Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence- Leonardo da Vinci
As Robert Pera, International Man of Mystery, boarded a plane leaving Memphis for China, or Japan, or wherever else his business ventures took him on Monday, he knew exactly what he was doing, even if the rest of us didn't. Certainly he felt it was "best for business", as for whatever reason the relationship between himself and Jason Levien had soured so much that he removed him from his post as Grizzlies CEO as well as Assistant General Manager Stu Lash.
(Editor's note: I just received a hearty chuckle from imagining Robert Pera as Austin Powers in the opening dance scene to the first installment of the series.)
Then, the Grizzlies allowed for Head Coach Dave Joerger to interview for the Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coaching vacancy, essentially bidding farewell to a second 50 win coach in as many seasons. Pera had seen into the future of his investment, and one thing is clear; he did not like what he saw.
As speculation and anger along with voices of support and despair filled the Twittersphere and Blogosphere, among all the noise there was this tweet from the Commercial-Appeal's Chris Herrington to Grizz Twitter Fam member @deepfriedcouch-
@deepfriedcouch was told yesterday and said on Verno that there is a GM search process of some sort that's underway— Chris Herrington (@HerringtonNBA) May 22, 2014
As one (albeit brief) chapter in Grizztory closes, another opens. Chris Wallace is the interim General Manager. John Hollinger is still with the organization and could possibly be in line to assume that GM role. Or, perhaps, Pera could look outside the organization to possible Assistant General Managers or Coaches who may want a Stan Van Gundy type of deal in Memphis running both the front office and coaching the team. Pera's actions this past week and his background offer possible insight into what he values most in a GM moving forward.
Loyalty is a trait that is rare in the professional world. So often people are looking for the next promotion, the next opportunity to advance and grow their resume to get to their eventual goal. The ends often justify the means in the search for money, power, influence or some combination of the three. It explains rapid turnover, especially in the case of Jason Levien who perhaps allowed for his own personal ambitions for control to alienate the wrong people once again.
Robert Pera needs someone he can trust in a role of such influence. While he has been more hands on in recent weeks with player interviews and such, that was likely due to necessity in his mind. (<---This, Editor's note) Perhaps he felt that he had no one he could depend on and had to see for himself what was happening. With his business dealings, he will not be able to be so involved moving forward. He needs someone on the ground who he knows will execute the Pera vision (and hopefully the vision of some minority owners as well) and not their own.
Who Could Fit the Bill?
Well, if you listened to Chris Vernon blast Chris Wallace on 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis Wednesday the first candidate that would come to mind is Wallace himself. Removing the interim from his title and granting him control would undoubtedly enable Pera to have his plan be put into action. Wallace has survived for so long because he is well liked and a company man, loyal through and through to his employer. His knowledge of basketball is elite and despite some questionable moves as GM he is largely responsible for this core group of Grizzlies being in Memphis. He has shown loyalty, and perhaps could be rewarded for that by Pera.
Someone who Grizzlies fans may be less comfortable with loyalty wise, but Pera would likely be very comfortable with, is David Mincberg. Mincberg serves as team legal counsel to the Grizzlies and according to multiple reports is one of the sources of tension between Levien and Pera. Mincberg wants to be more involved in the basketball side of Pera's dealings, and if Pera did not trust Mincberg's judgments he probably would not have been as willing to let Joerger interview in Minnesota. As Memphis sports writer Geoff Calkins put it in a tweet-
Mincberg and Joerger hate each other— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) May 21, 2014
The level of Mincberg's involvement has been questioned and debated, and how prepared he would be for such a role is concerning to say the least. Pera likely sees him as loyal and as a malleable piece that will be Pera's eyes and ears on the ground in Memphis, like Levien was supposed to be and apparently wasn't.
A Beautiful Mind
You do not become a billionaire at such a young age without being brilliant. Robert Pera may be an silent enigma, but his intelligence with regard to his business is undeniable. This does not always translate to the sports world, however (see Snyder, Daniel, Jones, Jerry) and while Pera is a self-proclaimed basketball fanatic he would be wise to find someone similar to himself but with a gift for basketball analysis instead of technological savvy.
As advanced statistics and metrics become more and more the norm in the NBA, Pera almost certainly has interest in utilizing this to the fullest. It can certainly aid the eye when it comes to evaluating personnel, and also help maximize the limited financial flexibility in a small market such as Memphis. Numbers are a big part of what made Robert Pera his fortune, and are likely a piece of the Pera championship puzzle.
(Editor's note: Last night I was explaining to my wife how this would be a different upheaval if our owner was, say, someone much older and established in the NBA. Seeing as how the Grizzlies owner is a 36-year-old genius-technology-magnate billionaire, I can't rule out that there's a snowball's chance, or maybe even better odds, that he's just a lot smarter than everyone else and sees the big picture in a way that none of us can. Maybe the naive part of me still gives him a slender benefit of the doubt, but the Grizzlies haven't won less than 50 games under the controlling ownership of Robert Pera. Obvious Counterpoint: with Jason Levien as CEO)
Who Could Fit the Bill
As with Wallace previously, a member of the current Front Office would fill this role quite nicely. John Hollinger is a graduate of the University of Virginia (Wahoowa), a pioneer in applying Bill James-ian baseball analytics to basketball via offensive and defensive efficiency and is also the creator of the Player Efficiency Rating, which attempts to measure all the contributions of an individual player in one number.
PER is not without its flaws, but this type of thinking is likely right up Robert Pera's alley and is a major reason why Hollinger is in Memphis right now and not still in Bristol, Connecticut writing for ESPN. Is Hollinger ready to be "the man" in a front office? It remains to be seen considering the fact that, while advanced stats are important, they do not make up the entire game of basketball or help to necessarily run basketball operations. His analytical musings make him a possible candidate.
Pera could also go outside of the organization and look to other teams who are heavily invested in analytics. The Houston Rockets, for example, are considered one of the top organizations in regards to measuring player effectiveness and applying the numbers to the game. The Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are also noted teams who continue to push how analytics affect lineups and effective offensive and defensive scheme. Snagging an assistant GM like Jeff Weltman from Toronto or analyst from any of these organizations could also be a possibility.
An Established Winner
Seeking information in innovative ways and entrusting someone with your investment is only effective if it results in winning. This is the name of the game in sport, especially in the professional ranks. Players come and go, but, especially in a market like Memphis, a strong-willed-proven commodity would go a long way to keep the run of success going in the Bluff City beyond the Grit and Grind Era. The Grizzlies are still a relatively new franchise in the grand scheme of the NBA. Aside from the Pau Gasol/Hubie Brown years and the current run of the GnG, success has been an uncommon commodity in Bluff City's history of the NBA.
Success is uncommon everywhere, though. If winning was common, it wouldn't be nearly as desired or as satisfying when it is achieved. Statistics are all well and good, but true legends in sport are determined by championship rings, for better or worse. Robert Pera, as a student of the game, likely understands this and knows that in order to reach this level of greatness in Memphis it would be wise to bring in someone who has grasped the brass ring before.
Who Would Fit the Bill
Snagging this type of GM would be difficult to do, since most of these guys are entrenched in positions as is. The architects of the best teams in the NBA right now (R.C. Buford, Larry Bird, Sam Presti, Pat Riley) are more than likely not walking through that Beale Street door. However, recruiting a member of their staffs could be an attractive option. While it may be hard to lead them away from a great situation or convince them there is a better opportunity after years of service to a franchise, names like San Antonio's Scott Layden and Miami's Andy Elisburg would be possibilities. These names, and others, have seen what it takes to sustain success and could use that experience in Memphis.
If assistant GM's are not to be had, perhaps taking a flyer on a winning coach and offering them more control could be an option. Stan Van Gundy just reached a deal in Detroit to be this man for the Pistons, and Memphis could perhaps lure a Jeff Van Gundy or George Karl in a similar manner. A trade is also a
long shot possibility, as Bill Simmons has outlined in a theoretical deal with the Chicago Bulls for their Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. Robert Pera would certainly have to trust these men with his vision, or relinquish his own view of the team to bring them in, but for someone who seems to desire to be out of the spotlight this may be an option worth looking into.
Stability breeds confidence, which in turn breeds winning. Robert Pera did not have confidence in the people running his basketball franchise, and he exercised his right as a controlling owner to do what in his view is right. Now, it is on Pera to make the right choice not just for himself, but for all involved with the Memphis Grizzlies organization. From the minority ownership to the fan base and everyone in between, the soft spoken young billionaire has the future of a beloved franchise in his hands. Hopefully as he goes about his travels, he keeps in mind that success is indeed uncommon and that Grizzlies fans would like to see it stick around in Memphis. If the team is run properly it can through Z-Bo, Tony Allen and beyond.
He has said as much in his one press release about the departures of Levien and Lash. While fans may want him to, he doesn't have to speak any further about his vision for how that championship parade down Beale Street will be achieved. His actions moving forward, beginning with the hiring of a new General Manager, will say enough.