Jerry West’s Nightmare is Chris Wallace’s Goal
“You need lofty goals. Then cement it with a great work ethic.”
I still remember when I heard that Jerry West became the GM for the Memphis Grizzlies.
West was considered the architect for the Lakers Kobe and Shaq dynasty. He is the logo of the NBA and he was coming to Memphis. It turned the attitude of the franchise around. In two years he helped turn around professional sports’ worst franchise, according to Sports Illustrated, into a playoff participant. He never won a playoff game as the Grizzlies GM but he elevated the franchise.
Then Jerry West retired about a week before the 2007 NBA Draft. His retirement didn’t last long. He became a consultant and minority owner of the Golden State Warriors. Today, West is consulting the Los Angeles Clippers as they attempt to rebuild their franchise.
Why am I saying all this about Jerry West? To emphasise that Jerry West knows the NBA. When West makes a statement fans and front office people alike should listen.
Jerry West once told me that “the worst place a team can be is in the middle of the pack.” An early playoff exit team or one just failing to reach the playoffs can become a stagnant existence that makes it very difficult to reach the ultimate goal of becoming a champion. West believes that it is better to blow up a team in that situation and start over.
During this past season’s final press conference Chris Wallace told the assembled press that the Memphis Grizzlies short term goal is to return to the playoffs. He never said what his long term goal was.
That’s not exactly a lofty goal.
Maybe he has a mandate to maintain a playoff caliber team. Maybe he believes you can’t win a title if you aren’t in the playoffs. Maybe he just doesn’t agree with Jerry West. Whatever the reason Chris Wallace has made the short-term goal of the Memphis Grizzlies to reach the playoffs. Not to win in the playoffs. Just to get back there.
He bragged about how the Grizzlies reached the playoffs 7 consecutive years. Wallace boasted that the team he put together 8-10 years ago is still basically intact and thar it is rare that a team with their tradition can pick this high in the draft. He sounded content to simply add a rookie or two this season, bring back a healthy Mike Conley, hope for continued recovery from Chandler Parsons and all will be well.
I don’t believe Jerry West would agree.
“A lot of people would be happy that they got through a long career and had a chance to play as many times in the finals. To me, I wanted to win for the franchise and for the people. And when you can’t do that, it’s devastating, particularly for someone like me. “
Memphis is being asked not to accept mediocrity. It is worse than that. They are being asked to make mediocrity the goal.
The franchise’s leadership goal is just to make the playoffs. The fans are being asked to accept being an also ran and therefore not consider excellence as the ultimate goal of the franchise.
“The only thing I care about is winning. That’s all. If you don’t want to win, you don’t want to be around me.”
West believed that winning a championship is the only goal. If you aren’t building a team to try and win it all then you weren’t doing your job.
With the upcoming draft the Grizzlies have an opportunity to pick the next player to lead the franchise for a decade. Everyone was disappointed when the draft lottery dropped the Grizzlies to fourth but there are still talented people to choose at that spot.
Unless Chris Wallace trades the pick for some short-term relief to insure he makes the playoffs again.
“You can’t ever totally know what’s inside of someone else, or see the kind of will someone like Magic has. You have to rely on your instincts to find people who hate losing and know how to win.”
Deandre Ayton, Luke Doncic, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, Michael Porter, Mohammed Bamba, Trae Young. These are the big names. Three most likely will be gone but that still means the Grizzlies could choose a big name rookie. It is the General Managers job to figure out which one of these players is going to be more than just talented. He has to find the one who hates losing and knows how to win.
Chris Wallace told me that it is the draft where teams like Memphis find their talent. They can’t really compete in free agency and trades are difficult to pull off. The draft is where you need to take the best player you can find because you are in control of the process.
Jerry West once said that “Memphis deserves a championship team, and I am committed to that goal.” David Fizdale said he intended to build a championship team here in Memphis. Chris Wallace said the short term goal is to return to the playoffs and left unanswered the long term goal.
Chris Wallace’s goal is Jerry West’s nightmare scenario in other words.