It wasn’t all that long ago that virtually every deal the Memphis Grizzlies did was tagged with the phrase “financial considerations.” And when queried why the Grizzlies did a particular deal, Vice President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Chris Wallace answered, “cap space” – as in, room beneath the NBA’s salary cap to make further personnel moves.
But during the period between 2006 and 2009, when the Grizzlies had the dubious distinction of having the league’s lowest winning percentage – 68 wins and 178 defeats – no one wanted to hear about “financial considerations” and “cap space.” The plethora of losses and prevalence of financially motivated personnel moves gave rise to a series of jokes.
“Can this guy ‘Cap Space’ really rebound?” Ha ha.
“Where did ‘Financial Considerations’ play before this, Iona College?” Chuckle.
With the Grizzlies’ signing of Marc Gasol to a four-year, $58 million deal, the laughs have subsided – and with good reason. Wallace and Grizzlies Chairman Michael Heisley have done something that bears note: They have retained the core from a team that is both young and extremely talented. The Grizzlies were a Game 7 victory in Oklahoma City (or perhaps a triple overtime game at home) away from advancing to the Western Conference finals against a Dallas team that had dropped three of four games to Memphis, including both games in Dallas.
Dream a little dream and the Grizzlies could have been in the NBA Finals.
Without Rudy Gay.
That’s heady stuff to be sure, but one of the prime reasons the Grizzlies are in the position of being one of the teams to watch this (abbreviated) season in the NBA is the deft stewardship of Heisley and Wallace to keep the roster intact while not going above the NBA’s luxury tax line, the crossing of which results in at least a dollar-for-dollar penalty. The Grizzlies have been built through the draft (Mike Conley), a draft-day trade (Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo), a highly controversial and widely panned trade at the time (Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies’ best friend, cap space) and free agency (Zach Randolph and Tony Allen).
Unquestionably, it isn’t easy to be a small-market team in the NBA. Without the glitz, glamour, outsized media contracts and endorsement opportunities, teams such as the Grizzlies and their playoff opponent Oklahoma City Thunder have to work harder and smarter to draft better, develop their players and manage their finances so they can keep their roster intact. Assembling a roster is no longer merely an exercise in putting together so many point guards, so many wing players and so many big men. It’s more about how their skills and talents mesh as a unit and – even more to the point – it’s a nerve-wracking, peril-fraught process of trying to balance on-court needs with (ahem) financial considerations.
Thus far, Heisley and Wallace have done an admirable job of walking that fine line in putting the most talented team in Grizzlies’ history on the floor for 2011-2012. The rest is up to the guys who bounce the ball and make the shots.
Peter Pranica is the Memphis Grizzlies’ television play-by-play announcer.