Stu Lash Rumors
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
“If you look at the dynamic of our group, with Jason making the final decision,” Lash says, “Chris brings a tremendous amount of experience and he’s been here, he’s done a great job with the foundation and the core of what this team is. John and myself, having different backgrounds and the transition early on was not very difficult. Chris was very open on how he got to this point with this team and it’s been good.” It’s this kind of synergy of information that Levien envisioned when he brought together his front office. “We definitely have a plan and vision for what the future here looks like,” Hollinger said. “I’m sure you want me to share all of it, but unfortunately I can’t really disclose
Hiring Lash seemed almost inevitable, as he and Levien have a long history together. However, hiring Hollinger away from ESPN was something of a surprise. “I always read his stuff so I sort of knew him from reading his stuff and saying, ‘This guy is smart and he writes really well,'” Levien said. “We spent time at the Sloan Conference together (an annual sports analytics conference held by MIT in Boston), and I liked him even more. “I leaned on John when I was an agent a few times to give me advice on how I can use analytics in promoting my clients through negotiation and even in the draft. I understood what he was looking at and what he saw and how that equated to what I was looking at and what I saw. And I said, ‘This guy really gets it, he’s really sharp.'”