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VOL. 129 | NO. 101 | Friday, May 23, 2014

 

Grizzlies Descend Deeper Into Unconscionable Chaos

By Don Wade

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Hard as it is to believe now, it was only May 3 when the Grizzlies last played a basketball game. Less than three weeks later, that Game 7 loss at Oklahoma City stands as the franchise’s last normal moment.

The NBA had suspended power forward Zach Randolph for a push/punch in Game 6, and, without their leading scorer and rebounder, the result was what everyone expected.

The next day, Sunday, May 4 at FedExForum, players met with the media. At that point, Jason Levien was still team CEO – why wouldn’t he be? – Stu Lush was still player personnel director and general manager Chris Wallace had not yet emerged from a Levien-induced slumber to try and explain that it was the most natural thing in the world for first-year coach Dave Joerger to talk to the Timberwolves about their vacant coaching job because Joerger’s from Minnesota.

Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace is back in the spotlight at the helm as the team moves through the recent front office changes.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

In fact, on that Sunday, less than 24 hours removed from a painful, season-ending defeat, the vision for the future was bright, and key players expressed unwavering confidence in a management team that starts at the top with controlling owner Robert Pera.

“Absolutely, I do,” center Marc Gasol said when asked if he had faith in management. “They want this team to win. There’s no reason for me not to believe it.

“They ask you stuff. They ask your opinion, but not your approval,” Gasol added with a little laugh. “Big difference.”

Makes you wonder what Gasol would say today, doesn’t it?

On the court, this most recent edition of the Grizzlies became experts at overcoming adversity that was out of their control. Multiple injuries, none bigger than the knee injury that cost Gasol 23 games, couldn’t even keep the Grizzlies from a 50-win season and a fourth straight postseason appearance.

But in recent days, off the court, the Grizzlies have operated as though, A) What the team did on the court ultimately didn’t matter, and B) Like the franchise is addicted to turmoil.

When Wallace was dispatched to meet with the media Tuesday, May 20, before the Minnesota Star-Tribune broke the news that Joerger would interview with the Timberwolves, Wallace at one point said: “I don’t see the transition being chaotic or abrupt at all.”

Now, of course, chaotic describes the state of the Grizzlies perfectly. And the timing is terrible. As Wallace himself said, “This is really the peak time of the off-season.”

Before all of this, it seemed logical to assume Randolph and the Grizzlies would work out a new contract for perhaps three years at less money per season. Short of that, everyone assumed Randolph at least would pick up the $16.5 million option for the 2014-2015 season and worry about the next contract later.

Wallace is good friends with Randolph’s agent, Raymond Brothers, so that’s encouraging. Unless it turns out Wallace is again about to be shoved back into the shadows.

Mike Miller also is a free agent and had a strong relationship with Joerger. If Joerger goes, one imagines Miller leaves too.

Much more important, Gasol can become a free agent after next season. He would be an attractive piece for any group of star players trying to form a championship consortium. Pera, of course, has said he wants to win a championship in Memphis. And Wallace carried that water, saying he believes it’s possible to aim that high as soon as next season.

“Why not?” Wallace said. “We’ve beaten everybody in the NBA at some point and time.”

Well, so has every other team in the league. The truth of the matter is that it’s a shorter trip from the NBA Lottery to the Western Conference Finals than it is from getting swept in the Western Conference Finals to winning an NBA title.

Gasol knows this too. Those last steps are the hardest. And right now, even talking about them seems ridiculous.

Pera gave Wallace “interim” control over basketball operations and the Grizzlies look likely to have their third coach in three years after the last two won a combined 106 regular-season games.

Wallace called the NBA a “change business” when trying to explain that the players will understand all this chaos, adding, “Most of those guys have been traded.”

But it is the franchise’s latest trade that will most influence players with big career decisions in front of them. And that trade, which for the moment is ongoing, is belief for doubt and answers for questions.

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