Jason Levien Rumors
Seven years after leaving the agent business, Jason Levien, now owner and managing partner of D.C. United, has hired a young agent to help him negotiate deals involving the MLS team. Sam Porter, formerly an NBA agent and director of basketball at Exclusive Sports Group, has taken the newly created position of director of business and legal affairs. He will report to Tom Hunt, D.C. United chief operating officer.
Sources told ESPN.com that the group is spearheaded by Memphis Grizzlies minority owner and vice chairman Steve Kaplan, Indonesian billionaire sports and media magnates Erick Thohir and Handy Poernomo Soetedjo and former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien, who is the current managing general partner of DC United in MLS. The deep-pocketed consortium, sources say, also includes a select and diverse group of prominent investors, including Aaron and other Atlantans.
According to sources, those who have expressed a level of interest include: * Jason Levien. The former Memphis Grizzlies CEO left the organization in May. He is a co-owner of the MLS franchise D.C. United. * Steve Kaplan: The Los Angeles-based investor joined Robert Pera’s group as a limited investor to purchase the Memphis Grizzlies. He has reportedly made attempts to buy baseball’s San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in recent years. * Sheldon Adelson: The billionaire businessman is the chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
Ronald Tillery: Rumor mill is saying that former Griz CEO Jason Levien is trying to put together a group to buy the Atlanta Hawks
With Jason Levien out as Grizzlies CEO, all signs point toward the franchise and forward Zach Randolph agreeing on a long-term contract as a mere formality. Memphis fans can stop holding their collective breath.
The Memphis Grizzlies are poised to remove the “interim” tag from general manager Chris Wallace while conducting a search to hire a “GM-in-waiting” who will train under Wallace, multiple sources told ESPN.com. Wallace, who has been with the Grizzlies since 2007, returned to his role as head of the Grizzlies’ basketball operations last month when CEO Jason Levien surprisingly parted ways with the team. The team hasn’t formalized his role with a new contract as yet but has begun the process of interviewing candidates to become his right-hand assistant.
Naturally, Wallace agreed to tell some stories. The same way he agreed to fill in for former Griz CEO Jason Levien last week. Indeed, for all the criticism that Robert Pera has taken over what has unfolded around the Grizzlies of late, one of the happy developments is that Wallace is back in the organization, and apparently will be going forward.
This week, the team abruptly announced that CEO Jason Levien and assistant GM Stu Lash were leaving the organization. Levien, a former agent who was an executive with the Sacramento Kings before playing a role in the ownership transfer of the Philadelphia 76ers, had grown more distant from Grizzlies managing owner Robert Pera in recent months. The decision to remove Levien and Lash, another former agent, clearly was a repudiation of their leadership.
Here we are, 17 months after Levien was installed in the job running the Grizzlies, and he is gone. It is almost the exact match for his timetable in Sacramento. Sources said tension between he and Pera had been building for months, and when Pera conducted player exit interviews after the season — usually the purview of the coach and general manager — he did so to figure out what the perception of his players were in the wake of the Hollins firing and general upheaval around the team. Pera decided to remove Lash, Levien’s assistant, who is actually better liked around the NBA than Levien himself. Levien left, too, and now, Joerger is free to shop his services to the Timberwolves.
That wait never ended, though. In the 2012 offseason, the Sixers announced Rod Thorn would leave after the ’12-’13 season. As a list of potential candidates to replace him surfaced, one name was notably absent: Levien’s. The reason, a source with knowledge of the situation said, was that respected veteran coach Doug Collins, like Petrie, had soured on Levien. Collins’ influence had grown within the organization in the months after the sale, and told the ownership group that he would not work with Levien if he was put into a decision-making role. “It was a ‘him or me,’ kind of thing,” the source said.
That experiment barely lasted 20 months. Petrie had long run one of the most hush-hush organizations in the NBA, priding itself on its unanimity and discretion. But by the 2009 draft — just seven months after Levien was hired — a rift had developed between Petrie and Levien. Worse, from Petrie’s point of view, was that the rift had hit the media, with reports surfacing that Petrie did not want to draft star Spanish guard Ricky Rubio, while other factions in the Sacramento front office (i.e., Levien) did.
That put exiled general manager Chris Wallace — who confessed to Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal that he had not been into the Grizzlies’ office in nearly a year — in charge on an interim basis. Worse, the successor to Hollins, Dave Joerger, has received permission to interview with the Timberwolves for their open job. Joerger was signed to a three-year contract just last summer, and led the Grizzlies to 50 wins this season. But considering the way the organization has been run — the treatment of the Barones being an example — and that the team has now rid itself of Levien, whom one league source called “just a bad guy,” this week has actually been a good one for the franchise going forward.
Geoff Calkins: Put simply, it was the result of a falling out between Pera and Levien. Lash got whacked because he was seen as Levien’s right-hand man. What caused the falling out between Pera and Levien? That depends on whom you believe. Some will tell you this is exactly how it always ends for Levien, the way it ended in Sacramento and Philadelphia. Indeed, go read the stories about Levien’s exit from Sacramento and you’ll see phrases like “front-office split,” “tension within the organization,” and “clandestine power struggle.” The guy plainly has a history. Others will tell you that, yes, Levien may have a history, but he wasn’t at fault here. According to this theory, Levien developed a bond with Pera by flying all over the world with him, putting together this deal. But once Levien actually had to do the job of running the franchise, he wasn’t available to be Pera’s pal. In particular, Pera may have resented the attention Levien paid to other minority owners, including Steve Kaplan.
The Grizz were off the board until Monday’s shocking turn, when the team fired Jason Levien, the team’s CEO, and Stu Lash, the assistant GM, almost out of nowhere. Levien even owns a small equity slice of the team, making him one of about 17,423 people who own a chunk of Grizz flesh. No one quite knows what to make of this. David Mincberg, the team’s in-house counsel, appears to have made a power play for more basketball decision-making power, per sources familiar with the situation. There are high-level executives on other teams who have literally not heard of Mincberg. Robert Pera, the most powerful among the team’s owners, conducted his own exit interviews with players after the season, according to Sam Amick of USA Today. That is strange, and Pera is quickly gaining a reputation as a temperamental new owner.
The buzzer sounded Monday on Jason Levien’s run as Grizzlies’ CEO after two seasons. Levien, along with director of player personnel Stu Lash, was fired as part of the Grizzlies’ unexpected front-office shake-up. Griz majority owner Robert Pera announced the departures in a statement released by the team. The abrupt divorce was the result of an apparently deteriorating relationship between Pera and Levien over the past year, even as the Grizzlies returned to the playoffs with a 50-win campaign. General manager Chris Wallace, who had been essentially sidelined during Levien’s reign, will return to the helm of the franchise’s basketball operations on an interim basis. Dave Joerger remains as head coach. “This has nothing to do with Joerger,” Wallace said.
Previously, Levien had been involved in interactions between Pera and any individual seeking to converse with the Griz owner. But Pera increasingly made maneuvers around the team — such as attending games, and meeting with players and coaches — without Levien by his side. Pera eventually made it known to front office personnel last weekend that changes were on the horizon. “I’m here to help with the process,” Wallace said. “I have tremendous loyalty and feelings for this organization and city. There’s an unfilled promise that I made in 2007 to hold a parade down Beale Street. It’s a total organizational and community effort, and I’m just here to do my part. We’re close and we’ve got to wrap it up and put a bow around it and finish it.”
Geoff Calkins: Been busy writing a column. But five things I know: 1. Joerger hasn’t yet met with Pera, but has been told he will be head coach. 2. Pera would like Hollinger to stay, but Hollinger hasn’t decided. 3. Pera met with one minority owner on this, Staley Cates. 4. Stu Lash was only fired as Levien’s loyal assistant, and he will be missed. 5. There’s nothing quite like covering the Griz.
Most Griz fans probably are not familiar with Dave Mincberg. He began the ownership/management transition — alongside former agents Jason Levien and Stu Lash, and ESPN writer John Hollinger — as the team’s lead attorney much like Stan Meadows was to former owner Michael Heisley. Now, there are rumblings that Mincberg’s role has been greatly reduced as Levien deals with his first internal snag. I’m hearing that Mincberg ruffled feathers with his unwanted ambition that included a desire to effectively become the team’s general manager.
Levien would not disclose his stake in the team, but Pera is the controlling owner and chairman and, like the Sixers deal, the Grizzles ownership group has some star-studded names, including Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning. “Jason never seems to be rushing through anything,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who sat at the negotiating table with Levien over the sale of the Grizzlies. “There is never any sense of desperation. He just stays at it, and as a result, he has become a very effective dealmaker in the industry. It has been fun to watch him morph from a dealmaker into a first-class operator.”
As CEO of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and managing partner of MLS’s D.C. United, Levien is getting used to the rigors of running two sports teams, two franchises in which he also has ownership stakes. On this particular summer day, he is negotiating D.C. United’s deal for a new $300 million stadium. Down the Strip, he is set to attend an NBA owners meeting. Later in the day, he will fly to Miami on a private jet seeking to convince free agent Mike Miller to sign with the Grizzlies. If he’s feeling any pressure from the deals he’s trying to close, he’s not showing it. He casually orders another tea while explaining the circuitous path that has taken him from being an idealistic young White House intern to one of sports’ busiest dealmakers, yet still a relative unknown throughout industry circles. “I don’t know how I got to where I am,” Levien said. “When I get stuck, I pick up a machete and make my own path.”
The workouts are over. It’s time for Memphis to figure out its immediate future before Thursday’s NBA Draft. The Grizzlies held their sixth and seventh — and final — pre-draft workouts Monday morning. Nine players worked out in front of director of player personnel and basketball development Stu Lash, GM Chris Wallace and CEO Jason Levien. The group included Jordan Aboudou (France), Vander Blue (Marquette), Jackie Carmichael (Illinois State), Joffrey Lauvergne (France), Janis Timma (Latvia), Adonis Thomas (Memphis), Mitchell Anderson, Jr. (Arkansas Pine Bluff), Jack Cooley (Notre Dame) and Arsalan Kazemi (Iran).
Gentry was contacted by the Grizzlies on Wednesday and is expected to interview with owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien in Washington, D.C.. on Friday. Other coaching candidates include Grizzlies assistant coach Dave Joerger, former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl and Chicago Bulls assistant coach Ed Pickney, a league source said. Memphis is expected to conduct interviews through next week.
The Memphis Grizzlies announced that the team will not offer Head Coach Lionel Hollins a new contract when it expires on Sunday, June 30 and effectively immediately, he is no longer with the organization. “After a thorough internal process, which included conversations with Lionel and his representatives, we decided as an organization to move in a different direction,” said Jason Levien, CEO & Managing Partner of the Memphis Grizzlies and FedExForum.