January has been an up and down month for Memphis. For every epic win against a contender there was a blowout loss to a lottery team. Perhaps it’s the dog days of a long season wearing down the Grizzlies. Maybe they just weren’t as good as their 12-1 start had suggested.
Nah, it’s more than that.
I can’t help but think that management is to blame for all of this.
Let’s go back to last summer, when the front office didn’t extend the contract of head coach Lionel Hollins. Few guys have done as good a job the last few years as Lionel. He changed the culture in Memphis and gave this group a badly needed identity. By comparison, Frank Vogel received a contract extension last week for bringing much the same things to Indiana.
In October, Hollins sounded confident about getting his cut. “I expect to have a deal before the season is over,” he said. “For sure.” But since then, a new ownership group has taken over, one that’s hardly been visible.
New owner Robert Pera, who looks like he’s 18, has only been to a couple of Grizzlies games since taking over late last year. Former owner Michael Heisley, meanwhile, is rumored to have purchased courtside season tickets…..awkward. By all accounts, Pera hasn’t even spoken with Hollins yet……really awkward.
As a result, Lionel’s tone has changed, recently: “If they want to break up the team and get rid of everybody, I’ll coach until the season is over and make up my mind about what I’m going to do.”
But wait, there’s more.
The front office also irked Hollins by hiring John Hollinger, formerly of ESPN. Adding a number-cruncher shows that management is looking to take the decision-making process in a different direction, away from basketball guys like Lionel and towards nerds who’ve never touched a basketball in their lives.
In a recent interview, coach ripped all those analytics: ”We get hung up on statistics a little too much, and I think that’s a bad trait…..You’ve got guys spouting off stat after stat after stat. The bottom line is going out and contributing to your team for winning.”
And now to the trade rumors.
Nothing sabotages a team’s record more than putting one of it’s best players on the open market. Rudy Gay may be well-paid, but he’s also one of the better players in this league. By loudly shopping Rudy, management is sending a clear message to its fans: we’re giving up on this team and trying to save some money.
Do you know how many teams would die to have Memphis’ lineup of playoff-tested guys still in their primes? The chemistry is off the charts with this group. The Lakers would probably sell their new network for that kind of synergy.
Lionel Hollins definitely knows how important Gay is to this team: “The reality is that we have a very versatile SF that is 6’9. There aren’t many guys out there like that. He can post up, shoot from the perimeter [and] he can attack the basket. We don’t have another player on our roster with that versatility, and most teams don’t.”
Ah, but that’s where Lionel is wrong. It’s not about basketball these days in Memphis.
It’s about business and politics.
Might as well start televising ‘Grizz’ games on Fox News.