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Volume 26 No. 28

Franchises

Wexler will be promoted to president of the team, overseeing both business and basketball operations
Photo: NBAE/getty images

Grizzlies Controlling Owner Robert Pera made "sweeping changes to the organization" on Thursday by firing coach J.B. Bickerstaff and reassigning GM Chris Wallace, along with several other moves, according to David Cobb of the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. Grizzlies President of Business Operations Jason Wexler will be promoted to President and "oversee both business and basketball operations." Assistant GM and team Counsel Zach Kleiman will be promoted to Exec VP/Basketball Operations. Meanwhile, VP/Basketball Operations John Hollinger will "move into a senior advisory role." Wallace before the moves were announced "seemed secure in his future when he spoke with reporters Thursday morning." However, by 3:30pm CT, "all had changed." The Grizzlies now "will search for their fifth head coach since" the '13 season (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 4/12). In Memphis, Chris Herrington noted the Grizzlies are "expected to conduct a search for one or more veteran executives to round out the new front office." Grizzlies Special Adviser Tayshaun Prince, Dir of Player Personnel Chris Makris and VP/Team Operations & Player Programs Chantal Hassard are all "expected to remain in the same capacities" (DAILYMEMPHIAN.com, 4/11).

LOSE-LOSE SITUATION: In Memphis, Mark Giannotto in a front-page piece writes the Grizzlies "did exactly what most of their fans wanted them to do Thursday, and they still messed it up." Pera "did the impossible," as he "turned Wallace into something of a sympathetic figure by embarrassing him." He allowed Wallace to "get in front of a gaggle of microphones Thursday morning for an end-of-season press conference and allowed Bickerstaff to do the same." Giannotto: "Imagine if your boss sent you out in front of cameras and put you in a position to say things that essentially would make you look like a fool a few hours later." This was another "blunder by an ownership group that seems to specialize in them." There was a "decent and professional way" to make the changes, but "this wasn’t it" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 4/12). Also in Memphis, Geoff Calkins wrote only the Grizzlies "could turn a day that should have sparked massive celebrations across the fan base into a day of puzzlement." Pera was "right to make sweeping changes," but the "sweeping changes he chose to make are either inspired or crazy" (DAILYMEMPHIAN.com, 4/11).

Divac took full responsibility for Thursday's firings and said it was his decision to make the moves
Photo: NBAE/getty images

NBA Kings VP/Basketball Operations & GM Vlade Divac "received a contract extension Thursday morning and immediately executed a series of strongman moves," firing coach Dave Joerger and Assistant GM Brandon Williams "hours after the team concluded its best season in more than a decade," according to Jason Anderson of the SACRAMENTO BEE. Divac then "took full responsibility" for the firings. He said, "It was my decision." The Kings this season "generated excitement among fans and garnered notoriety around the NBA with a talented, young roster and new up-tempo style." The Kings also "posted their highest win total" since their last playoff appearance in '05-06, but still "failed to reach the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season." The Kings, in addition to Joerger and Williams, also fired Dir of Media Relations Chris Clark, who had been with the organization since '00. The team is now "entrusting" Divac with the "responsibility of making the Kings a championship contender" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 4/12). ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski cited sources as saying that Divac is "using the muscle" of his new contract extension to "consolidate power around him." Sources also said that "tension between management and Joerger regarding playing time for certain young players and relationship strains impacted Divac's decision" to fire him (ESPN.com, 4/11).

WAIT-AND-SEE APPROACH: THE RINGER's Riley McAtee wrote Divac has "earned at least a little benefit of the doubt." McAtee: "It's not like the Kings fan base should hand Vlade a blank check, mind you, but not every decision by the franchise can be viewed through the same old ... prism anymore." Over the past few years, many of the team's decisions were "seen as catastrophes at the time, but have yielded more good than bad" (THERINGER.com, 4/11). However, ESPN's Amin Elhassan said Divac's decision to fire Joerger, Williams and Clark is "what dysfunctional organizations do." They "make decisions that are puzzling" and they "can't manage their structure from within" ("The Jump," ESPN2, 4/11). CBSSN's Adam Schein said the Kings are "still dysfunctional." Schein: "Vlade's getting more power? Why?!" ("Time to Schein," CBSSN, 4/11).

The Fire's current logo does not include any indications that the team is a soccer club
Photo: fire

The Fire have "worried" fans with "rumors of a rebrand and perhaps an outright name change," according to John Kass of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Fans are also wondering if the Fire will "finally break that iron-clad lease" and move out of SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., and "play instead in Soldier Field." Section 8 Chicago -- the supporter’s association of the Fire -- "wouldn’t mind games played in the city." They also "wouldn’t mind if the logo were modernized somewhat." However, they are "protective of the name of the club." Fire President & GM Nelson Rodriguez said that "nothing in the Chicago Fire logo says 'soccer.'" He added that talk of a rebrand "isn’t really news," as he spoke about it publicly last year. Rodriguez: “We have to look at modernizing and livening up who we are, and how we express ourselves, how we tell our story.” He added, “When I’m asked, ‘What do you do?’ or ‘Who do you work for?’ and I say ‘The Chicago Fire’ -- if I don’t include ‘soccer club’ -- they say, ‘Oh I love that TV show.'" Rodriguez "didn’t confirm or deny" that the Fire wanted to move to Soldier Field (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/11). Section 8 Chair Nicole Hack is a "no on a name change" for the Fire but "endorses getting back to Chicago." She said, “It is imperative that the team plays in the city. I don’t (know) if Soldier Field is the answer." She added, “It is potentially a good temporary home if there’s a possibility they could have their own facility in the city, where I think that would be ideal" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/12).

The Lightning have sold out 200 straight games at Amalie Arena and have 15,500 season-ticket holders
Photo: getty images

The Lightning have "developed into not only one of the top attractions in the NHL, but they have emerged as perhaps the model organization in all of sports" under Owner Jeff Vinik, according to Jared Diamond of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Since Vinik bought the team in '10, the Lightning have "turned into a powerhouse," and are now the "overwhelming favorites to win the Stanley Cup, having just finished one of the best regular seasons in history." The Lightning have "sold out 200 straight games at Amalie Arena," while other warm-weather franchises like the Hurricanes, Coyotes and Panthers "struggle to fill three-quarters of their buildings." The Lightning's average attendance of 19,092 this season ranked sixth in the NHL, behind only the Blackhawks, Canadiens, Flyers, Maple Leafs and Red Wings -- "all traditional hockey markets." Vinik said, "This region has been under-managed, or 'under-potentialed,' and I thought there was a possibility to be part of a great growth story." Vinik "relocated from Boston with his family," despite having "no ties to Tampa," and has made it his full-time home. Since buying the team in '10, Vinik has spent about $75M on "upgrades to the Lightning's county-owned arena," with another $25M pledged by '30. From a "hockey standpoint, Vinik has focused on the grass-roots." The Lightning are "giving away 100,000 street hockey balls and sticks to kids in their market, as well as complete sets of gear to 500 schools." Team CEO Steve Griggs said that the team now has 15,500 season-ticket holders, "up from about 3,000" in '10 (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/11).

Jones (l) as the Suns GM will have the final say on all of the team's personnel decisions
Photo: NBAE/getty images

In Phoenix, Duane Rankin notes the Suns on Thursday named James Jones GM after the former NBAer "served as the interim" following the firing of Ryan McDonough. The Suns also officially named former Pistons GM Jeff Bower Senior VP/Basketball Operations and "retained" Trevor Bukstein as Assistant GM. Suns Owner Robert Sarver hired Bower to "help Jones in turning around [a] franchise that just experienced its second-worst season ever" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/12). ESPN's Amin Elhassan noted Jones "has the final say" on personnel decisions though Bower "does not report to him," reporting to Sarver instead. Elhassan: "Already you've got a situation where you're the boss, but he doesn't report to you" ("The Jump," ESPN2, 4/11).

GETTING A HEADSTART: Bulls Exec VP/Basketball Operations John Paxson said that he "already has approached ownership about extending" coach Jim Boylen's current deal, which "expires after next season." Paxson said an extension is "very possible." While sources said that no specific contract details have been discussed, those talks "will occur 'sooner rather than later.'" A two- or three-year extension with a team option is the "norm in such situations" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/12).

NOT ALL DOOM & GLOOM: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski noted the Lakers are "going to find out there is tremendous interest" in the vacant President of Basketball Operations role following Magic Johnson's resignation this week. Wojnarowski: "There are all the elements of having a good basketball team there, and they have an ability now to take a look at their management structure, whether it's to go out and hire a GM from the outside (and) a president." He added despite the current "vacuum of leadership" in the Lakers organization, they still "can be a very good team" ("OTL," ESPN, 4/11).