The waters in Memphis are getting even murkier. And not just along the Mississippi.
Days after the controversial firing of head Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale caused an uproar amongst the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, an ownership situation that has been simmering in turmoil just saw the heat turned up.
Minority owners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus have enacted a buy/sell clause forcing the hand of lead owner Robert Pera to decide if he wants to buy out his partners or sell his shares and give up control of the team, The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski reports.
And here’s the kicker. Kaplan and Straus get to set the price, according to the report. However they set the valuation, Pera can decide to buy them out or sell his 25 percent stake.
It’s a stunning set of events in what not long ago was considered a model franchise in tune with the blue-collar sensibilities of its home city that consistently put a quality product on the court in the hyper-competitive NBA Western Conference.
But the Grizzlies have been in decline since a run of three consecutive 50-win seasons through 2015 that started with a Western Conference Finals appearance. And the present and future don’t provide much hope.
J.B. Bickerstaff, who replaced the departed Fizdale, is now the fourth coach in six seasons in Memphis. With the Grizzlies sitting at 7-13, an eighth consecutive playoff appearance seems unlikely. And ownership just sided with 32-year-old centerpiece Marc Gasol over Fizdale, leaving the team with an aging core and a compromised outlook thanks in part to a first-round draft pick owed to the Boston Celtics.
Management made it clear on Thursday that they’re not willing to move Gasol or veteran point guard Mike Conley to initiate a rebuild, despite a seeming urgency to do so. They’re sticking to their guns that Fizdale was the problem, and this season can be salvaged.
Which brings us back to the ownership kerfuffle. Nobody knows how Pera will play his hand. Or if they do, they’re not saying so. What we do know is that Pera has a history of conflict with his minority owners, and this should be fascinating to watch play out.
Whatever happens, it promises to be a decidedly better watch than anything the Grizzlies put on the basketball court.