Buckhannon’s Wallace Has Grizzlies on Track

Chris Wallace isn’t the type to want to get back at his critics with ‘I told you so.’  He is just quietly enjoying the run his Memphis Grizzlies team is on in the playoffs.     

"We are on a terrific run right now with the Grizzlies," Wallace said.   "The city of Memphis is solidly on the bandwagon and extremely excited about this team."

Wallace is a Buckhannon, West Virginia native who is in his fourth season as General Manager and President of Basketball Operations with the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA.   Wallace was roundly criticized in February of 2008 when he sent the face of the franchise at the time–former NBA Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol–to the Los Angeles Lakers.   Wallace knew he was taking a gamble, but he also knew a change needed to be made.

"It was inaccurately reported at the time that the deal was a mere salary dump," Wallace said.  "By late December (of that year) we were not playing well and Pau’s enthusiasm was doused as far as playing for the Memphis Grizzlies. 

"The town was totally bored with the team," Wallace added.  "I went to our owner (Michael Heisley) and told him from my perspective this thing wasn’t going to work.   We weren’t winning.  The town was bored.  Pau didn’t want to be here.  Let’s go in another direction."

Wallace felt at the time that the Lakers offered the most for Gasol with players, draft choices and salary relief. 

"We took Kwame Brown’s expiring contract and (the Lakers) had the draft rights to Pau’s younger brother Marc Gasol who was considered the best young center in Europe at the time," Wallace said.

The trade netted the Grizzlies Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and two first-round draft picks.

Wallace moved some of those pieces around for other players and picks that eventually yielded a large part of the current Grizzlies nucleus including Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur, Hamed Haddadi, Greivis Vasquez and Sam Young.

"I’ve compared Pau to an NBA organ donor," Wallace quipped.  "We harvested his kidney, his heart and his corneas and it has given life to our franchise."

The Lakers went on to win a pair of NBA titles with the combination of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol leading the way. 

"I was very candid at the time in saying that the deal could give the Lakers some championships when you put Pau alongside of Kobe," Wallace said.  "But I also said at the time that our part of the deal will be more delayed gratification and that it would be (experienced) over the coming years.  

"Our current team is not totally comprised of players who came from that deal," Wallace pointed out.  "But we got a good portion of our (current team) from the players and cap room that came from that deal." 

Even with standout Rudy Gay injured, the Grizzlies managed to win the first playoff series in franchise history when they, as the 8th seed in the Western Conference, upset top seed San Antonio.     Memphis, as of Wednesday, was tied one game each with second round opponent Oklahoma City.

The Grizzlies feature as tough an inside duo as there is in the league with the 7-1 Marc Gasol and the 6-9 Randolph.    Former Ohio State standout Mike Conley has developed into a dynamic, productive point guard and Huntington’s own O.J. Mayo has several clutch shots in the post season as he has gone 10-23 from three point distance so far in the playoffs. 

Wallace spent ten seasons as Celtics General Manager. He has also had NBA stops in Portland, Denver, New York and Miami. He says his philosophy in building an NBA has simplified.

"When I was with the Celtics I did a 93 page report for a four year plan to build a team," Wallace said.   "I could have saved all that time and paper and stated it in under 50 words. 

"You need to get as many good players as you can and you need to win as quickly as you can.  This is an era were attention spans are short.   There is more media scrutiny  than ever before.

"You need talent, experience and toughness to win in this league," Wallace said.  "This is a man’s game (in the NBA.)   It is very physical.  It is as athletic as any sport in the world.  It is much more demanding than the college game.

"You have to have toughness and not just physical toughness," Wallace said.  "You have to have some mental toughness or you will just get washed out to sea."

Obviously, Wallace is enjoying this great run the Grizzlies are on, but he often retreats into his true passion: WVU football.

"They are doing a feature on the Grizzlies in Sports Illustrated this week and I’m not sure if this piece of information will make it in the magazine," Wallace said.   "But I was telling them about my obsession with WVU football.

"I told them the story of that magical night of Jan. 2, 2006 when we defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. 

"I told them I came out of the Georgia Dome and saw a vender selling the commemorative paper on WVU’s win," Wallace said.  "I bought that from the vendor, waved it over my head and ran around the Georgia Dome screaming."  


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