Thursday, June 23, 2005

In Defense of Lorenzen Wright

We've had a lot of response to this morning's interview with Lorenzen Wright regarding his future with the Grizzlies, and I want to go through some of the things he said, and some of the things callers and fans have said about him. First of all, let's all remember that Lorenzen Wright is a Memphian--he went to high school here, he went to college here, and he's now playing for the NBA franchise here. He has roots here; he has a business here--do you think he would request to be traded, and in doing so, jeopardize his standing in the community and impact the way he is perceived by Memphians unless it was what he thought was his last resort? I don't think so.

Secondly, remember how the Grizzlies have treated other players when their contracts neared expiry. Jason Williams received a 6 year, $43 million extension on October 17, 2001. Seemed like a lot of money then, seems like a lot of money now--especially since the Grizzlies are trying to trade him and finding no takers. Jason was a troublemaker when he arrived and has gotten little better, yet he is on a long-term contract. Mike Miller received a 6 year, $48 million extension on October 4, 2003. Although Miller is talented, that is a lot of money, especially since Miller has had a history of back trouble since arriving in Memphis. Still, he got his extension. Shane Battier got his extension on July 15, 2004. Shane was entering the final deal of his contract, and got extended to the tune of 6 years, $37 million. He's clearly a key component of the Grizzlies' future, and the franchise did not take long to decide to extend his deal. Jake Tsakalidis received a new deal on September 10, 2004--the Grizzlies matched a 3 year, $9 million offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers. He got paid. Finally, Pau Gasol received an extension just three weeks later, on October 1, 2004--as we all know, Pau got a max deal (7 years, $86 million). People have debated and will continue to debate whether or not Pau deserved that deal, but the point is that the team dealt with him and he got his extension.

With that established, let's look at how the Grizzlies have dealt with Lorenzen Wright; well, actually, let's look at how the Grizzlies have refused to deal with Lorenzen Wright. Ren saw his teammates get paid and have their contracts handled in a realtively swift manner, and naturally assumed that he could be afforded a similar experience. The least he could have expected would be for the team to engage in a good faith negotiation with him. He didn't even get that. Jerry West (and, by extension, Michael Heisley) told him that there would be no extension and that there would be no discussion. They have told Ren that he is expected to play out his contract and that is that. Given the Grizzlies' past history, this is a curious response to say the least, and a response Lorenzen could not have expected.

Whether you think Lorenzen Wright should receive a contract extension or not (and I'm not sure he should), the Grizzlies owe it to him to at least test the waters to see if he is interested in a relatively cheap deal. Maybe Lorenzen would resign for a hometown discount, maybe not--the point is that the Grizzlies don't know. They owe him the courtesy of a discussion, expecially since he has been the rock of this team for the last two seasons, playing out of position against the monsters of the West and holding his own. Here's another problem: the Grizzlies are trying to bulk up, and they're going to need another big man--Lorenzen would be a great option at the backup 4/5 position. They'll never know if he'd accept that role and a new contract, because they won't communicate. Were they to lose Ren for nothing, like they might do with Earl and Stro, it would be a very poor business decision.

He doesn't want to leave Memphis, but he'd rather go somewhere where he fits in with the long term plan of the team. Plus, playing out the final year of your contract means that you are going to be distracted about your future. Look at Bonzi Wells and Stromile Swift as examples of what can happen when those distractions occur during a season. It's natural for a player to be concerned about where his future may lie, especially if he has a family to take care of. If your boss told you essentially what the Grizzlies have told Ren--that you are not in the company's long-term plans, that you are to work out your contract, then find other options--you would naturally be distracted by your future, too. Every NBA player is well-paid, but every one also wants to know they've got long-term security. If they don't, it is natural to assume they will be distracted.

Lorenzen is not the first player to talk about a communication problem with the Grizzlies. For evidence of that, look no further than the players' reaction to Bonzi Wells being barred from the arena for Game 4 of the Grizzlies' playoff series against Phoenix--they had no idea what was going on because no one had told them. Because of that, it is my opinion that Lorenzen went to the media because he had no other choice. He knew that the Grizzlies would ignore him and leave him hanging unless he made his demand for a trade public. Should he have done it? Maybe, maybe not. Can I understand why he did it? Absolutely. And I'm pretty sure several of you would have done it, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice interview with jerry west