Jason Wexler

Magic, Grizzlies, Others Address Return-To-Play Format

While every NBA team probably has at least one reason not to be thrilled with the 22-team plan and format the league has settled on for this summer’s return to play, the Magic and Grizzlies are among those who should theoretically have the biggest grievances.

[RELATED: Details on NBA’s Return-To-Play Plan]

After all, both teams had comfortable leads for the No. 8 seed when the season was suspended in March. Now they’ll have to win a play-in tournament to secure their respective spots in the postseason if they don’t hold a four-game lead on the No. 9 team in the conference after this summer’s eight “seeding games.”

Speaking to Josh Robbins of The Athletic, however, Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman wasn’t critical of the NBA’s plan. Asked multiple times if potentially putting the No. 8 seed up for grabs is fair to the Magic, Weltman was evasive, stressing that his team will try to avoid putting itself in a position where a play-in tournament is necessary, either by catching the Nets or maintaining a big cushion over the Wizards.

“I don’t really think it’s about what’s right for one team,” Weltman said. “I think the league looked at what could be the best way to proceed forward as a league, and there are 30 teams, really all with differing agendas. … There’s no sense in looking at ways to format the rest of the season. Those discussions have come and gone. Now we’re onto actions. It’s time to get ready to play and compete.”

Grizzlies president Jason Wexler also toed the company line in discussing the summer format and its impact on Memphis, as Jason Munz of The Memphis Commercial Appeal relays.

“We know how difficult it was for them to try and balance all those competing interests. From our perspective, they certainly addressed the success the team had through the first, roughly, 80 percent of the season — 65 games. And, you know, gave that some weight and credit,” Wexler said, referring to the fact that any play-in tournament would be double-elimination for the No. 8 team, compared to single-elimination for the No. 9 team. “Accordingly, we felt comfortable with what they came up with to move forward.”

No NBA team has issued a statement that doesn’t express support and respect for the decision that commissioner Adam Silver and the league had to make. However, while comments from teams like the Magic and Grizzlies have been fairly innocuous, statements from some of the bottom eight teams that will be left out of the Orlando bubble this summer have expressed more disappointment with the decision.

The Cavaliers, for instance, issued statements that mentioned their disappointment multiple times and stressed that they “would have preferred to continue playing.” The Hawks put out a press release this morning noting that “this certainly wasn’t how we hoped our season would come to an end.”

“It’s fair to say that we are disappointed that our young team will not be allowed to gain more valuable time playing together by being included in the restart of the season,” GM Travis Schlenk and head coach Lloyd Pierce said in a joint statement. “With that said, we understand and respect the countless difficult factors that entered into this decision for the league, and we realize that there are much more important things taking place in our community right now that deserve our attention.”

Ultimately, while everyone may not be thrilled with the outcome, teams recognized that Silver believed his plan was in the best interest of the league as a whole, and the results of Thursday’s Board of Governors vote reflected that — 29 of 30 teams voted in favor of the proposal, with the Trail Blazers representing the only “no” vote.

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.