Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Deflections: The Roster, TV Angst, and The Buy/Sell Clause

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 4:08 PM

Grizzlies fans are talking about Robert Pera more than they're talking about the Grizzlies.
  • Grizzlies fans are talking about Robert Pera more than they're talking about the Grizzlies.

The season technically starts next week, kiddos, but we've got a lot to talk about already, and most of it only contributes to Grizzlies fans' long-running overuse of antacids. Let's dive in to what's been happening this week.

Ivan Rabb and the Roster Strategy

No, it's not an indie band, it's the current state of the Grizzlies' roster, with less than a week to go before Media Day and training camp. After weeks of radio silence, the Grizzlies signed second-round pick Ivan Rabb to a three-year contract. Rabb was present in Summer League but didn't play due to an injury, and then... vanished into the mist for a while, while the Grizzlies went on to sign several other guys to full and two-way deals. According to the Commercial Appeal only the first two years of Rabb's contract are fully guaranteed.

That means that, as of right now, this is the Grizzlies' roster:

  • Mike Conley
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Marc Gasol
  • Brandan Wright
  • Ben McLemore
  • Troy Daniels
  • Tyreke Evans
  • James Ennis III
  • Wade Baldwin IV
  • Mario Chalmers
  • Jarell Martin
  • Deyonta Davis
  • Andrew Harrison
  • Wayne Selden
  • Rade Zagorac
  • Dillon Brooks
  • Ivan Rabb
  • Kobi Simmons
click to enlarge JaMychal Green - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • JaMychal Green

Not listed on that list, of course, are the dearly departed Tony Allen an Zach Randolph, but the most conspicuous absence is big man JaMychal Green, who has now been "about to sign" or "making progress" since a couple days after the start of free agency.

At this point, whether the Grizzlies are trying to put the screws to Green or whether he drastically misjudged this summer's market is immaterial: he's got to sign some sort of deal even if it's just the qualifying offer and the Grizzlies need him to be in camp. But that it's dragged on as long as it has is not a good indicator for what that relationship will be like once he does, and it also looks bad for Griz management and for Green's representation.

This is the strangest Grizzlies roster a week before the season that I can remember seeing since I started covering the team. (Which, granted, was after the start of the now-deceased Grit & Grind era, so take that for what it's worth.) But the fact remains: there's got to be a trade coming somewhere, right? Add Green to this roster and it still has some deficiencies, especially in the frontcourt. We will see. There is depth on the roster, but once you start whittling the number back down to 15 players, either the depth or the youth has to be sacrificed.

The Grizzlies, who have been in the playoffs for seven straight seasons, are on national television three times in the 2017-18 season. They've never had the number of games it seems like they deserve, and it feels like the league's policy of promoting their popular teams over their good ones is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which it doesn't matter how good you are because the Lakers are always going to be promoted more. Part of this is market size, but not all of it.

This year it makes a little more sense to me, even though I still think it's ultimately a shortsighted and bad strategy. Without Randolph and Allen, the Grizzlies are still very much an unknown quantity this season. They might be fine, they might not be, and if people already don't want to watch the Grizzlies, watch how quickly that national interest dries up once they're actually bad.

I was going to do a big, detailed breakdown of all the various giveaways this season, but at this point, it's already been content-farmed to death and outside of two exceptions there's not really anything extreme or notable going on:

  1. The headband giveaway on the night of Zach Randolph's return to Memphis as a Sacramento King is a good idea
  2. The "Grit Grind Forever" towel giveaway is OK by me since it's Tony Allen's first game back in Memphis as a New Orleans Pelican, but if Allen weren't on the Pelicans and it was already planned, that strikes me as a team a little too eager to cash in on nostalgia for a core that's only really been broken up for a couple weeks now.

Those are my small, broad thoughts on the topic.

The Pera/Kaplan Buy/Sell agreement

Most of the outright panic in Grizzlies fan circles right now centers around the buy/sell clause set up between controlling owner Robert Pera and minority owners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus. From the original ESPN report on the agreement:

At that time, Kaplan and fellow minority owner Daniel Straus, an East Coast health care magnate and the team's vice chairman, have an option to make a bid for controlling interest in the team at a price of their choice, sources said. At that point, Pera would have two options: buy out Kaplan and Straus at that named price, or sell his shares to them based on the same valuation. Control of the decision ultimately would rest with Pera.

Now, no one involved in this will actually talk to me about it so far due to the confidentiality requirements involved, but it seems useless to fret over whether this clause will be triggered. Why wouldn't it? Especially given the contentious history between the two parties (cf. Levien, Jason), it seems obvious to me that it's a win-win for Kaplan to trigger the clause, because no matter what happens after that point, either Pera has to buy him out for hundreds of millions of dollars (more now after the Rockets' sale, though the Grizzlies' valuation can't be anywhere close to $2 billion) or Kaplan and Straus become the controlling owners of the franchise.

Given an opportunity to choose to force someone else, with whom you already don't have a good history, to either pay you that much money or sell you a controlling share in an NBA team, why wouldn't you take the opportunity?

The more interesting situations play out after the clause is triggered. What valuation would Kaplan/Straus place on the franchise? If they go too high, Pera can force them to pay him a lot of money for his share. If they go too low, they get bought out without hesitation because their valuation was lower than Pera's. If Pera's stock-based wealth is in a down ebb because of all those weird fraud allegations bouncing around last week, does he sell anyway? Given how often he talks about being "obsessed" with product development and how little time he actually spends around his team on and off the court, does he decide he doesn't actually have the time and energy to be an owner after all?

The hypotheticals are all fascinating. It's hard to imagine what would happen after a Kaplan/Straus takeover. The panic du jour seems to be that they'd immediately move the team. The Grizzlies' lease runs through 2029 and can't be broken until 2021, with all sorts of stipulations and penalties baked in. While Memphis is a tough market for them to operate in, with any luck the league's revenue sharing model will get more socialist, which I like NFL-like and help small market teams more (since there's no way they can create the local broadcast revenue of teams like the Lakers and Knicks) before the lease runs out, mitigating some of those difficulties. At the same time, it's impossible to predict what Pera will do or say, mostly because he stays hidden on purpose. We don't have enough of a record of him as a public figure to know what to anticipate at this level of decision-making.

At any rate, I think the most reasonable thing to do is expect the clause to be triggered, wait for the usual suspects to start talking about it (the ESPN guys seem well-sourced on this topic for whatever reason), read between the lines to the extent possible, and brace for the unexpected.

Correction: The Grizzlies' lease runs through 2029, not 2021 as originally stated. 2021 is the date before which the lease cannot be broken.



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