In many ways, the Memphis Grizzlies are at the heart of this NBA lockout; much in the same way the city of Memphis lies in the heart of the continental 48 states.
Small-market team? Yep.
Did the owner pay too much for them in 2001? No doubt.
Locally financed arena? Of course.
Expensive helpers like Dick Versace, Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly, Jerry West and Mike Fratello hired to help the fledgling team through the lean years. You remember.
Too high of a payroll, for too long, as the team attempted to make the first round of the playoffs from 2004 to 2006? Definitely.
A billionaire owner who has gone great guns elsewhere, but wants revenue sharing to offset the wild ways he's spent on a team whose market doesn't really pay for its payroll? That would be Michael Heisley. And Heisley, whether he's being coy and duplicitous or really just doesn't care, is pleading the fifth on lockout back and forth. From the Memphis Commercial Appeal (via SI.com's Zach Lowe):
"I know very little. I'm not on the negotiating committee so I can only tell you that I think on both sides -- all of us -- hope we have a season," Heisley, the event's keynote speaker, told a crowd in the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis. "The players want to play. The owners want to play. It's a difficult negotiation. But they are all working very hard."
Ladies and gentleman, please introduce yourselves to the Rasheed Wallace of NBA owners!
The "I know very little" line can and probably will be taken out of context. You may not be much of a fan of Heisley, but he's also asked to act innocuous on-record by the NBA and that's exactly what he's done.
With that in place, as much as any owner out there, Michael Heisley needs to be on the negotiating committee. As we talked about earlier in this post, his team's plight (even if it could be one of the Western Conference's up and comers, and have made the playoffs four times since Heisley bought the squad 11 years ago) is symptomatic of an NBA spending culture gone wrong.
We've been huge fans of Brian Cardinal for decades, and appreciated his on/off court splits following his 2003-04 season, but it was the Grizzlies that signed him to a giant mid-level exception deal soon after. They hired expensive non-GMs to give the franchise credibility. They went after Eddie Jones and Damon Stoudamire in 2005 so as to sustain a run at the West's eighth seed. They dumped Pau Gasol on a big-market team (in what then looked like a lopsided move, though it allowed for Memphis to eventually secure perhaps the best center/power forward tandem outside of Los Angeles) in 2008. They have ideas above their station, while still crying poverty every few years.
Heisley's team has no doubt been brought up by both sides in this NBA labor negotiation, and though we've no qualms with him saying what he said in front of Memphis Commercial Appeal reporters, he should probably stick his nose inside the negotiations more often -- even mindful of the fact that too many cooks often spoil the broth.