Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Different Kind of Basketball Chaos: Pera makes a power play

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM

Well, yesterday was interesting. It started with this:

Which was met with this:

...and then everyone and anyone who covers the Grizzlies scrambling to Twitter, text messages, and phone calls to try to get any semblance of an idea of what was going on.

Whatever the details, the message sent yesterday was clear: Robert Pera is asserting his will here. After two seasons of ownership—really only one full season with all of his management team in place, Pera decided he didn't like what he saw, and decided Levien (and Lash, apparently simply by virtue of being Levien's right hand man) had to go.

I spoke to several minority owners yesterday, and none of them had any clue this was about to happen. "Shocked" was the word that kept coming up. The sense I got from conversations yesterday—and what was reported by others (like Chris Herrington, Geoff Calkins, and Chris Vernon) yesterday—was that the minority owners liked Levien, and had no reason to think he wouldn't be continuing in his role. After all, Levien was the guy who put together the ownership group in the first place. Levien was the glue that made the sale of the franchise hang together. It's not clear to me exactly what the confrontation between Pera and Levien was, other than some sort of power struggle. Robert Pera apparently had different ideas.

Ultimately Pera is the man with the right to call the shots, and so he did. Griz fans (and players) (and employees) (and the rest of the city of Memphis) are left wondering (1) just what he thinks he's doing after a season of mostly staying in California and catching two or three games from his suite and (2) whether it's going to work out.

Maybe Levien was the guy who shut down his dream of playing Tony Allen one-on-one. Pera apparently conducted his own end-of-season interviews with the players without the knowledge of the front office and coaching staff. (Calling that "unorthodox" would be putting it mildly.) Maybe they were more candid with him than they were with the front office staff. But Pera has to be smart enough to know that the players shouldn't be the ones calling the shots about the roster and the coaches, right? ...right?

Now the rumors are flying. No one nationally has a clue what's going on, so they're all speculating. There's a (very vague, unsourced) rumor that Pera is interested in John Calipari. There's a (very vague, unsourced, made up by Bill Simmons) rumor that Pera is interested in installing Tom Thibodeau in some sort of president/GM/coach role.

Bottom line is, no one knows what Robert Pera is up to except Robert Pera, and though he may know what he's up to, there's a considerable number of questions about whether he knows what he's doing.

John Hollinger is (reportedly) going to be staying around, but that hasn't been confirmed. Chris Wallace, returned from exile to run the team (until his contract runs out in six weeks, anyway) says Dave Joerger is still the coach, but... that hasn't been confirmed either. Pera hasn't said anything other than the release yesterday announcing Levien and Lash's "departures." Pera hasn't said anything at all.

We'll have to wait and see how all of this shakes out. With all this turmoil, one wonders whether Zach Randolph will now opt in to his player option and make his $16.5 million while the ship goes down. Whether Marc Gasol will really sign with a team being run by this guy next summer, when he (and Mike Conley) appeared to have a great deal of faith in the guys who were calling the shots before yesterday afternoon.

You don't build a solid fan base and a stable platform for long-term success in a small market by being rash, by being impulsive (and/or self-destructive), or by alienating the people who own the other 80 percent of your basketball team. All season long, I tried to be the voice of reason. "These guys know what they're doing," I said. "There's no need to worry." Now the guys I was talking about are gone, and we're left with a controlling owner who's gone rogue.

Maybe this works out. Maybe Pera is going to bring in somebody better, and continue to develop the Grizzlies into one of the smartest, most forward-thinking front offices in the league. But up until yesterday, that's what they already were. Now those decision makers are gone, and over what? At what cost to the team's success on the court, financially, within the Memphis market? At what cost to the ongoing stability of the franchise and the franchise's reputation with the league as a whole? (Remember when Adam Silver called the Grizzlies "a model of small-market success"?)

If it doesn't work out, it rests on the shoulders of the one guy who decided to do this all on his own: Robert Pera. And if it doesn't, there's nothing any of us can do about it anyway. He's the guy who calls the shots. I hope he knows what he's doing.


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