There are two things that are guaranteed to happen if you listen to the Chris Vernon Show (weekdays from 11am-2pm on 92.9 ESPN Radio in Memphis): you're going to laugh multiple times, and you're going to become a smarter sports fan. Whether he's talking about the football, basketball, or making fun of his producer, Jon Roser, Chris Vernon will undoubtedly make you laugh and make you smarter. However, Chris' specialty is undeniably the Memphis Grizzlies. He's well connected within the the Grizzlies' organization, and he just seems to have a good knowledge and understanding of not only the ins-and-outs of the Grizzlies, but also about the game of basketball in general.
So, even though I could have asked Chris for his take on how to properly eat a Wing Stop lemon pepper *flat* wing, I instead decided to get his take on the offseason of the Memphis Grizzlies. "I thought the offseason was good. I think the (Vince) Carter acquisition is big. I've had people bring this up to me: people really think Vince Carter can still help with game on the line situations. You know, he is still a guy that can create his own shot. Outside of Mike Conley creating for himself, we've been a team that has relied on creating for each other, and so many times these plays can get knocked down and you do need a guy who can create his own shot. I think (having Vince Carter) will be super helpful. All you have to do is read what everyone in Dallas had to say about Carter and the level of loss he was for them."
The major loss in free agency came when Mike Miller announced via Twitter that the Memphis Grizzlies had decided to go in a different direction, and he would not be back with the team. As we know now, Miller signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Grizzlies replaced him with Vince Carter. Many have asked the question, so I'll get Vernon to answer it. Is Vince Carter a better fit than Mike Miller for the Grizzlies based upon their different skill-sets they bring to the table? "I don't know if (Vince Carter) is necessarily a better fit, but I do think he's (a high volume scorer/shooter); he's athletic; he's a better defender. I mean listen, I love Mike Miller, but I think Vince Carter is a better player at this point in their careers. I hate to lose Mike Miller. I would have loved to have Mike Miller back, but I do think Vince Carter is equally as good of a fit for this team and possibly better."
Along with Vince Carter, the Grizzlies, as we all know, added Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes during the 2014 NBA Draft. "I can't speak to Jordan Adams with any amount of certainty, but I know the stats were super high on him, like really high. Obviously, I do know Jarnell (Stokes). I've seen him play since high school. I'm hoping they get him signed. I don't know why that's dragging on. But, generally, I think people are happy about the draft."
"So, if you're basing (this offseason) on the draft and on free agent acquisitions, I think both of those went well. The other thing, and the underrated thing, is the ZBo contract. That's an A+. For them to get that done and locked in for this next three year window, I thought was paramount. I thought it was paramount, not only for the team and for the city, but also in signing Marc (Gasol)."
The other dilemma of the offseason was the front office overhaul. The offseason was kicked off with a bit of turmoil as CEO Jason Levien and Vice President of Player Personnel Stu Lash were let go shortly after the Grizzlies were bounced out of the 2014 Playoffs. Chris Vernon had a now legendary interview with current Grizzlies General Manager and then Interim General Manager Chris Wallace. It is no secret that Vernon and Wallace have had an exemplary relationship for several years now. Wallace is a weekly guest on the Chris Vernon Show, and one cannot help but wonder if the infamous post-front-office-turmoil interview affected their relationship in any way.
"No. Chris has been coming on the show for the last seven years, and, honestly, that was not nearly as contentious as it has been in the past. We've been though everything: all the contracts, all the trades, all the way back to the Pau (Gasol) trade, and he's been on with me every week. He knows my intentions are never to make him look bad but rather to get answers. Sometimes he's in the position where the answers are difficult, or there are no answers. But he's always a good sport about it."
For now, it appears that the tumultuous times in the Grizzlies front office seem to be in the rear view mirror. Robert Pera has brought in Ed Stefanski to essentially fill the opening made available by the departure of Stu Lash. Chris Wallace, as has been mentioned, is now officially back in control as the General Manager of the organization. However, there still seem to be questions as to what everyone's role will be within the new-look front office. "I think there is a great balance that takes place with (Chris Wallace's) strengths and with (John) Hollinger's strengths. I think they can fill in the gaps for each other. Wallace is the PR, relationships, getting deals done type, and then John on the making sure everything's smart and thinking long-term and the planning and the numbers that go with everything. So, I do think the complement each other very well. (Ed Stefanski) is obviously very well connected. He is very well versed in talent evaluation. I was really impressed with his draft record. His strength is player evaluation, and he was hired to evaluate players."
Front office roles continued: "(David) Mincberg does not have a role in the front office. As far as I know, Mincberg is going to be a scout with the team. I cannot tell you for 100% certainty what David's role is, but he is not a prominent figure within the front office. Joe Abadi is (a prominent figure within the front office). Joe is the lawyer for Robert Pera; he is his right-hand man. He works with him with, not only the Grizzlies, but with his other businesses. Robert is based in the Silicon Valley, and he does not live in Memphis. He's not around all the time. What I gather is that Joe is an extension of Robert. Somebody has to be representing the guy who cannot be present all the time, and I believe that's what Joe is. That's the best way to explain it. Joe does not have a position with the team, but Joe is Robert's right-hand man. Many times you will hear Joe's name come up because he is certainly a prominent figure is Robert's life."
Seemingly the biggest quandary facing the Grizzlies headed into the preseason and regular season is the wing jumble. Who will start? Who will close the games? How will the minutes be disbursed? I know this situation has been harped upon already, but I thought Chris gave some great insight into how he sees things shaking out. "There's obviously a logjam, and I think we might not even get to the regular season with the logjam that we see right now. Here's the situation: they will add a third point guard. Now, how does that happen? Well, there's two ways: either you're trading, and I would imagine you're trading away wing players. Or, you're just cutting a guy, and if you're cutting a guy, the most likely guy at this point would be Jamaal (Franklin) because Jamaal has a very poor Summer League. You just drafted Jordan Adams, so somebody's the odd man out."
Wing conundrum continued: "If worst comes to worst (cutting Jamaal Franklin) becomes an option. I, obviously, think that the Tayshaun (Prince) thing is still on the table, and that is if they can move Tayshaun for something or nothing, for that matter, that that can take place. You do always have to think: everybody wants to do their own thing. So, when Jason Levien and those guys came in, they cleared out everybody that wasn't awesome, you know, the core 4 (Mike, Marc, ZBo, Tony Allen). The rest of that roster, they turned it over. So, with any of the guys that were brought in by the prior regime, most implicitly Courtney (Lee), they're not tied to his success. There's no marriage to Courtney as there used to be, I would think. That being said, Courtney's going to play; Tony's going to play; Quincy's going to play; Vince is going to play. End of story. Those four guys. Knowing that you're getting a third point guard on that roster, something's got to give. That logjam will not be the logjam it appears to be now because you're going to move off of something to be able to sign a third point guard because of Nick (Calathes') suspension."
I did a couple of quick predictions with Chris about the upcoming season. First, I asked him which current player has the best chance of making the All-Star team. "I would say Marc given that he's in his prime, the position he plays, and his opportunity to succeed. I would say, it got a lot easier for Zach with (Kevin) Love getting moved. But I would imagine Marc is the most likely candidate."
Next, I wanted to know his prediction on how many games the Memphis Grizzlies would win this season. "I think they'll be somewhere between 53 and 58 wins. Last season, Joerger started out shaky, then the injuries hit, and they still won 50. To me, it's not outlandish to think you could have a 55 win team on your hands."
Finally, we did a couple of playoff predictions. First I wanted to know what seed he envisioned the Grizzlies ending up with. "Top 4. " (No elaboration necessary). Then, where will the Grizzlies end up being in the playoffs (i.e. 1st round exit, 2nd round exit, Conference Finals et al.). "I think they're a team that can make the Conference Finals again. I think they're a team built for the playoffs. This is a veteran laden team that has taken the best of the best to the brink."
I shifted gears a bit with Chris, and I asked him some questions unrelated to the Memphis Grizzlies.
If you've ever listened to the Chris Vernon Show (if you haven't, what are you doing with your life?), you've heard a clip that he sometimes plays that says, 'Shout-out baby! Leggo! (Translated: Let's go!)." Where in the world did you find that clip, Chris? "When Alabama won the National Championship a couple of years ago, Courtney Upshaw was standing on the stage, and he had this long rant and that was part of the rant when he says that." Alright, tell me where you found the opening song to your show. "There was an article written about a band that Matthew McConaughey was a huge fan of, and he would go to a bunch of their shows. The band asked Matthew to be in a music video, and I saw the video on a blog I was reading. I just liked the song."
Here's the song:
A few weeks ago, Chris Vernon had a tremendous interview with Robert Pera. Pera came in studio and talked for roughly two hours with Chris. Our esteemed Managing Editor at Grizzly Bear Blues, Chris Faulkner, made sure I asked Chris if Robert Pera teleported into the studios that day. "He did not, but he did fly in on a private jet."
Chris Vernon has the distinction of having a sandwich named after him. He's friends with the world famous chef, Kelly English. In English's newest restaurant, The Second Line, there is a braised chicken thigh po'boy called The Verno. I asked Chris how this came about, and if he had any say into what kind of sandwich The Verno would be. "He asked me what kind of sandwiches I liked, and I told him I generally order chicken sandwiches. He had a chicken sandwich that he was already planning to put on the menu, so he let me try it and I thought it was great. I was very proud to be associated with such a sandwich."
I've done this in every other installment of Grizzly Bear Banter, so I thought it was only right to find out who Chris looked up to in sports media as he was coming up. "(Bill) Simmons was paramount. He gets hated on a lot now, but he was incredibly influential to virtually everybody who does this now. I thought it was super refreshing to have a guy out there who was not pretending not to be a sports fan and who didn't look down upon other sports fans. There are those in sports media who do not like sports. There are guys who did not grow up with a favorite team. But, for a guy like me, it's what I loved. It's what I lived and breathed from the earliest I can recall. I thought (Bill Simmons) spoke to that, and he also did it with a lot of humor."
Who Chris looked up to continued: "I think (Bill Simmons) was great. He was a massive influence on me. I read all of his articles; I listened to all of his podcasts, so he was big. Basketball wise, honestly, I would say John Hollinger. I know this sounds semi ridiculous now that he works for the team, but I was a fan of his. I was always drawn to people who looked at things differently, and so Simmons seemed different than everybody else. And, NBA-wise, John seemed different than everybody else. I would say those two guys at the beginning were the most influential to me. Listen, they were ESPN guys; they were prominent, and they were who, I would say, I read the most."
Chris Vernon has risen to prominence over the last several years. Not every local radio show host has over 30,000 Twitter followers and gets to hang out with some of the most famous sports media personnel on a regular basis. This can only make one tend to wonder whether Memphis can hang on to one its favorite sports media personalities, or if he'll decide to leave for one of the major, national sports networks, "I was close to moving once, but it was years ago. When I was first coming up, the idea was that you had to move to a bigger market. As time went on, the internet made the world a much smaller place. If you were doing good work, you could become nationally relevant while staying local. A couple of years ago, I had a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio, and (Jon) Roser and I did Mad Dog Radio on the weekends. I was able to do that remotely from Memphis, but I was still able to have a national platform. What I found was that I was much more attracted to local."
"I think all sports in the end are local. The local passion, you cannot replicate it. I love the idea of being able to get up after the Spurs and Grizzlies go to overtime and talking to an audience that cares like I do. You can't replicate that on a national level. National radio, after doing it, is certainly not as appealing to me as I once thought. TV is a more interesting animal simply because of the money. National television in my mind is a different animal, and it may be something that I'm interested in one day."
Finally, I asked Chris Vernon if he could have any job with in the Grizzlies organization outside of owning the team, what would it be? "Um, I would want to be a player, but I'm assuming you're talking about a front office job. I'd want to be in charge. I want to be the general manager. I would be the guy wanting to do it my own way. I've always been one of those where I'd rather you give me control, and if it's good, it's my credit; if it's terrible, it's my blame, but either way, I can't point any finger anywhere else."
I'll leave you with this hilariously awesome video of Rick Ross showing Chris Vernon how to properly eat a Wing Stop lemon pepper *flat* wing LIKE A BOSS: