Commentary

What were the Grizzlies thinking? The GM explains

Originally Published: January 17, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

When the pundits were throwing around the phrase "executive of the year" Friday after the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, they weren't talking about Chris Wallace.

No, the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies was more apt to draw comparisons to Rob Babcock.

But before we all start equating Wallace with the ex-Toronto Raptors GM whose career will be defined by his trade of Vince Carter for two No. 1s and two warm bodies (Eric Williams and Aaron Williams, along with Alonzo Mourning, who refused to report to Toronto and was bought out), let's give the man in Memphis a chance to explain what he and the Grizzlies were thinking.

Was this really the best deal out there? And why make it now, three weeks before the trading deadline?

"Well, we've been trolling these waters for a while, we've dealt with a number of teams and I didn't see that it would get any better than this," Wallace told ESPN.com Friday night in a telephone interview. "We got what was pretty much the biggest expiring contract out there [Kwame Brown], a player we like in Javaris Crittendon, two No. 1 picks and Pau Gasol's brother [Marc Gasol], who we think would be a high No. 1 pick if he came out this year instead of last year.

"So we're looking at it like we're getting four No. 1 picks," Wallace said.

Wallace also emphatically denied that the deal with the Lakers, in which Memphis acquired Brown, Crittendon, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and two future No. 1 picks, was ordered by owner Michael Heisley to make the Grizzlies more attractive to a potential buyer. Heisley has been trying to sell the franchise for nearly two years, and the $49 million obligation to Gasol over the next three seasons could have been viewed, for purposes of a franchise sale, as more of a liability than an asset.

"Heisley did not push me to do this," Wallace said. "No one put pressure on me to do this, and Michael Heisley has actually been reluctant to move Pau. So this wasn't about enhancing franchise value."

Wallace estimated the Grizzlies could be about $17 million under the salary cap in the summer of 2009 if they refrain from using their space over the upcoming summer and fill out next year's roster with players on one-year contracts.

Acknowledging the logjam at point guard, Wallace said he does not anticipate going into next season with Crittenton, Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley all on the roster.

"It'll be like locking the three of them in a room. We'll see which two come out, and we'll move the other guy," Wallace said.

As for Mike Miller, whom many expect to be the next high-salaried Memphis player to be moved (he makes $8.2 million this season and $18.8 over the next two), Wallace acknowledged there has been plenty of interest but cautioned: "I'm not trading him for nothing. I can see us going forward with him."

Wallace also said he spoke privately Friday with Gasol's best friend on the Grizzlies, Juan Carlos Navarro, and encouraged him to play hard and try to enhance his value as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Navarro's longterm future with Memphis will be impacted by which direction the Grizzlies go in the draft, Wallace said.

"I told him face to face: 'We don't see you as joined at the hip with Pau. You're entertaining, the fans love you, you're playing in the rookie game and our interest in you continues,'" Wallace said.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.