The Grizzlies offseason gets rolling next Tuesday with the NBA's rookie draft lottery. The Grizzlies are slotted 6th right now, with a 7.5% chance of winning the lottery. Until then, a quick wrap-up of various news items surrounding the team:
Lottery Watch Party: I don't make it a habit of using this space to publicize the team's marketing events, but I'll promote Tuesday's lottery watch party a the Poplar & Highland location of Buffalo Wild Wings for a very good reason: I'll be there. The Chris Vernon Show will be broadcasting live from Buffalo Wild Wings from 3 to 6 p.m. My normal appearance slot on the show is in the 5 p.m. hour, but I'll probably be hanging around for most of the show, on-air or off. After the show, the whole crew, myself included, will be hanging out to watch the lottery and then commiserate afterwards when the Griz end up sliding down the 7th pick. We've all seen this movie before — we know how it ends.
Heisley Dissed: Griz owner Michael Heisley was ranked the third worst owner in the NBA in a recent CNN/SI story, coming in just ahead of the Knicks' James Dolan and the Clippers' notorious Donald Sterling and just behind the Warriors' Chris Cohan and the Bobcats' Bob Johnson.
CNN/SI wrote this:
The billionaire was eager to move the team after promising not to leave Vancouver when he bought it. Since then it's been thrift city. Heisley has refused to allow the Grizzlies to go anywhere near the luxury-tax threshold. This season, they flirted with a third straight 60-loss finish, and nothing has drawn the ire of fans and owners across the league like the salary dump of Pau Gasol last season to the Lakers. "What do they want me to spend, $100 million?" he barked at the Memphis Commercial Appeal in '06. "The point is we're out-spending San Antonio and we're out-spending Phoenix. So the point is whether you're spending money means squat." Guess the playoffs mean squat, too.
I don't have much problem with the ranking, though I'd probably have Heisley above Cohan and Johnson since those franchises have a combined one playoff appearance since the Grizzlies have been in Memphis and have made at least as many questionable player personnel moves as the Grizzlies have. Still, when your team has the combined worst record in the league over the past three seasons, is way under the salary cap, and attendance is plummeting, you deserve to get hammered. And I've made it no secret that I think the Grizzlies organization has been essentially dysfunctional over the past few seasons, with blame for that resting with Heisley and Heisley alone.
All that said, there are some details in CNN/SI's account that are unfair:
* CNN/SI implies that the team has been run on the cheap since moving to Memphis, which is not true. This charge only applies to the past couple of seasons. In fact, last year was the only season in Memphis in which the team's player payroll wasn't at or over the salary cap. The Grizzlies were a luxury-tax payer during the Jerry West years.
* CNN/SI mischaracterizes the quote to the Commercial Appeal. Heisley's point, which is accurate, is that spending doesn't guarantee winning in the NBA, as the recent performance of Dolan's Knicks confirms. What Heisley hasn't acknowledged, and which is the more important and relevant point, is that NOT spending, at least at a league-average level, does pretty much guarantee not winning.
O.J. Mayo in the News: And not in a good way. More stuff has come out in the past few days about Mayo's recruitment to USC and relationships with agents — both "street" agents and "legitimate" ones. Only some of the details here — particularly an allegation tying direct cash payments back to USC coach Tim Floyd — are new, as reflected in this True Hoop post about Mayo's college/agent situation written a year ago.
I don't plan to spend much time on this because while it's a big story, I don't think it's a big Grizzlies story. It may impact USC, college basketball, rules surrounding agent contact, and lots of other basketball issues, but I don't think it will have much, if any, impact on O.J. Mayo's career or on the Grizzlies' future. I don’t even think the story going forward will focus much on Mayo, but on the corrupt adults surrounding him and on the flaws in America's system for developing basketball players, which is as it should be, I suppose. In general, I'm not a big fan of the cliché "Don't hate the player, hate the game," but this is one area where it applies.
All that said, to me the real culprits here aren't Rodney Guillory, Calvin Andrews, or Tim Floyd. The biggest blame for the whole mess surrounding college hoops deserves to go two places that generally escape blame — the people (university presidents, boards of regents, etc.) who are in charge of these institutions and the "fans" — especially of the non-alumni variety — who demand that colleges and universities be responsible for entertaining them.
Mike Conley "Improved": Conley got a single third-place vote in the league's Most Improved Player award voting. He probably deserved more attention thatn that. The reasons he didn't get it are two-fold: One, Conley's immense improvement happened over the course of the season rather being reflected early on. Second, his improvement occurred after the Grizzlies were buried in the standings and much of the local would-be fan-base, much less national NBA journalists, had tuned the team out.