John Hollinger

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’ Hollinger Talks Offseason, Evans, Brooks, Tax

After winning just 22 games in 2017/18, the Grizzlies entered the summer as a capped-out team with limited resources to make major upgrades. Still, the club made use of its lottery pick, the mid-level exception, and various trade assets in an effort to improve its roster and return to playoff contention for 2018/19.

Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger spoke to Peter Edmiston of The Memphis Commercial Appeal about the club’s offseason, addressing Memphis’ major personnel moves, the decision not to bring back Tyreke Evans, the team’s proximity to the tax line, and more.

The conversation is worth checking out in full, particularly for Grizzlies fans, but here are a few highlights from Hollinger:

On whether the Grizzlies’ achieved their primary offseason goals:

“People have this idea that you come in with a plan, when you really need about 20 or 30 different plans that are contingent on other things that may or may not happen. I’d say the outcome here was close to our best- or better-case scenario. We were able to get a player we really wanted (Jaren Jackson Jr.) with our pick, using our mid-level exception to get what we see as a long-term piece in Kyle Anderson. Those were two huge things for us, not just for the present but for the future of this team. I guess it’s too early to say whether we nailed those or not, but we feel pretty good about the outcomes we had from that. Those were probably the primary goals and we achieved them.”

On the Grizzlies’ decision not to trade Tyreke Evans at last year’s deadline because they planned to re-sign him:

“Hindsight is always 20-20. You make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. We had no idea that MarShon Brooks was going to emerge as a potential bench scorer for us that could make it easier for us to go in a different direction and go after someone like Kyle with our mid-level.

“I look at it like it was a stock option. We knew there wasn’t a 100% chance we were going to be able to re-sign Tyreke. There was some percentage chance we had to estimate based on the factors in the market, and we had to weigh that relative to the return that we were looking at on trading him, which was likely to be pretty paltry. 

“When you’re dealing with second-round picks in the 50s that end up on playoff teams, now you’re getting into a scenario where there’s been six rotation players picked in the last 10 years, so you’re getting into pretty low odds you can get anything out of that.”

On the impression Brooks made on the Grizzlies late in the 2017/18 season:

“There’s obviously an eye test element to this, because we’ve all seen people do things in April that aren’t necessarily replicable in November. But at the same time, these weren’t garbage games for our opponents on most nights. Minnesota’s fighting for a playoff spot, and he’s basically our go-to guy in the fourth quarter to help win that game. Utah, at Utah, is playing for seeding with their best players, an elite defensive team, and he’s getting buckets.”

On the Grizzlies’ team salary currently sitting narrowly below the tax line:

“We’re comfortable where we’re at, there may be one or two small moves still coming as we optimize things a bit, but I don’t really see any haymakers coming. I think we’re pretty happy with how our offseason has gone, and the types of guys we’ve brought in. The luxury tax dance is one I’m familiar with — this is my seventh season, and in six of them we’ve danced right up to the line, so this is not unfamiliar territory.”

Grizzlies Extend Three In Front Office

The Grizzlies have agreed to multi-year extensions with GM Chris Wallace, VP of Basketball Operations John Hollinger and VP of Player Personnel Ed Stefanski, according to a team press release. The terms of the three deals were not disclosed, per the team’s policy.

“I am pleased to announce that our Basketball Operations executive team, led by General Manager, Chris Wallace, will continue to lead our franchise for years to come,” controlling ownder Robert Pera said. “Chris, John and Ed bring a wealth of NBA experience and success, and have done a tremendous job establishing the strong culture that I believe is necessary to ensure sustained success in this ultra-competitive environment. More importantly, I am confident that the toughness, resilience, discipline and unselfishness that are embedded in the fabric of our culture will continue to serve as a point of pride for Memphis, the surrounding region and all Grizzlies fans.”

Wallace joined the organization back in 2007 and the team believes the culture he helped established has been a major factor in attracting players in free agency as well as retaining its own free agents.

Hollinger joined the Grizzlies in 2012 and he is best known for his work in the field of basketball analytics. Stefanski, who is a graduate of University of Penn’s Wharton School of Business, has been with the team since 2014.

Grizzlies Notes: Joerger, Wallace, Hollinger

Jason Levien is no longer CEO of the Grizzlies, but he does retain a small minority ownership share of the team, as Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal notes via Twitter. It’s just one piece of an odd-looking puzzle in the wake of the Grizzlies’ announcement Monday that Levien and assistant GM Stu Lash are no longer at the controls. Calkins gives a fuller picture in a pair of subscription only pieces, pointing out that owner Robert Pera only let one of the Grizzlies’ multitude of minority owners, other than Levien, know about the shakeup ahead of time. Joe Nicosia and Pitt Hyde, speaking for a group of Memphis-based minority owners, issued a press release minutes ago.

We would like to thank Jason for his contributions to Memphis and wish him well in his future endeavors,” the statement reads. “We fully support Robert in his building of a world-class organization and look forward to continuing to work in concert to achieve our ultimate goal of bringing a championship parade down Beale Street.  We are confident that as the 2014/15 season draws near, all of Grizz Nation will share in our excitement regarding the future of this organization.”

Here’s more from Calkins’ pieces:

  • Coach Dave Joerger hasn’t met with Pera, but he did meet with Pera’s attorney, Joe Abadi, who assured him that he’ll remain as coach, according to Calkins.
  • The last time GM Chris Wallace set foot in the Grizzlies offices was last summer, as he tells Calkins. Wallace had been marginalized under Levien’s regime.
  • Wallace is fully confident that vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger will stay with the organization after speaking with him, as Wallace tells Calkins, and the organization would like to retain the former ESPN.com writer, Calkins adds. Still, Calkins casts doubt on Hollinger’s willingness to stick around.
  • Neither Levien, Lash or Joerger saw Monday’s developments coming, Calkins hears.
  • Calkins’ sources are split on whether Levien’s rancorous history as part of the Sixers and Kings organizations repeated itself in Memphis, leading Pera to oust him.
  • Levien’s supporters allege that David Mincberg, whom Levien hired as a protege of sorts, helped force Levien out, Calkins reports.

Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien Steps Down

2:29pm: The Grizzlies announced via press release that “following discussions with management, the decision was made for” Levien and Lash to “depart the organization.”  GM Chris Wallace, who saw his authority neutralized under Levien’s regime, will “assume interim responsibility” for the team’s basketball operations.

Our franchise has made tremendous strides over the last few seasons and we thank Jason for his hard work and dedication and wish him nothing but success in his future endeavors,” said Grizzlies owner Robert Pera. “Rest assured that we remain as committed as ever to bringing a championship to this great city and we are confident that when the new season begins our fans will be excited about both our roster and the direction of our organization.”

1:40pm: Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien is poised to resign after assistant GM Stu Lash was dismissed, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com (on Twitter).  Meanwhile, the futures of coach Dave Joerger and executive vice president John Hollinger are uncertain after a clash between owner Robert Pera and current management (link).

Levien, a former agent and 76ers minority owner, was named CEO in November 2012.  Levien hired Lash and Hollinger, a former Nets beat writer and ESPN scribe, to high-ranking front office roles shortly after taking the reigns in Memphis.

Tensions are high in Memphis after the Grizzlies won 50 games and pushed the Thunder to a seven-game series but ultimately lost.  There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Grizzlies’ roster this summer as well, as Zach Randolph has a player option worth $16.9MM.  For the star forward, that number would signify a pay cut from the $18.2MM he earned last season.

The Grizzlies figure to have lots of flexibility even if Randolph exercises his option, as Chuck Myron wrote earlier this month.  What isn’t clear is who will be allocating those dollars.

Hollinger On Grizzlies, Reaction, Hollins

Late last week, the Grizzlies made headlines when they hired ESPN’s John Hollinger as their new Vice President of Basketball Operations.  The move was significant for a couple of reasons.  Hollinger is making the rare leap from journalist to front office executive and is doing it thanks to his analytics background.  The world of baseball has been aware of the power of analytics for quite a while, but it wasn’t until recent years that the NBA caught up.  Hollinger spoke with 92.9 ESPN in Memphis to talk about the transition and Eric Schmoldt of Sports Radio Interviews has the goods..

On the reaction from old-school basketball people and players:

“So far, so good. I haven’t had a chance to spend much time with the players yet because the first day of work, you spend a lot of time just filling out forms, random stuff like that, and just meeting lots of people. … So, I’m hoping in the next couple of days, to really do that. I met some of the coaches today at practice, and that was great. … It’s something I’m looking forward to over the next couple of days, but as far as how I’ve been received, so far everything’s been really great. If anyone has any grievances about it, they’ve kept it well-hidden.”

On how he’ll have to adjust his commentary on basketball:

“That’s going to be really interesting. I really want to keep up some kind of dialogue with people and use [my Twitter] account to do that, but I can’t do it in the same way that I did. The biggest thing is I just can’t really talk about players on other teams. That’s the biggest limitation. It kind of changes things, somewhat, and I’m still learning, I guess. … I’m still figuring out how that voice is going to work, but I’m still going to be out there on Twitter somehow and having that dialogue with people.”

On his notoriety in basketball:

“I would say it’s mostly coaches and executives. There are some players who do know me, and I know because they tell me. … But, I think a lot of them, you’re right, just haven’t been following me, and that’s fine. It’s not their job to follow what I’m saying. It’ll be interesting as we get into it, but I don’t know that it’s really going to affect anything. Even players that are aware of you and might be following you, their day-to-day interaction isn’t really with me, it’s with the coaching staff.”

On being a new-school guy working with a coach in Lionel Hollins that appears to be really old-school:

“I think the biggest thing to look at is that people will always want to make the strong-man argument, that you’re trying to replace the previous knowledge. That’s not the case; you’re trying to add to it. If I can add things to what they already know, then that becomes really helpful. I think the biggest thing is, you have to kind of build the relationship and build the trust and kind of start with things that are more easily grasped and then try to move on from there. I’m definitely going to be available to help them as much as I can, and we’ll just see how it goes from there. He’s had plenty of success without me, but at the same time, I think there are probably ways that I could potentially help him, and once we start really working with each other, we can figure out where that balance is.”

Southwest Notes: Wallace, Hollinger, Ross

While previous reports have indicated that GM Chris Wallace's role with the Grizzlies wouldn't change after the hiring of John Hollinger and Stu Lash, Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that Wallace, Hollinger and Lash are expected to have equal input with CEO Jason Levien, who'll have final say on basketball matters. While Wallace expressed a willingness to work in the new environment, Tillery wonders if this might signal the end of Wallace's tenure in Memphis, writing that "only time will tell" how long he stays on board. Here's more on the Grizzlies front office and other news from the Southwest Division.

  • Tillery notes the Grizzlies hiring of Hollinger isn't the first time the team has employed an analytics specialist in the front office. Aaron Barzilai, who's now with the Sixers, worked for the Grizzlies as a consultant for several years.
  • Beckley Mason of The New York Times wonders if the Spurs have been sitting Matt Bonner, with whom they're more efficient than when he's not on the floor, to give more minutes to DeJuan Blair in an effort to showcase Blair for a trade.
  • The Mavericks had interest in Terrence Ross before the Raptors took him eighth overall this June, reveals Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com (Twitter link). The Mavs held the 17th pick in the draft before trading it to the Cavaliers, so that means they were either thinking of trading up or believed Ross might slip out of the lottery.
  • Chandler Parsons was a steal for the Rockets in the second round of the 2011 draft, but the 6'9" small forward was convinced he was headed elsewhere, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle details. "I thought I was going to go to the Celtics, 100 percent," Parsons said. "That was probably my best workout. I killed it." 
  • We went in-depth on the summer moves made by the Mavs and Hornets today as part of the Hoops Rumors Offseason in Review series.

Odds & Ends: Sixers, Hollinger, Smith, Blazers

After the 76ers parted ways with Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Louis Williams and others last season, they were in need of a veteran leader.  The Sixers found their man in veteran point guard Royal Ivey, who was an excellent locker room presence for the Thunder last season, writes Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.  Royal Ivey and the Andrew Bynum-less Sixers are taking on the Pacers in Indiana tomorrow night.  Here's more from around the Association..

  • The Grizzlies' hiring of John Hollinger and Stu Lash won't change the status of current General Manager Chris Wallace, sources tell Marc Stein of ESPN.com (via Twitter).  Hollinger was hired by Memphis earlier today as the club's new Vice President of Basketball Operations.
  • Hawks forward Josh Smith is happy in Atlanta, and he discussed his new found zen in detail with Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype.  "I've always had a good relationship with the management. It's nothing against Rick Sund, but Danny Ferry worked for a lot of successful organizations in Cleveland and San Antonio, so I think he brought that winning attitude to this team and it has trickled down to the coaches and the players," Smith said.
  • The Blazers are happy with the EuroLeague assets they received in their Ray Felton/Kurt Thomas trade with the Knicks, writes Nick Gibson of Sheridan Hoops.  Small forward Kostas Papanikolaou is shining for Olympiacos and has nailed at least 50% of his threes in all but one game this season.

Grizzlies Hire John Hollinger

6:10pm: Hollinger will serve as the Vice President of Basketball Operations, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe (via Twitter).   The Grizzlies also hired former Nuggets employee Stu Lash as Director of Player Personnel, according to Chris Herrington of The Memphis Flyer (via Twitter).

5:20pm: The Grizzlies have hired ESPN's John Hollinger to a front office position, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal (via Twitter).  Hollinger is best known for his statistics-heavy analysis and Player Efficiency Rating (PER) metric, which crunches numbers from every portion of the box score to quantify a player's performance.

"It's incredibly difficult to leave ESPN, but the chance to work for an NBA team and the Grizzlies' new ownership was an irresistible opportunity," Hollinger told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

The Grizzlies, under new owner Michael Pera and CEO Jason Levien have made a concerted effort to focus in on basketball analytics.  The Rockets made a similar leap in 2007 when they tabbed MIT graduate Daryl Morey as their General Manager. 

Ironically, Hollinger's resume and career path have a great deal in common with Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn.  Kahn worked as a full-time sportswriter for six years and both were previously employed by The Oregonian.  Hollinger has been critical of Kahn's decision making during his tenure in Minnesota.

In addition to ESPN.com and The Oregonian, Hollinger also wrote for the New York Sun and Sports Illustrated.