How did one of the most consistently successful NBA franchises from over the last decade become a perceived picture of instability in the eyes of many in the NBA?
It is a question that now haunts the Memphis Grizzlies as they continue to move on from a memorable past into an uncertain future. For Chris Wallace, it is a question that likely frustrates him endlessly.
After all, he has done a good job in many ways during his tenure as the Grizzlies’ general manager.
Now before you light your pitch forks and form an angry mob, here are a few things to remember. Although many of us are tired of hearing him remind us of it, we can begrudgingly admit that Chris Wallace has presided over the greatest run of success that the Memphis Grizzlies have ever known. It was him who made the gamble to bring Zach Randolph, who was a troubled young man, to Memphis. It was he who decided sign Tony Allen back in the summer of 2010. It was he who drafted Mike Conley in 2007 (yes, he had just been hired, but he was still in the organization) and who made the extremely unpopular Pau Gasol trade that eventually brought Marc Gasol to Memphis.
Love Wallace or hate him, he is the one who brought the Core Four to Memphis.
To be sure, you can make the argument that much of the Grizzlies’ success through this process came through dumb luck. Though Pau Gasol said that his brother would be better than him one day, no one outside the Gasol family could have expected Marc Gasol to become an All-NBA center and Defensive Player of the Year. No one could have predicted the impact Tony Allen would have on Memphis.
Yet all of this happened on Wallace’s watch.
You have to give credit where it is due.
However, with greater success comes greater expectations, a concept that Wallace has never seemed to truly figure out.
Yes, making the playoffs seven years in a row—the third longest postseason streak in the NBA at the time—is an awesome achievement. But there does come a point where a fan base grows tired of the “super mediocrity” of simply making the playoffs every year; they start to want more. And for the people of Memphis that love the game of basketball so much, they also deserve more.
But unfortunately, they never did receive what they deserve—a Grizzlies team with a real chance of contending for an NBA championship, though they had the pieces of a potential championship team. The Grizzlies were consistently a memorable, very good team that averaged 48 wins per season during the Grit ‘N’ Grind era. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph formed a fearsome front court that was a nightmare for opposing teams, and Mike Conley began to grow into one of the better point guards in the game. However, they were always a step behind the true contenders in the Western Conference, always seemingly missing the piece they needed to get to the NBA Finals.
And that is the real failure of Chris Wallace. Although the Memphis Grizzlies stumbled into a young dynamic core with incredible potential, they never could turn it into an NBA Finals appearance or a conference finals appearance where they didn’t get swept. Wallace may have been able to get the Grizzlies near the peak of the mountain, but he could never get them over the top.
It certainly wasn’t because he didn’t try.
From Jeff Green to Chandler Parsons to Ben McLemore, Wallace continuously tried to add wing scorers that would complement Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. As everyone is painfully aware, none of these signings worked out for various reasons (“they’re just bad” and “bad knees”).
The Grizzlies’ well-documented poor drafting history under Wallace also has not helped matters much. After all, when only two of your last six first-round picks (including Jaren Jackson Jr.) are currently on the roster, it becomes difficult to maintain the success that your team has always had.
Recently, the nuances of the Tyreke Evans situation may have epitomized Chris Wallace’s tenure. Only Wallace could make the best bargain signing of the 2017 offseason in Evans, proceed to not move him at the trade deadline in a lost season, and then reportedly not even talk to him during free agency. Like many different times throughout Wallace’s time with the Grizzlies, he didn’t maximize a good decision that he had previously made. In retrospect, his “good” decisions like signing Chandler Parsons and Tyreke Evans often are remembered as poor ones.
Even if Wallace’s many poor decisions have led many to believe (including myself) that the Grizzlies need new leadership, we should still appreciate the good that he has helped bring bring to Memphis. For the better part of the last decade, the Memphis Grizzlies were fun, joyful, triumphant, and unforgettable. But they still could have been so much more.
And unfortunately, that will likely be the final legacy of Chris Wallace in Memphis.