As Robert Pera stepped to the mic yesterday for the first time since his Nov. 2 Home-Opener Address, he faced plenty of questions about the current state and direction of his team. After all, these Grizzlies were a different lot than the ones he’d taken over, the ones he’d watched jump out to the NBA’s best record before approving their overhaul since his last public appearance.
While the questions have flown, Pera has not seemed entirely consistent (or educated) in his stance, leaving even more uncertainty about his intentions going forward. This outlines the obvious massive chasm between the technology industry – where Pera, obviously a brilliant businessman, has made billions – and the NBA.
Delegate his dealings to Jason Levien and John Hollinger as he may, the man truly at the helm of this organization claims to be motivated by wins and not the “bottom line”, a mystifying position given its direct contradiction to the trades made so far. Both on paper and on the court, the current Grizzlies are a shell of the team that had the whole League on alert in November, but have swept countless millions in salaries and luxury tax off their books (while Pera noted “ownership…is still shoring up sponsorship agreements”).
His motives for the Cleveland deal seem nebulous; Pera insists it was part of “leverage” for the Gay trade (itself much scrutinized). Most NBA analysts saw the move as a potential waste of the 1st-round pick they dealt. Most Grizz fans saw it put their team under this year’s salary cap without significantly hurting their core. Ultimately, many feel the “value” that was “leveraged” from the Gay deal wasn’t the best offer to be had.
Unfortunately, this isn’t where the lack of clarity ends.
Any attempt to disguise last month’s trades as anything other than a salary dump (as Pera is venturing to do) is pure dishonesty, something that probably won’t endear too well to Memphis’ blue-collar fanbase. Last week, in an online chat with season ticket holders, Pera went so far as to call the Grizzlies ‘a far more dangerous playoff team’, citing a loose understanding of the defense-favoring pace playoff basketball takes on, and the recent Spurs and Pistons as historical proof of teams winning without “dominant superstars”.
In doing this, Pera is demonstrating not only a lack of historical basketball perspective, but insulting the intelligence of anyone he expects to believe him. His refusal to acknowledge Tim Duncan as a “dominant superstar” is absurd, and speaks to a low NBA IQ . The Pistons team he refers to was not only a perfect storm of defense and chemistry (the latter of which he’s bludgeoned since his arrival), but the only team to win a title without Duncan, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Isaiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Moses Malone or Magic Johnson in the last 34 years. “Historical proof” that Pera doesn’t really know what he’s talking about.
Further proof lies right in front of us: the team that Pera is trying to masquerade as a contender to placate a justifiably angry mob of fans. While this team has likely improved marginally on defense with Tayshaun Prince in Gay’s place, they were already elite on D, and sacrificed too much offense to stay afloat, subtracting the leading scorer (and best perimeter-oriented threat on a post-heavy team) from an attack that already ranked in the NBA’s bottom five. “Defense wins Championships”, but it doesn’t do it alone. Any impartial observer can look at this team; compare it to the one that was skunking most of the League’s elite three months ago, and conclude that Pera is deceiving – in confident ignorance – either himself, or his new customers.
If Pera had simply maintained the position of a new small-market owner saddled with a Top-5 payroll and completely different approach to NBA ownership than his predecessor, this whole situation would be easier to swallow. If his intentions were clearly to save money now to improve the team’s flexibility in the near future, then waxing Gay was a painful, but reasonable decision. But shifting stances to cloak the move in rhetoric that even a slightly-knowledgeable fan can see straight through – as though he seriously built this team to contend this year – sets a dangerous precedent for his tenure in Memphis.