The happiness over the Grizzlies' lottery good fortune was dealt a couple of body blows on Day 2 of the draft countdown.
First came a report from DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony that Ricky Rubio's "camp" is making noises about trying to maneuver the phenom point guard to the West Coast:
Rubio doesn’t want to go to Memphis, and he especially does not want to pay money out of his own pocket with that huge buyout for the honor of doing so. Fegan [Rubio’s agent] wants him in L.A., and if he can’t have him there, he wants him in Sacramento. Definitely not Oklahoma City. “
Unlike Griffin or Hasheem Thabeet, who don’t really have any choice where they will play next season if a team decides to play hardball, Rubio has a reasonably attractive alternative option at his disposal—returning to Spain.
“He’ll pull out if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing,” the NBA source tells us. “Or he can stay in and force the Grizzlies to call his bluff—would they really take him knowing that he may never come over? That’s one way to get him to fall to three.”
Then, later in the day, we get this dispiriting nugget from ESPN.com's Chad Ford:
• As I first reported Tuesday night, the Grizzlies are strongly leaning toward selecting Hasheem Thabeet at No. 2.
Several sources told me that owner Michael Heisley loves Thabeet. He wants the team to be tougher defensively and thinks Thabeet would give it the shot-blocking and size it desperately needs.
I'm told that the rest of the Grizzlies' front office is partial to Rubio, but as we've seen the past few years, Heisley runs the show in Memphis.
On the first question, I don't doubt that Rubio's agent, Dan Fegan, is angling to get him to a bigger media market. He did the same thing — unsuccessfully — with Yi Jianlian two years ago. There have been separate reports out of Spain that Rubio has expressed interest in playing alongside his national team partner Marc Gasol, so it may be that this bit of pre-draft posturing is entirely agent-driven. Which doesn't at all mean that this isn't a serious situation for the Grizzlies. But, it's still early.
On the second point about Hasheem Thabeet: I certainly don't think Ford is making this up and, indeed, it would fit in as a simplistic manifestation of Michael Heisley's stated demand for a better, tougher defensive team. The fact that Heisley has proclaimed himself "the decider" on basketball matters is an obvious source of concern.
Again, there's a lot of time to go until draft day, but let's step back and look at the big picture and make this as clear as a complicated situation can be:
This draft is absolutely crucial for the Grizzlies. Jumping from #6 to #2 is a gift that this franchise absolutely cannot afford to waste. And there should be no question about whether Rubio or Thabeet should be higher on the team's — any team's — draft board.
Rubio is a hoops prodigy that has been considered a future NBA star since he was 14. He plays with a flair that can make an enormous impact both on fan and media interest. He's not as safe a pick as Blake Griffin or as good a fit on the current Grizzlies' roster, but I think he's got just as much upside and has a greater chance to be a franchise-altering player. Remember what a sensation Jason Williams was as a rookie for Sacramento? Rubio can have the same impact, except he's a much better all-around talent.
Thabeet, by contrast, is much more limited in ability and appeal. Even if he tops out his ability and becomes another Dikembe Mutombo, that doesn't compare to what Rubio would be at his best. And it's far more likely that Thabeet is more of a Theo Ratliff-level center — a quality starter, but not a star. Another consideration is the sketchy track record for players 7'3" and taller.
For these reasons there are only three acceptable outcomes for the Grizzlies on draft night:
1. Get Blake Griffin
2. Get Ricky Rubio
3. Deal the #2 pick for a significant trade package
Anything else is failure.
Drafting Thabeet or anyone else not named "Griffin" or "Rubio" with the second pick cannot happen. Trading down with only a late first-rounder or some other marginal asset coming back cannot happen.
The Draft Express piece ends with the conclusion that a deal between the Clippers and Grizzlies that would land Griffin in Memphis and Rubio in Los Angeles would make sense for all parties involved. I agree. But no matter what happens with the Clippers, Rubio is the clear-cut #2 asset in this draft (at least) and the Grizzlies control that asset. Either Rubio plays in Memphis or Memphis controls where he goes.
The Grizzlies simply cannot afford to mess this up. Michael Heisley cannot afford to mess this up — to make a terrible talent-evaluation decision or get bullied into abdicating the team's lottery leverage. I fear Chad Ford may be accurate in his reporting on Heisley preferring Thabeet. But I suspect Ford is also accurate in reporting that the team's entire basketball staff knows better. If so, hopefully that consensus can set Heisley straight in time.