In mid-December, the Memphis Grizzlies hired former ESPN basketball writer John Hollinger as their new VP of Basketball Operations. And the Grizzlies’ front office has been extremely active during his brief tenure, trading Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby, and a future first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forward Jon Leuer. Initially assumed to be a salary dump so the team could afford to keep Rudy Gay, Memphis turned around and dealt Gay to the Toronto Raptors in a three-team trade last night. But in light of future tax threshold penalties to which Memphis would be subjected, moving Gay was an inevitability.
The full specs of the trade are as follows:
Toronto Raptors receive: Rudy Gay, Hamed Haddadi
Memphis Grizzlies receive: Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Tayshaun Prince, 2nd round pick
Detroit Pistons receive: Jose Calderon
The reaction to the deal has been varied, but most agree that Memphis, despite giving up Gay, didn’t get robbed. Some have even argued that they came away a winner. Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, however, doesn’t feel that way. He thinks Memphis blew it up their roster way too early, claiming they’ve prematurely given up on a playoff-contending season. He further argues that new owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien’s financial wherewithal will undermine the Grizzlies’ longterm viability as a championship contender, starting with these most recent trades, in particular. All of this comes within the scope of his vague and largely unsourced claims about LeBron wanting to return to Cleveland.
The majority of Woj’s Memphis-aimed criticism is levied at Pera and Levien, but that further boils down to their choice of personnel to make basketball decisions. On this level, he shines the spotlight on one person in particular. As for who will be the focus of his editorial wrath, well we first get some warning shots in the third paragraph:
“James has helped to make it so profitable to be an NBA owner that Robert Pera bought the Grizzlies, hired a front office of novices, ran out a successful scouting staff and began to unload genuine assets for pennies on the dollar.”
So who are these novices, exactly? Oh, novice, singular:
“Levien is making these deals based largely on the recommendations of John Hollinger, a statistician who worked for a cable sports company. The San Antonio Spurs once used him as a consultant and regretfully took his advice to sign a free agent named Jackie Butler. It was such a disaster, the Spurs had to attach Luis Scola to a trade to get Butler out of town.”
That first “cable sports company” burn, well maybe that’s just some good-natured ribbing of ESPN – something they deserve every once in a while. But then it gets oddly personal, Woj ripping Hollinger to shreds. By itself, fine: NBA executives are often subject to personal criticism for their personnel moves. But assessing the facts stated, it appears Woj’s agenda is an all-encompassing Hollinger takedown, because he conveniently fudges facts to state his case.
In particular, let’s revisit the trade that landed Butler and Scola in Houston. When the trade went down in 2007, Luis Scola had yet to play a single NBA game. Though he was drafted in 2002 by the San Antonio Spurs, it wasn’t until 2005 that San Antonio attempted to buy him out of his contract with Tau Ceramica, his Spanish basketball team. And though he was a known commodity at the time – he won MVP of the Spanish league in 2005 and 2006 – Tau Ceramica’s $3.2 million buyout request complicated negotiations with the Spurs. Per NBA rules, San Antonio was prohibited from contributing more than $500,000 to that sum. Therefore a large chunk of Scola’s contract would have to go toward paying the remaining $2.7 million, driving up his price as a player. Because San Antonio was unwilling to open their wallet to circumvent this financial setback, they dealt Scola’s draft rights to Houston in ’07 (which Scola requested, by the way). Shortly after Scola signed with the Rockets for 3 years and $9.3 million.
All of which is to say that Jackie Butler was a blip on the radar in this deal: Luis Scola was the centerpiece and the reason for the trade, and Butler was only along for the ride. (He was waived by Houston during the preseason and he never played in the NBA again.) We’re also not really sure where this claim of having to “get Butler out of town” comes from: in the 2006 offseason, the Knicks did not match the Spurs’ three-year, $7 million offer sheet for Butler, who was a restricted free agent at the time. Even though, as Woj notes, he did not end up working out with San Antonio because he could not crack the regular rotation (he only appeared in 11 games), his relatively minuscule contract rendered him mostly insignificant. And so the failure was a tiny one, barely impacting the franchise at all and not some colossal “disaster,” as Woj exaggerates.
As for why this one-sided feud has erupted, well, we don’t know. And until we do, we’re just going to chalk this up to a case of sour grapes. Because who doesn’t love a good writer feud?