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Grading the 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies: The Front Office

Got 99 problems but a Grizz ain't one

Bravo indeed.
Bravo indeed.
Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

After years with Michael Heisley at the helm, the Memphis Grizzlies were sold to Robert J.* Pera on October 25th, 2012, less than a week before the tip-off of the 2012-13 NBA season. That isn't to say that Pera hadn't been thinking about the Grizzlies for a considerable amount of time, because once you delve into his past it becomes obvious that he's got a plan for everything.

* 10,000 GBB bucks to anyone that can find his middle name and link it

There isn't a ton of background info on Robert Pera just yet (not until he releases a biography), but what we do know of him paints a picture that many Memphians will appreciate. From an early age, RJP was able to take hold of his life a la Grit & Grind (Silicon Valley edition). Talented and brilliant enough to gain admission to UC San Diego after missing an entire year of high school due to a rare form of heart-valve infection, Pera would complete his undergraduate and master's degree in electrical engineering and go on to an entry level position at Apple, working on their Airport wi-fi station in the early 2000's.

I quit my job because I wanted to have more success faster -Robert Pera

No doubt that that's a dream job for many people reading this article, but Pera's drive and initiative would cause him to quickly outgrow that shoe and lead him to scrape together savings and credit card cash to start his own business, Ubiquiti Networks, in 2005. For the sake of brevity, I'll just tell you that, as of a month ago, Robert Pera is yet again a billionaire based off his stake in Ubiquiti. That, my friends, comes after losing nearly 1 billion dollars between March and August of 2012 and a year that coincides amazingly with the rise and surge of his recently purchased Memphis Grizzlies.

After a couple of weeks of purchasing the Grizzlies, Pera would start to put in place the pieces that would form the new face of the Front Office. He would hire the extroverted version of himself in Jason Levien, a multitalented man who has served as an attorney, a global sports agent, a member of the Sacramento Kings' front office, co-owner of a Major League Soccer club and an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley Law School, where he teaches sports law. A month or so later they would add ESPN stat guru John Hollinger as President of Basketball Operations and longtime Denver Nuggets scouting coordinator Stu Lash (who doesn't have a wiki page yet) as Director of Player Personnel.

This new Front Office was making some change and shifting roles, but they were also treading carefully into the scene. GM Chris Wallace was retained for continuity and transition, although the role he served was never concretely defined. Longtime scouts Tony Barone Sr & Jr were released to make way for a more analytic approach to player evaluation. Team Services Manager, Chantal Hassard, in her 18th season, was given an expanded role of Director of Team Operations. That might not seem as pertinent as a Hollinger or a Lash hiring, but Hassard was an original member of Grizzlies basketball operations going back to the inaugural season in 1995. To summarize, Pera and Levien made a nice potpourri of new ideas and tenured consistency.

Pera and Levien made a nice potpourri of new ideas and tenured consistency.

The Grizzlies new management had some new faces, but for the most part they casually observed the operation of the team for the first couple of months of the season. They introduced minority owners that excited the city in Justin Timberlake, Ashley Manning, Penny Hardaway, Elliot Perry and other local fixtures. The bond between team and city was shown the utmost priority and respect. Pera & Levien knew this was a special city, and gave way to the sometimes bizarre idiosyncrasies and traditions of Memphis. While Levien has a political background and isn't shy about cauterizing issues with pacifistic jargon, there was a deliberate transparency coming from both him and Pera that started with their first public debut.

They gushed about Memphis and the community. Pera declared himself the luckiest man in the world (in regards to becoming Griz owner). They quelled any nervous banter about relocating the team. They committed themselves to helping make the city better.

"Memphis as a city, it's unbelievable," Pera said.

"There's no reason why Memphis shouldn't be both successful on the court but as successful a team as a business manner as any NBA franchise in a similar sized market," Commissioner David Stern said.

"I stopped looking when this became a possibility," Pera said of buying the Grizzlies.

Then this eerie foreshadowing from Jason Levien, "We're very fortunate because we've come into a situation we just hope we don't (mess) it up, which is a little scary."

Scary indeed, huh? Especially considering how much they were about to "just do the damn thing" when it came to managing a pro sports team. To make an analogy:

You're 23 and you're at a party. You've drank alcohol for a couple of years and you're pretty solid when it comes to consumption and the consequential behavior. But you've brought your good friend along to this party. He's shy, hasn't really every drank much before and doesn't really dig the idea of social interaction. For the first hour you're having coax him into any comfortability and feed him drops of alcohol like you would an orphaned baby bird. No one really notices he's there, and you yourself nearly forget about him. But after two drinks successfully permeate his bloodstream, a different animal is uncaged. He's talking to everyone ... and very loudly at that. He's jumping onto tables and dancing to Lady Gaga, all while removing articles of clothing and making tongue motions to that girl he just met. Weeks later he's the one telling you about all the parties and he's got a beer gut, piercings, tattoos and a motorcycle.

The Grizzlies Front Office started to get a taste of running a franchise, and by January 2013 they had become full fledged Grizzaholics. We began to hear rumors float about possible trading Rudy Gay after an extremely mediocre and inefficient month of December. By mid-January it seemed as though the only players not on the trade block were Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and it was starting to become a serious distraction to some of the other key players.

On Jan 25th, Grizzlies' fans breathed a confused and brow-furrowing sigh of relief when the Front Office traded away Mo Speights, Wayne Ellington (just acquired from trading Dante Cunningham), Josh Selby and a first-round pick for Jon "I'd want Denzel Washington to play me in a movie" Leuer. This was largely seen as a salary dump to tuck us right under the luxury tax, end trade talks regarding any other players and mostly ensure the retention of Rudy Gay for the rest of the season. I can understand making this trade in retrospect (although Ellington would have come in handy in the WCF), but giving up the first-round pick to make it happen still baffles my mind. Speights and Ellington were not trash players by any stretch, and not entirely overpaid either. That additional cost of a draft pick might have stemmed from the Front Office leaking out information during January that poisoned existing trade wells across the league; teams knew we were desperately trying to get under the cap.

So for a couple of days the Rudy Gay trade rumors ceased, and the angry ant farm that was the fan base went back to its business. That was, until Levien & Co would furiously shake it up again a week later. Honestly, I'm so sick of talking about the Rudy Gay trade we're going to verbally montage this part: Rudy & Haddadi traded for Prince, Davis & Daye, Griz FO criticized, we get better on offense and defense, Mike & Marc emerge, franchise record 56 wins, salary cap issues mostly solved, franchise first WCF appearance. That about covers it, I believe. Well I guess we also need to mention the signing of retired Keyon Dooling (see grade here), the acquisition of Dexter Pittman and 2nd round pick via trade exception, a host of other inconsequential signings, the Pera installed wi-fi for all of FedexForum and his delightful fanboy photoshops of Marc Gasol, the most interesting basketball player in the world.

Western Standings

Oklahoma City Thunder 82 60-22 .732
San Antonio Spurs 82 58-24 .707
Denver Nuggets 82 57-25 .695
Los Angeles Clippers 82 56-26 .683
Memphis Grizzlies 82 56-26 .683
Golden State Warriors 82 47-35 .573
Los Angeles Lakers 82 45-37 .549
Houston Rockets 82 45-37 .549
Utah Jazz 82 43-39 .524
Dallas Mavericks 82 41-41 .500
Portland Trail Blazers 82 33-49 .402
Minnesota Timberwolves 82 31-51 .378
Sacramento Kings 82 28-54 .341
New Orleans Hornets 82 27-55 .329
Phoenix Suns 82 25-57 .305

We're very fortunate because we've come into a situation we just hope we don't (mess) it up, which is a little scary. -Jason Levien

By playoff time the Front Office was in cruise control mode, having little say over anything besides Growl Towels and draft scouting. One could argue that they could have set up the roster with some other useful pieces (that could shoot..Chris Johnson anyone?), but they had definitively whittled down the foundation of their vision for the team and it was being executed quite closely to what I imagine they had envisioned. After the playoffs, however, the FO would put down the pocket knife and bring out the C.R. Lawrence Fein two inch axe-style scraper oscillating knife blade.

The Lionel Hollins tension was thoroughly documented here on GBB. Our Grizzaholic Front Office has decided our franchise will have a better chance of executing their vision with a different person at head coach. There's immense speculation on why, how and who hit who where in all this mess of a divorce, but Levien offered a modicum of true explanation on the radio yesterday. We'll most likely never know all the details, but from what I gather the Front Office is hell-bent-determined on having full, healthy synergy within their entire organization - and Lionel Hollins was not a catalyst for such a scenario. I can't accurately decide who looked uglier over the past two weeks, but my gut goes with more egg on Hollins' face (right Lionel? go with the gut?). We won't truly know the consequences, good or bad ... both of which I believe to be possible, until next season and ultimately this time next year.

One thing is for sure, though. They have a plan, and they are sticking to it.


  • Fiscal Responsibility: B+
  • Personnel Moves: B-
  • Public Relations: A- (still waiting on that dunk, Robert!)
  • Grizznosity: B-

Overall Grade - B+

They successfully gave us cap room whilst getting to the Western Conference Finals, but the assets they gave up and received in return are still questionable. That being said, they have arranged enough flexibility to bring in talent in the future and have eliminated most of the "ugly" contracts. I genuinely believe this Front Office is personally invested in the city, and that they have a sincere respect for us. I docked them a bit on the Grizznosity with 1 appearance a piece from Timberlake and Manning, and Pera not being around too often. It was balanced, however, by the boss moves of Mr. Michael Heisley, who bought season tickets next to the Griz bench right after selling the team.

Forgive me for lack of commentary on Chris Wallace, but I'm just not really sure what to credit him for this season besides maybe a Keyon Dooling or a Chris Johnson.