Chris Wallace

Grizzlies Fire J.B. Bickerstaff, Re-Assign Chris Wallace

3:44pm: The Grizzlies have sent out a press release officially confirming Bickerstaff’s firing and the front office changes detailed below.

“In order to put our team on the path to sustainable success, it was necessary to change our approach to basketball operations,” Pera said in a statement. “I look forward to a re-energized front office and fresh approach to Memphis Grizzlies basketball under new leadership, while retaining the identity and values that have distinguished our team.

“I want to thank Chris and John for their long-term service and dedication to the Memphis Grizzlies and for their considerable contributions to our past successes, and look forward to their contributions to our future ones. I also want to thank J.B. for his leadership and commitment to our organization in his time as our coach.”

3:01pm: The Grizzlies are shaking up their front office and coaching staff, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports (via Twitter) that the team has dismissed head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and re-assigned head of basketball operations Chris Wallace to the scouting department. VP John Hollinger will also move to a senior advisory role, Wojnarowski adds.

The Grizzlies will promote Jason Wexler to team president and will have him oversee both the basketball operations and business operations for the franchise, reports Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Wexler had previously been the club’s president of business operations.

According to Wojnarowski, Zach Kleiman – previously an assistant GM – will be elevated to executive VP of basketball operations and will take the lead on day-to-day basketball matters. Memphis will launch a search for a new head coach and will also pursue some more experienced basketball executives to join the front office, sources tell Woj (Twitter link).

The news comes just hours after Wallace addressed local media in his end-of-season press conference, telling reporters that he wasn’t particularly concerned about his job security and that Bickerstaff was expected to return for next season.

It’s not a particularly good look for the Grizzlies, who probably shouldn’t have let Wallace move forward with his end-of-season presser and discuss his plans for Memphis’ future if they intended to do this later in the day. David Cobb of The Memphis Commercial Appeal calls it “blatantly disrespectful” (Twitter link), while longtime Grizzlies beat writer Ronald Tillery asserts that team owner Robert Pera “doesn’t care about” Memphis’ fans or players (Twitter link).

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter), Bickerstaff conducted exit meetings with Grizzlies players today, discussing expectations for the summer and ways to improve. Bickerstaff’s own exit meeting with ownership happened afterward.

Bickerstaff, who took over as the Grizzlies’ interim head coach during the 2017/18 season when David Fizdale was fired, led the team to an underwhelming 15-48 record to finish the season. However, Memphis opted to make Bickerstaff the permanent head coach last spring, citing his connection with – and his ability to develop – the team’s players. After posting a 33-49 record in 2018/19, the Grizzlies will now once again be on the lookout for a new head coach.

As for Wallace, this isn’t the first time he has been demoted by Grizzlies ownership. Initially hired as the team’s general manager in 2007, he was displaced in 2012 when Jason Levien assumed control of basketball operations. Wallace regained his front office power in 2014, with mixed results since then.

Prior to selecting Jaren Jackson with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft, Wallace’s first-round selection since ’14 were Jordan Adams, Jarell Martin, and Wade Baldwin. His most notable free agent signing over the last few years was Chandler Parsons, who received a four-year, maximum-salary contract from the Grizzlies and has limited to just 95 games since then due to injuries.

While Wallace’s front office has made a few savvy moves, including netting a first-round pick for Jeff Green, his missteps – such as flipping that first-rounder to Boston for Deyonta Davis and Rade Zagorac – likely outnumbered his successes. Since winning 55 games in 2014/15, Memphis has gone 140-188 in four seasons and hasn’t won a playoff series.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Grizzlies Notes: Bickerstaff, Conley, FAs, Anderson

J.B. Bickerstaff‘s first full season with the Grizzlies may have been a little underwhelming in terms of the team’s win-loss record (33-49), but given all the injury problems that plagued the team throughout the year, it seems the team is happy with his performance. General manager Chris Wallace said as much today, telling reporters that Memphis plans to bring Bickerstaff back for next season, according to David Cobb of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“J.B. and his staff did a great job keeping everybody together and improving both individually and team-wise down the stretch,” Wallace said.

As for his own future, Wallace said he and owner Robert Pera have yet to sit down for their end-of-season meeting. However, he didn’t sound particularly concerned about his job security, per Cobb.

“That’s between me and Robert,” Wallace said. “I don’t want to go into that publicly. I’m very comfortable here and comfortable working with him and really not worried about my situation at all.”

[UPDATE: The Grizzlies have fired Bickerstaff and re-assigned Wallace]

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • According to Cobb, Wallace said today that he expects the Grizzlies to continue listening to trade offers for point guard Mike Conley this offseason, though that doesn’t mean Conley will be moved. “Teams are going to continue to knock on our door leading up to the draft and into the summer,” Wallace said. “We value Mike. We’d love to keep moving forward with him. We’ll see where it goes.”
  • The Grizzlies would like to retain the players they acquired in exchange for Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, including Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright, Wallace said today (via Cobb). Valanciunas has a player option for 2019/20; Wright will be eligible for restricted free agency. According to Wallace, Valanciunas is “a true Memphis Grizzly” who has loved playing in Memphis, while Wright “fit in very well both on and off the floor.”
  • Forward Kyle Anderson will undergo thoracic outlet decompression surgery next week on his right shoulder, the Grizzlies announced in a press release. He’s expected to make a full recovery and should be ready to go for the 2019/20 season, according to the team.
  • Joakim Noah will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and there’s no guarantee he’ll stick with the Grizzlies, but he appreciates that the club was willing to take a chance on him following his disastrous stint in New York. “Memphis was the only team that showed me any consideration,” Noah told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Asked if he expects to remain on an NBA roster next season, Noah replied, “F— yeah.”

Grizzlies Notes: Gasol, Wallace, Future

After getting off to a 15-9 start this season, the Grizzlies have lost 16 of their last 20 games and have slipped all the way to 14th in the Western Conference, leading to speculation that the team might consider trading longtime center Marc Gasol.

While Gasol didn’t have much to say about those rumors this week, he was a little more forthcoming when asked about the direction and future of the Grizzlies, And, as Mark Giannotto of The Memphis Commercial Appeal details, the veteran big man sounded uncertain about what’s next in Memphis.

“I don’t think we know exactly where the future is headed right now,” Gasol said. “Obviously, you’re a player, so you need to play and you need to win games. You cannot get caught up in what’s the future of the franchise. What are they going to do? What’s this guy going to do? You can’t do that because then you forget about what’s the most important thing to do and even though no player likes to be in that situation, you have to deal with it. It’s the way it goes. It’s just the nature of the beast. There’s nothing you can do.”

Within his column, Giannotto argues that the Grizzlies shouldn’t trade Gasol at this season’s deadline, since that sort of franchise-altering decision should be made by the general manager who will be overseeing the club for the next several years. Giannotto is unconvinced that Chris Wallace should be that GM — in Giannotto’s view, Wallace’s group “bungled the transition away from the Core Four” and has exacerbated Memphis’ issues by “whiffing on and needlessly trading away draft picks.”

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian took an informative, in-depth look at the Gasol question looming over the franchise, breaking down the pros and cons for moving the center and exploring what sort of return the team could expect in a trade.
  • Despite the Grizzlies’ slump, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said this week that there has been “no sign of punting” on the 2018/19 season, per David Cobb of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “There’s been no sign from the front office saying we’re not committed to trying to win basketball games,” Bickerstaff said. The Grizzlies’ coach added that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to experimenting with different lineup combinations to try to kick-start the club.
  • Matt John of Basketball Insiders explains why it may be more difficult than it seems for the Grizzlies to launch a rebuild.

Grizzlies GM Talks Draft Pick, Holiday, Parsons

After a 12-5 start, the Grizzlies‘ season has taken an unfortunate turn, with the team having lost 17 of its last 23 games, including the last six in a row. Memphis is now tied for 13th in the West, 3.5 games back of the eighth seed, which creates an interesting dilemma for the organization as next month’s trade deadline nears.

The Grizzlies owe their 2019 first-round pick to the Celtics, but that pick is top-eight protected, meaning Memphis will hang onto it if it ends up at No. 8 or better. Currently, the Grizzlies are tied for the ninth-worst record in the NBA, as our reverse standings show. If Memphis’ struggles continue, it might be in the franchise’s best long-term interests to prioritize keeping its draft pick for next season rather than attempting to push for the No. 8 seed.

As David Cobb of The Memphis Commercial Appeal relays, general manager Chris Wallace was noncommittal when asked if the Grizzlies expect to convey that first-round pick to Boston this year or potentially keep it: “We’ll see where the season takes us at this point in time. We still have half a season to go. We’ll be prepared for either eventuality.”

Memphis is in a tough spot, since bottoming out and hanging onto that 2019 first-round pick wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that the team eventually sends the Celtics a less favorable pick. That first-rounder will become top-six protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021 if it’s not conveyed in ’19, Cobb notes.

Here’s more from Wallace on some of the issues facing the Grizzlies, via Cobb:

On whether acquiring Justin Holiday signals that the team remains in win-now mode:

“Absolutely. We paid the price of a couple second-round draft picks to do so, and we think Justin is going to be a very productive player for us on both ends of the floor. He can shoot the three, he can score in addition to shooting the three. He can handle the ball, and he can guard on the other end. He’s someone also who our research tells us is a very high-character, winning individual.”

On whether the Grizzlies are prioritizing winning in the short term or focusing on the long term:

“We’re trying to strike a middle ground of being as good as we can in the here and now and also preparing for the future and not sacrificing anything for the future as well. That’s how you would characterize us, as a team that’s got a foot on both sides of that conundrum. Trying to be good right now and also have an outstanding future as well. I think, obviously, with Jaren [Jackson Jr.] here, that gives us a bridge to the future.”

On his assertion that the Grizzlies “definitely had good information” when they signed Chandler Parsons to a four-year, maximum-salary contract in 2016:

“Obviously, Chandler had done some interesting things as a player during his time in Houston and Dallas, and his skill-set fit what we needed. He was by far the best option at that time, so we took him. Unfortunately, he’s been injured since then, and it’s where we are today after those injuries.”

Chandler Parsons Says GM Won’t Let Him Play

Chandler Parsons insists he’s healthy enough to return to the lineup and blames Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace for his continued absence, relays Mark Giannotto of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Parsons, who missed his 32nd straight game tonight, discussed the situation after this afternoon’s shootaround. He insists his troublesome knee is no longer bothering him and he’s ready to start playing again.

“The most confusing part for me is I’m healthy,” Parsons said. “I’m medically cleared by the people I work with every single day, that are experts at this kind of stuff, so it’s frustrating to watch a team struggle and I’m sitting there on the bench healthy, dying to play.”

Parsons explains that he and the medical staff had been pointing toward a December 21 game in Sacramento for his return, ever since the knee started hurting again in late October. However, Wallace canceled that plan, saying he wants to see him play five-on-five in practice before returning, which Parsons claims he has done for two weeks with no soreness in the knee.

Parsons adds that Wallace hoped to send him to the G League “for a really long time, but didn’t tell me how long. Which also wasn’t going to happen.” Under the collective bargaining agreement, veteran players have the power to refuse G League assignments.

“No communication. No nothing,” Parsons said of the situation. “I don’t think it’s from a basketball standpoint. It’s definitely not from a health standpoint. I’ve been cleared by the medical staff of our organization, and clearly it’s not about fitting. I already earned a starting spot out of training camp and have shown I can fit with the team. I think the confusion for me is there’s no communication about what’s going on and when I’m going to play.”

Addressing the media two weeks ago, Wallace said the organization plans to be cautious with Parsons and “we’ll see where he is in the next few weeks.” Giannotto notes that Parsons has been injury plagued since coming to Memphis on a $94MM contract two years ago, and the team doesn’t want to risk its chemistry until it is confident he can contribute on a regular basis.

Grizzlies Owner Talks JJJ, Gasol, Bickerstaff, More

Due to an unusual agreement with a pair of minority stakeholders in the Grizzlies, Robert Pera‘s position as the franchise’s controlling owner was tenuous up until April of this year. At that point, Pera reached a deal to buy out those minority owners – Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus – to retain control of the team and to cement his status as the Grizzlies’ owner going forward.

As a result of his newly stable position, Pera became more involved with the team during the 2018 offseason, as he tells Geoff Calkins of The Daily Memphian in a wide-ranging Q&A. According to Pera, he was personally involved in “pretty much every single one” of Memphis’ offseason transactions, which included signing Kyle Anderson and drafting Jaren Jackson Jr.

Pera weighed in on the decision to draft Jackson and several other subjects, including whether Memphis fans should be worried about the threat of relocation. Let’s dive in and round up some of the highlights from the Grizzlies owner…

On drafting Jaren Jackson Jr.:

“One of the biggest reasons we drafted Jaren and also Jevon (Carter) is we did a really in-depth character background and he comes from very good upbringing. His mother is head of the Players Association of the WNBA. When you have players that have the physical attributes, a feel for the game, and they have solid character and solid upbringing, those are all characteristics of players who are some of the most special players in the league, like a Steph Curry.

On whether he’s confident Marc Gasol, who can reach free agency in 2019, will remain with the Grizzlies long-term:

“I can’t read his mind, but if it were up to me I certainly want him to retire as a Grizzly.”

On giving interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff the permanent coaching job instead of conducting a full-fledged search in the spring:

“One of the things I preached to the front office, I wanted continuity. I always say to the front office, if you want to build a high-performance team, the guys in the locker room can’t see a new face every other week. Right? You need to build a continuity and a familiarity where people can depend on each other, they know who’s in the room and they know they are going to war with the same people every night. A lot of the players knew J.B., so there’s continuity. But on top of that, we have this selfless style of basketball and culture and he’s a very selfless guy. He has the team’s best interest in mind. He fits perfectly with the team.”

On his ongoing confidence in GM Chris Wallace:

“I obviously had my hands in a lot of the moves this offseason, but the way I look at it is, collectively you make some bad decisions, and we made some good decisions, but we don’t like to point at certain people. It’s a collective effort. Chris and the front office, I think this offseason we really surpassed a lot of expectations.”

On whether Memphis basketball fans should be at all worried about him moving the franchise somewhere like Seattle:

“I don’t want any part in relocation. I have my own career, I’m trying to focus on it, I want to keep distractions and chaos to the minimum. I’m committed to Memphis for the long term. And in the world today, it’s so virtual. I have 15 research and development offices around the world, I probably only spend a third of my time in the U.S. When I’m in the U.S., I’m in a bunch of different cities. My employees are in a bunch of different time zones. I keep track of everything virtually. To me it doesn’t matter where the team is located. Memphis is as convenient a place as any. So, yeah, there should be no concern.”

Grizzlies GM Speaks Out On Failed Trade

The Suns traded Trevor Ariza to the Wizards this morning without any involvement from the Grizzlies after last night’s three-team deal collapsed because of confusion over whether Dillon Brooks or MarShon Brooks was being sent to Phoenix.

Memphis GM Chris Wallace spoke to reporters today about the drama and denied that his team had any role in making the Suns think they were getting Dillon instead of MarShon, writes Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian.

“We were very clear about who was in the trade,” Wallace said. “Contrary to reports, it was not Dillon Brooks. It put us in a very difficult situation with our players when individuals from one or both of those teams leaked the deal while we were playing last night. That forced me to do something I’ve never done in 30 years in this league working for seven teams: To drag two players out of the locker room to tell them they’d been traded and then come back and tell them, no, you haven’t been traded.”

The proposed deal would have sent Ariza to Washington, Kelly Oubre to Memphis and Austin Rivers, Wayne Selden and Brooks — either Dillon or MarShon — to Phoenix. It’s obvious why the Suns would prefer the 22-year-old Dillon Brooks, who was a second-round draft pick in 2017 and is coming off a promising rookie season. MarShon Brooks, 29, is with his fifth NBA franchise and was out of the league for more than three years before Memphis signed him last season.

The trade was virtually finalized before the Grizzlies and Suns realized they were talking about different players, which Wallace admits was an unprecedented turn of events.

“”Fortunately MarShon and Wayne are pros and after I explained it to them they’re both OK with the situation and we’re all moving forward,” Wallace said. “But what happened last night was unfathomable. From our standpoint, and we made this very clear, it was not Dillon Brooks.”

Wallace believes much of the confusion came about because the Grizzlies and Wizards were both occupied with games. News of the deal leaked before those games concluded, which may help to explain the contradictory reports. Herrington notes that original reports had Dillon Brooks as part of the deal, so it’s unlikely they came from Memphis.

Wallace explained that the trade began to come together Thursday afternoon, but most of the work was done Friday through “multiple discussions” with Washington. He adds that the three teams could probably have worked out the confusion behind the scenes if news of the deal hadn’t been leaked. He also suggested that the incident may make him wary about future dealings with the Suns and Wizards.

“I don’t carry grudges, but I’m not happy about what happened last night,” he said. “We were put in a very difficult position with our players, a position we take great pains not to get into, and we were forced to talk to them (about a trade) right after a loss in the locker room. This should all have stayed in house, and it didn’t, and that started the avalanche going downhill.”

Grizzlies GM Issues Statement On Failed Trade

For about an hour on Friday night, the Grizzlies appeared poised to finalize a three-team trade with the Suns and Wizards. The proposed deal would have sent Trevor Ariza to Washington and Austin Rivers to Phoenix, and would have allowed Memphis to acquire Kelly Oubre for Wayne Selden, two second-round picks, and one other player.

The confusion over the identity of that last player – whom the Grizzlies believed would be MarShon Brooks and the Suns thought was Dillon Brooks – ultimately killed the trade, as we outlined in a pair of stories.

Responding to a report that the Suns and Grizzlies discussed Dillon Brooks during the negotiating process – and to a report that Suns owner Robert Sarver and Grizzlies owner Robert Pera directly discussed Brooks – Memphis GM Chris Wallace issued a statement to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links) to strongly deny those rumors.

Here’s Wallace’s full statement:

“Robert Pera did not have any conversation with Suns owner Robert Sarver about the reported three-way trade. Our front office also didn’t have any conversations with Phoenix regarding the reported three-team trade prior to it leaking during our game tonight.

“We were floored to learn of the reports involving Dillon Brooks in the reported trade. We never discussed Dillon as part of this trade with Washington – which was the only team we spoke with concerning this proposed deal.”

It remains unclear what exactly happened during these negotiations that led to the Brooks-related mishap, as multiple reports from earlier in the evening suggested that the Suns and Wizards believed Dillon was the Brooks being discussed.

Whatever the truth is, none of the three teams come out of Friday night looking particularly good.

Grizzlies Notes: Evans, Chalmers, Bickerstaff

Throughout the entire second-half of the 2017/18 NBA season (i.e. after the trade deadline), the Grizzlies have maintained that they plan to re-sign guard Tyreke Evans to a new deal this summer, most likely with an offer for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception worth an estimated $8.6MM for the 2018/19 season.

This is because the Grizzlies only possess Non-Bird Rights on Evans, meaning the most they could pay him next season without the MLE or cap room is $3.948MM, 120% more than the $3.29MM he made this season.

And while the optimism in Memphis has not yet publicly waned, Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com writes that general manager Chris Wallace didn’t sound as convincing after the season that a successful pitch would be made to Evans in free agency as he did when he said the same thing after Evans was retained at the trade deadline.

As Wallace points out, Evans is unfortunately probably just as likely to sign a deal similar to Lou Williams – which would fit under the MLE – as he is to signing a one-year, high-paying contract, a la Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, for a team looking to clear cap space for the summer of 2019.

There’s more out of Memphis:

  • In another article for Grizzlies.com, Wallace focuses on veteran Mario Chalmers‘ pending free agency, writing that the soon to be 32-year-old point guard is likely only to return to the Grizzlies, if at all, as an end-of-free-agency option, likely on another minimum-salary contract.
  • New head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has not yet made any decisions on who he plans to hire onto his coaching staff, tweets Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal. Bickerstaff was just yesterday officially named head coach.
  • In a full article for The Commercial Appeal, Tillery reports that franchise cornerstone Marc Gasol is pleased with the hiring of Bickerstaff. “J.B. deserves a real shot at this without any restrictions,” Gasol said. “He has earned it… He’s always so positive. He always helps me understand, ‘Do your job. Control what you can control and the rest will take care of itself.’ Our communication has been really good. We’re both going in the same direction. And that’s important.” Both Gasol and Mike Conley were known supporters of Bickerstaff, so Gasol’s contentment should come as no surprise.

Grizzlies Rumors: Wallace, Bickerstaff, Evans, Gasol

The Grizzlies were viewed as a borderline playoff contender coming into the 2017/18 season, but dealt with injuries to key players like Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons, and ultimately finished the year as the league’s second-worst team. Despite Memphis’ disappointing results – and some questionable draft decisions and roster moves in recent years – GM Chris Wallace says he’s not expecting ownership to make any major front office changes this offseason.

“I understand the frustration of this past year,” Wallace said, per Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “But, I’m not going to take sole credit for this, the front office teams I’ve presided over won the most ever games in the history of this franchise. We were seven straight years in the playoffs. We also brought in four of what I call the extended Mount Rushmore or six most important players in of the franchise. One year out of the playoffs doesn’t necessarily mean we’re out of touch and no longer capable of doing the job.”

As for Wallace’s expectations for the coming offseason and the 2018/19 campaign? He fully expects the Grizzlies to bounce back from a dismal 2017/18 showing.

“The plan on the short-term side of it is to get back in the swing of things,” Wallace said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t be a very viable competitive team next year. … I’m excited about next year. I think we’ll be a pretty good team next year.”

The Grizzlies’ end-of-season sessions with the media resulted in a few more interesting tidbits, so let’s round them up…

  • As Tillery details, star players Conley and Marc Gasol both endorsed J.B. Bickerstaff, the Grizzlies’ interim head coach, who is considered a strong candidate for the permanent job. “He’s done a tremendous job with the tools he was given and with what he was allowed to do,” Gasol said. “Through all the mess and the situation, he€’s done a great job.” Conley simply told reporters that Bickerstaff “deserves this job.”
  • Wallace didn’t commit to sticking with Bickerstaff for 2018/19, but he offered praise of his own for David Fizdale‘s replacement, per Geoff Calkins of The Commercial Appeal. “I thought guys developed, they got better, and I give him credit,” Wallace said. “It’s not an easy assignment they were given in difficult circumstances. … The losses obviously piled up, you can’t point to any gaudy record, but you watch them day to day, step by step, practice by practice, there was improvement and everybody stayed on point and did not wallow in the fact that it was a difficult situation.”
  • According to Tillery, the Grizzlies remain hopeful that they’ll be able to re-sign Tyreke Evans using their mid-level exception this July. That was the plan reported back in February when Memphis opted to hang onto Evans through the trade deadline.
  • With Robert Pera poised to remain the controlling owner of the Grizzlies, Gasol plans on meeting with him this offseason to discuss the direction of the franchise, according to Calkins. “You want to hear what – now, knowing that Robert has full control again, and that he’s fully committed, not only to the team, but to the city — you want to know what direction we’re headed, what do you want out of this, what kind of team are you trying to put together?” Gasol said. “I want to know what he has to say and how he feels.”
  • While a trade is probably unlikely, Wallace acknowledged that the Grizzlies will keep all their options with their lottery pick, which will be a top-five selection (Twitter link via Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com).