would talk about names, different types of people, but ultimately it’s his call.
One thing you have to realize is that at the NBA level there is no shortage of coaches. No shortage of people that want a job. You have the totally non-qualified all the way to the incredibly qualified that will get in touch with various members of our organization and try to get involved with a job.
3SOB: Of course. It’s like you once told me about your job. There just aren’t that many positions around to do what they do and be called an assistant coach in the NBA. A lot more people want them than there are jobs available.
You mentioned that you had some holes to fill on the roster such as outside shooting, another big…
CW: Well every team has some need to build. Again it’s not a secret that we were among the worst 3 point shooting teams in the league. We generally had a 3 point deficit. We have to find a way to get better at that area. Greivis Vasquez did a commendable job as rookie point guard. We need to come up with more speed to compliment him.
We only really have two power forwards on the roster. So if either one of them went down we’d be in big trouble. We’d like him to be flexible too. We want someone who can play center when teams go small ball against us. Someone 6-8 to 6-10 who can guard away from the paint as well as provide strength down low. Someone who can be a center in small ball as well as play power forward.
3SOB: The center position seems cloudiest right now with Marc Gasol a restricted free agent and Haddadi as well assuming you offer him the qualifying offer.
CW: Let me clarify the whole qualifying offer thing. Hopefully shed some light on that subject.
Both Marc and Hamed, we have our option prior to June 30th to extend a qualifying offer. A qualifying offer simply reserves our right to turn them into restricted free agents.Now they can take that qualifying offer, sign it and become an unrestricted free agent after a year and durng that time you need their written permission to do a trade. Ben Gordon did the same thing.
Obviously Marc is our biggest priority. The way he played in the playoffs was very encouraging. He improved his play in the playoffs and that rarely happens. His play went up in the playoffs rather than going down. He was one of the leading centers in the league in the playoffs. He’s up there statistically. He blocked shots, rebounded, Field Goal percentage. His performances in the playoffs game to game was great.
And again that doesn’t normally happen. Especially not when it’s your first time in the playoffs. I think it showed how seasoned he has become. Not just his three years in the NBA but playing in a gold medal game, starting in a world championship game, playing in a strong league like the ABC, playing for Spain and all the European competition he’s had made him more prepared for that moment than many other players his age. When he came here he was ahead of many comparable players. He was 23 and a veteran of professional ball compared to many players who may have only had a year or two of collegiate ball. He was just so much more comfortable on that stage.
3SOB: Can you talk about where you are on a contract with Marc?
CW: Well we aren’t anywhere. We aren’t allowed to enter into discussions until July 1. All we are permitted to do before July 1 is offer a qualifying offer.
Now we have made it known to him and his representatives that he is important to our team. He’s a central part of our future. We’ll deal with that when time allows.
3SOB: Well when you make the restricted offer he isn’t going to sign the contract right away. He’s going to want to go out and see what the market bears…
CW: Well I can’t say what he will or won’t do. I can’t negotiate for him. That’s up to him and his agent, Arn Tellum, how they handle the process. I just feel from our end we have an enormous desire to keep him.
3SOB: Can you say you will match any offer he receives unless Marc begs you not to or what?
CW: No. I am not going to say that because I haven’t had that conversation with Mr. Heisley. So I can’t speak for what we are going to do contractually, I can’t speak for the boss.
What I can say is if you look back you’ll remember that people said Rudy Gay was the player most likely to get traded last season. Mr. Heisley stood up and offered him a contract to keep him here. With Mike Conley he stood up.
3SOB: And those same people said you overpaid for him too.
CW: We are comfortable with what he offered him. We have a viable, long term top 20 point guard in the league under contract. When you study the contracts of other players at that level you’re not getting guys at the league minimum. You aren’t getting guys out of the minor leagues. These are all high draft pick players that are on significant contracts or on rookie scale deals that will command big contracts once they are able to. You know they are going to be highly coveted.
There’s just no way to beat the system for a starting point guard that can take a team through multiple rounds of the playoffs. It just doesn’t happen. So when we were up against the deadline last November we offered a number and we are glad we did.
Then came Zach Randolph despite the many articles printed about how the team would trade Randolph. Mr. Heisley stepped up again and signed him to a rather sizable contract and took Zach out to age 33. That’s further out than any players gotten a big contract in the history of this team. Never in the 16 year history of the team.
And now we have Marc’s situation coming up after July 1. So when you handicap the race you look at past performance of the jockey and the horses. Mr. Heisley’s past performance is he finds a ay to get it done with his core players.
I’ll leave it at that. We aren’t going to negotiate in public but he’s batting a pretty healthy percentage in getting deals done.
End of Part 1.