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VOL. 129 | NO. 124 | Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grizzlies Seek NBA Draft Night Magic

By Don Wade

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Three years ago, you probably had never heard of Kawhi Leonard. He played at San Diego State, the same school from which the Grizzlies selected guard Jamaal Franklin in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft.

In 2011, Leonard went 15th overall to the Indiana Pacers, who then traded Leonard to the San Antonio Spurs.

This month, Leonard walked off with the NBA Finals MVP trophy as the Spurs defeated the Miami Heat.


“If you re-drafted that class today, he’d be the first or second pick,” said Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies’ interim director of basketball operations who has overseen several Memphis draft nights. “You go back and look, every one of these drafts is upside down.”

Some, of course, are more upside down than others. And longtime Grizzlies fans know that the home team sometimes has made the draft upside down all by itself (Hasheem Thabeet as the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 being Exhibit A).

The 2014 NBA Draft, which will feature new commissioner Adam Silver at the lectern for the first round instead of the second round now that David Stern has retired, is Thursday, June 26. The Grizzlies, as of this writing, possess one first-round pick (No. 22) and no second-round picks.

But as the Grizzlies conducted workouts over the last few weeks, they brought in scores of players who figure to go much later than 22 overall. With several teams holding multiple picks, that sets up a scenario in which the Grizzlies might be one of several teams active in the trade market on draft night.

In the Grizzlies’ case, they might be able to package the No. 22 pick and other assets to acquire multiple picks deeper into the draft. Or to move up a few spots if there is someone they really like. Wallace isn’t about to tip his hand and the team’s current needs are well-documented: more shooting (always, more shooting); more athleticism and scoring punch from the small forward spot; and perhaps a young point guard to groom with an eye toward two summers from now when Mike Conley can become a free agent.

“You want to learn the whole class, not just for this draft but for the future,” Wallace said. “You prepare for the draft as though you could end up with anywhere from the first to the 50th pick. You’re not just looking at a select group of players available at 22.”

One reason for this is the draft is sort of like a database: ever-changing. A team’s calculations as to what its next move should be are constantly requiring an update after the last pick or trade.

“Sometimes, there’s a run on a certain type of player,” Wallace said.

If you love the mock draft, there are plenty of places to go to play the guessing game on what the Grizzlies will do at 22. At draftexpress.com, the Grizzlies take shooting guard/small forward P.J. Hairston, who played in the NBDL after being dismissed from North Carolina.

Hairston is 6-5, 229 pounds, and averaged 21.8 points per game for the Texas Legends in 26 games. He shot 35.8 percent from three. He’s also the Grizzlies’ choice in the USA Today mock draft: “He could make an impact immediately,” the paper says, noting Hairston has the right demeanor and enough strength to be a defensive presence while also bringing offense.

Even Dick Vitale has the Grizzlies taking Hairston. Make of that what you will.

Yahoo Sports has the Grizzlies taking 6-8, 220-pound North Carolina State forward T.J. Warren. At nbadraft.net the choice was Missouri combo guard Jordan Clarkson.

“There might be 40-some guys from this draft that make a team,” Wallace said. “But making a team and being a guy that helps a team win are two different things.”

Wallace won’t be the only voice in the Grizzlies’ decision-making. Owner Robert Pera figures to have final say. Coach Dave Joerger will have a voice, too, and John Hollinger, vice president of basketball operations, also will have input.

There is an age-old question of talent vs. need when drafting, and Wallace ideally would like to take care of both with one pick. But he also says the draft can have swift currents that lead to faulty decision-making, adding, “You’ve got to make certain you don’t drown in your philosophy.”

Wallace was essentially shut out of the process during Jason Levien’s reign as team CEO, but now he is back in the game and looking forward to the process of trying to, as he puts it, “grab a good hunk of talent.”

“I love draft night,” Wallace said. “I watch the NFL Draft every year. I was intrigued by the NBA Draft before I started working in the league.”

He’d like it even more if instead of having one pick in the first round, he had several picks and thus more chances to hit a home run.

“Philadelphia has seven,” Wallace said. “I’m kind of envious.”

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