There has been a lot written lately about the Grizzlies front office since taking over at the start of the season.
Jason Levien, the CEO of the Grizzlies, has a charismatic side that makes him easy to listen to and my wife says not hard to look at (I don’t know if that is true or not). He has been very visible around town, in the press and of court side at games as well. John Hollinger, A writer by trade known for his mathematical formulas (that’s like combining Composition English with Algebra for our readers on summer vacation) has been well-known for years from his time at ESPN. He isn’t nearly as charismatic as Levien but he knows how to work the media as well.
Then there is Stu Lash. You know Stu. Don’t you? ‘Not really’ is the usual answer. If not that then ‘not at all’ is the 2nd most common response.
Actually very little has been written about Stu since his arrival with Hollinger back in mid December. People who follow the Grizzlies know he is a part of Levien and Co (as Ron Tillery so eloquently penned the new Front Office) but few people really know the man. So 3 Shades of Blue decided to sit down with Stu and learn something about the man who is running the draft camps for the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies first NBA Draft under the new administration is Thursday. Stu Lash has run all the workouts so far including the last one being held today. Often he has run these workouts without John Hollinger and Jason Levien even present. Obviously he has run them without the Grizzlies head coach. We talked to Stu about his background, his practices, his philosophy on building a basketball team and where he sees the team today.
So without further ado, here is Stu Lash in his own words.
3SOB: You have been able somehow to avoid the publicity if the new administration. We know Jason Levien. He’s out there. Everyone knows what he looks like. John Hollinger from his days at ESPN also. Then it is always “Oh yes, and then there is Stu Lash.” Tell us about Stu Lash…
Stu Lash: Sure. I don’t think there’s been any strategic reason for that. I just think that Jason is the CEO obviously. He’s the face day-to-day. You know John’s profile, just coming from ESPN, and being in the media garnished a lot of attention early on.
My background is strictly in basketball. Outside of a couple of years on the representation side of the business, I’ve been part of a basketball team since I made my 7th grade team. From high school to college to coaching in high school – I was a head high school coach.
3SOB: After college you immediately became a coach?
SL: Uh-huh. After college I went and was the recruiting and marketing director for the 5 Star Basketball camps and while I was doing that I was the head coach at Valley Stream High School in New York.
After that I moved on and took the job with the Denver Nuggets. I spent five years with the Nuggets as a scouting co-ordinator. When I left the Nuggets organization I went into the agent business, initially with Jason Levien. That’s how I got to know Jason. I worked with Jason for about a year and a half, maybe two years. Then he got his opportunity in Sacramento. I stayed in the agent business, took over his firm and operated it for another five years under an umbrella from Lagardere Unlimited.
Even when I was on the agent side I was still always more of a basketball guy. I was on the court with the guys in the summer time. I was involved in player development programs. I was out evaluating talent for our agency. So I’ve always been a guy who’s more comfortable in the gym and around teams.
3SOB: Now you are running the camps for the draft prospects this summer. Is this going to be an ongoing role for you or is this simply because other people couldn’t be here?
SL: No. This is my role. I’m the spearhead. The draft process, obviously we work internally – all of us – but in terms of scheduling the workouts, communicating with the agents, doing the background checks on the prospects, leading the actual workouts here on the court, that’s all part of my role as director of player personnel.
3SOB: We’re not familiar with your style of running things. We saw how the old administration had done it. What should we be learning about how you run these practices and what can you tell us, without going into proprietary secrets, about what you are trying to achieve?
SL: I don’t thing we are keeping any secrets by what we are doing.
We are actually letting the guys play quite a bit. Maybe even more than some other teams do. I just believe that we’ve got these guys in for an hour and a half or so, let’s let them go. That’s what we want to see.
We see them all year-long playing, even going to their practices out on their campuses, so this is an opportunity for us to get them out of their comfort zone a little bit. Put them in situations that are relative to what we are going to do as an organization. See how they read and react to those situations.
3SOB: You mentioned that during the year that you are going around seeing games and practices. What is your normal week like during the season?
SL: Well this first year I spent a lot of time with our team initially. We came in the middle of the season. Robert and Jason took over the team literally like the day before the start of the season. John and myself weren’t hired before mid-December. That was 20, 25 games into the start of the year.
Because of my background working with the Nugget and being around the game as much as I’ve been, we wanted to have someone on the ground with our team. We knew we were going to have to make some decisions either during the season or during the off-season and we wanted to have a real good pulse of our organization. So when we made decisions we were comfortable with them.
So this past year I probably spent a good quality of time just around our team. On the road, at practice, at the road games, at home, at shoot-around, at practice, at our games really getting an understanding from our coaching staff and our players as to who we are. As we move forward – after we made the trades – then we had a good idea this was our group moving forward for the rest of the season, then I started to branch off.
Then I started to evaluate college. I went out to a number of different college tournaments, NCAA tournaments, different events in the spring that were draft related.
3SOB: You mentioned that you went from coaching to the Nuggets and then into working with Levien. You don’t have a legal background. How did you end up replacing Levien as an agent?
SL: That’s right. When I started with Jason, he brought me in to bring a basketball guy to that side of the business.
I Just spent five years with the Nuggets working for a guy like George Karl and Kiki Vandeweghe, who was in the organization at one point, so we thought that experience could help in talking to young players coming into the league. I had been where they wanted to go.
NBA life is very routine based. You have to understand travel, eating right, sleep and rest. There is a lot of distractions. A lot of down time in the NBA. So my role wasn’t initially as an agent. It was more like a basketball coach/development person on the agency side. I was the sweat suit. Jason was the [business] suit. That was kind of the role.
And as I spent more time in the business I got more comfortable with player contracts, negotiating, communicating with NBA teams. Obviously I had relationships though my years in Denver. We had legal counsel on certain areas so once I was no longer working with Jason the transition wasn’t that difficult. It was a language I was comfortable with.
3SOB: You said you spent this year basically with the team coming to grips with who we were as a team. Where do you think the team is coming into the draft and free agency period? What are the areas you want to address? What are the areas you are comfortable with? Where do you put the team right now?
SL: I think the team is in a really good place. Coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance, the core of who we are is strong.
Obviously, we have to get better like everybody. Everyone is looking for ways to improve. Part of that improvement is internally. I don’t want to ever lose sight of internal player improvement. Sometimes that is only targeted on young players. I think that is a trap teams fall into in the NBA. Tayshawn Prince. Zach Randolph. Tony Allen. These are guys that need to work just as much as Tony Wroten, Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis have to for us to continue to move forward. That’s a big part of how we get better this summer.
And then there are some roster decisions moving forward. We have guys who are free agents and we’re going to have to add some players. A lot of people have mentioned we need shooting. We need shooting but I want basketball players who can make basketball plays. Obviously that is going to result in guys making shots.
I don’t want to label one specific need that we have. Because I think, as a whole, we want to find a few different areas. I see this team as a puzzle and all those pieces need to fit together so the puzzle looks like it is complete. I think we have a good part of that puzzle in place, but there are some pieces we are still looking for that we can still fit in.
That’s the challenge we have every day. Not all of that is “he’s a great shooter so he fits the puzzle.” No. He has to fit into the personality of who we are as a team, our culture, how he fits into the locker room with the players we have. All of those things that maybe don’t go into watching the game in a game is what we do day in and day out.
3SOB: You mentioned fitting into the team, fitting into the locker room. How does that personality come across when you are watching guys playing in college or when you watch them in a two-hour workout?
SL: Well there is another part of the job. That is doing background checks, talking to their coaches, talking to your network around the league, talking to the network of people you know in college and getting as much background information, talking to other players around the league too. There is a lot of fluidity in where these players are in their careers. Players change teams so you are just gathering that information.
So when you make a decision on a player you want to feel you know as much about them as a player as possible.
This concludes the first part of the interview. In the second part we will delve more into Stu’s history, the lessons he’s learned and how he wants to use that experience to help the team improve.