Iowa Energy General Manager Chris Makris appeared on the Chris Vernon Show this morning to discuss his role with the Energy, how he got into basketball management, and how he sees the hybrid partnership with the Grizzlies working for the benefit of both franchises in the coming years. When the Grizzlies-Energy partnership was announced a few weeks back, Energy majority owner Jed Kaplan had nothing but glowing praise for Makris, whose name is being thrown around the league more and more as he climbs the corporate latter.
Makris comes from a sports background, having played quarterback at Drake University in De Moines, and studied finance at Drake before getting a master's in sports management from San Diego State. When he heard that a D-League team was forming in De Moines, he flew to Iowa and poked his head in the front office. The team's owner was not available to meet with him, but that didn't stop Makris from working without a mandate, meeting players and coaches, developing a business plan, and evaluating players. Several days later, he finally interviewed with the team's owner and was offered the Assistant GM position, but with a catch: there was no GM to assist. So Makris decided to make himself indispensable with the goal of landing that promotion when he had enough experience. He did so a year later at age 28.
That was seven years ago, and in that time, the D-League has expanded dramatically in attendance, talent level, and relevance. D-League coaches and players are called up to the NBA at an increasing rate, and NBA teams are starting to see the benefit of using a dedicated D-League team as an R&D division. Somewhere around 35% of all current NBA players have worn a D-League jersey at some point, whether they came up through the system or were assigned to it. Today, the D-League seems like the perfect place for an ambitious guy like Makris: a place to experiment and find success without the deadweight of traditional thinking.
Makris will reportedly be involved in Memphis' draft, free agency, and training camp, though it's unclear to what extent. He manages both the basketball and business sides of the Energy, so his experience in everything from player evaluation and development to contract and salary cap decisions may come in handy as Memphis rebuilds its own front office. Makris claims the draft works much the same way in the D-League as in the NBA, but team-building in the D-League is tricky when working around an unpredictable roster.
As for player development, there are multiple ways an NBA franchise can use a D-League team, especially a single-affiliate partner. Energy players can be schooled in the Grizzlies' offensive playbook and defensive scheming (per Joerger's instruction) so that when players are called up, their transition is made smoother. It's better to be able to insert a stopgap player who has some familiarity with the Grizzlies' style than one who might have been working under a totally different system.
The Houston Rockets use their own D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, in a different way: as a testing ground for new-age basketball philosophy. Their hyper-paced "only threes and layups" strategy is a sort of reductio ad absurdum of the anti-midrange-jumper trend. Because three-pointers and shots at the rim offer an inherent statistical advantage, why not shoot them exclusively? Troy Daniels, unlikely hero of Game 3 in this year's Rockets-Blazers series, spent most of this season as a Viper, and absolutely obliterated the D-League record for three-point makes on the season.
Makris said the Energy and Grizzlies are still ironing out how their relationship will work, but said they will be open to all options. "At the end of the day, that's what we're here for," he said. "We're here to benefit the Grizzlies and make them a better franchise." That's music to Grizz fans' ears.
Check out the full interview here (starts at the 27 minute mark).