In the absence of leadership...real leadership...any noise that is loud enough can fill the void.
Fans of the Memphis Grizzlies know that silence, sometimes, can be the most deafening sound of all.
Robert Pera, the controlling owner of the Grizzlies, has shown through his actions the past several years that he is not interested in being a public face of the organization. Outside of appearances on “The Chris Vernon Show” and a select few other media availability spots, he has remained an enigma - the man behind the curtain. Fans, media, and other stakeholders in Memphis and beyond have accepted this to an extent, especially while the team was winning. As long as the squad is successful, the owner’s whereabouts aren’t as concerning.
But when that success ends, the mask of winning gets removed...and the problems within the organization are exposed to the light of day.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t scrutiny during the Grit and Grind Era. Coaches criticized the lack of spending, both on the roster and themselves. Many wished Pera was more present even then, and that the overturn in the front office (from Chris Wallace to Jason Levien back to Chris Wallace, for example) wasn’t such a distraction from the winning the Grizzlies were doing on the court. But it is only when you are losing do the warts flare up...and become symptoms of a larger disease spreading through a franchise.
And where there is no competent front man capable of selling the vision, the direction, of where you’re trying to go? There is no remedy. No correction of course. You are just up a certain creak without a paddle...
And without hope.
This can be damaging if it happens for only, say, a month, much less and entire season. For two complete campaigns now, Memphis Grizzlies fans have endured numerous injuries, two fired head coaches, the departure of a franchise icon, seemingly countless bungled transactions from the draft to embarrassing trade confusion...and that’s just the start. All of it happened while the franchise was led - at least publicly - by Chris Wallace. He did it without much regard for the future - his goal was to try to extend Grit and Grind, then move in to a more defensively focused squad driven by youth, and almost every move (Jaren Jackson Jr. being the main exception) was meant to be, as Jason Wexler himself has put it recently, reactive and not proactive.
That will take its toll...and the new-look Grizzlies front office is going to carry the weight of those sins for some time. Whether it is fair or not.
So when fans are skeptical when someone takes over the entire organization that only really has experience on the business end of things, anger can creep up. When the new head of basketball operations is only 30 years old and has no experience beyond a test run the last few months in actually running an NBA franchise, doubt can, and will, be present. When the first hires those two newly promoted folks make are two more lawyers that, while some winning occurred, left organizations after failing to maintain those good times? And none of them have much NBA experience beyond an office space?
Well, you’re going to piss some people off. And again...in the absence of leadership and meaningful action...noise, some right and some wrong, fills the void.
“It’s more of the same!”
“Oh great, another lawyer!”
“They just did what they did with Bickerstaff last year!”
“Pera doesn’t care - he’s going to move the team, just watch!”
The hardest part? There really isn’t a quick fix. No band aids for the broken hearted and downtrodden of spirit. It is going to take hard work...and patience.
A lot of patience. And a willingness to dive deep in to that void.
The potential of Kleiman, the visionary possibilities of Wexler, the experience of Rich Cho and Glen Grunwald, the renewed investment in Chris Makris and Tayshaun Prince. All of it will be called upon. Years of being beaten down with incomprehensible ineptitude and plain old bad luck can leave a fan base cold. A nose to the grind stone and an eye to the future - with loud and clear voices that can sell it - will help ease fears. But talk will only do so much.
For fans to believe Memphis once again, it will take action.
It will start with nailing another front office hire or two - preferably including a former NBA player, someone who can watch tape or sit in a draft interview with Kleiman and be able to look him in the eye and say yes or no on someone based off their game, mindset...the things only someone who has competed at the highest levels of the game can see. The more different perspectives for Kleiman to hear - and not just hear, but listen to, for there is a difference - the better. He needs all the help he can get.
From there? The head coach. Whether a dream hire or one grounded in reality, it must be someone that can carry some of the burden that any employee of Pera that holds public responsibility will bear. They will need to not only execute the vision of the “brain trust”, but sell it on television, in press conferences, in radio and podcast appearances...essentially anywhere they can be seen or heard, they must inspire confidence in fans that the ship is no longer rudderless. That the path that has been chosen will be committed to.
And that the journey ahead is going to long...but purposeful.
Then there is the 2019 NBA Draft, and whether the Grizzlies have a pick, or if they trade in to the draft. After that (or perhaps during) there will be the task of moving on from Mike Conley...or not, depending on that previously mentioned vision. That vision must be through the eyes of a group that sees Jaren Jackson Jr. as the alpha and omega for Memphis moving forward - the teenager holds the key to the style of play that will get Memphis back to where they need to be. Trade Mike or don’t, pick or don’t pick...it all must be done with what is best for Jaren - and through him the franchise - in mind.
Everything must be done in earnest, with the intent of earning the respect and trust of the NBA and fan base, respectfully. It’s OK to be inexperienced - everyone that has ever walked the earth was at some point inexperienced in their profession. It’s also OK to not have all the answers right away, or to always have the right answers - even the greatest general managers fail in certain situations at times.
It’s the conviction and confidence that comes with knowing that any decision came from a clear, logical, and methodical, process that will count.
So while concern about this new front office and how it is being established is fair, it is not like we will have to wait long to find out just how things will work. Once the structure is set, and Pera has things to his liking, they will have to hit the ground running. There are many miles to travel this off-season and beyond as the redefinition of this franchise finally begins under “new” leadership. They deserve the chance to make the most of the opportunity.
But if these new voices fall short and silent? The void will again be all that is left behind.
And Robert Pera and his silence will continue to be the constant within the space of that failure.