But first, resolution for Xavier Henry ... and judgment for Michael Heisley.
If You Can't Take the Heat: As it turns out, it takes a franchise stronger than the Memphis Grizzlies to change the status quo in the NBA. Grizz owner Michael Heisley took a stand against agents and players by demanding performance-based incentives be included in the contracts of first-round picks Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez, despite the fact that's a seldom-used tool in franchises' arsenal.
Basically, one team -- the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise with four championships in the last 12 years -- has played this brand of hardball in recent times. Heisley thought the Grizzlies ought to, too. Henry's agent Arn Tellem refused. And ... stand-off.
It has now been resolved, almost three months and gallons of angst later, with Heisley abandoning his position completely. According to Jonathan Abrams of the New York Times, Tellem told the newspaper that if the Grizzlies didn't concede and sign Henry to a standard first-round contract, the agent himself would pay Henry's $2 million salary. Shortly thereafter, Heisley told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal he'd drop his hardline stance and sign the rookies.
What convinced him that he was being ridiculous? Was it all the writers who lambasted Heisley and the Grizzlies for alienating a pretty important asset over a measly $300,000? Did the backlash from Heisley's horrific appearance on Memphis talk radio convince the owner to stand down?
Nope. According to the Commercial-Appeal, Heisley sat down and spoke to league officials, who explained to him "the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement with regard to rookie contracts."
So he didn't believe his angry fans or writer after writer after writer who told him this is relatively unprecedented. He didn't believe his actual front office, who, Heisley revealed in the aforementioned radio spot, didn't exactly endorse this hardline. It took someone wearing an NBA polo to get the point across.
In other words, this problem is fixed, but the problem isn't fixed, with that problem being that Heisley doesn't trust his basketball people. Lord knows he isn't the only franchise owner with a bloated ego and buck-stops-here attitude. The NBA is rife with them. But those other meddlers at least learn something about the game. Heisley practically reveled in announcing he had never even seen the collective bargaining agreement. He seemed proud of his ignorance.
What's more, while other meddling owners seek to build up their basketball people -- Mark Cuban commends Donnie Nelson at every turn -- Heisley treated Memphis GM Chris Wallace and others with remarkable disdain throughout this entire process.
And it cost him, if not in the pocketbook then in the public eye. The Grizzlies had worked hard to erase their reputation as a cheap, poorly run franchise. So much for that. And in the process of again making his franchise the laughingstock of the NBA, Heisley proved that he is a blowhard, a rudderless captain full of salt and vinegar and absolutely nothing else. He thinks that because he's earned a billion dollars he can succeed anywhere, he can win any negotiation. This defeat won't give him one half-second of pause, either. He'll do it again and again, because when he thinks he's right, he thinks he's right.
Heisley should be trotting away from the Xavier Henry standoff with his tail between his legs. But he'll probably find a way to shift the blame and negative attention back on his underlings. It's the way he's operated since he bought the Grizzlies. Arn Tellem might be able to kick his ass at the negotiating table, but he can't make Michael Heisley change his spots. (TZ)
Sneaker Wars: I love conspiracy theories. They please the agnostic in me. I want to believe that there is some invisible hand moving us like chess pieces; I just don't know for sure if that's how things work.
Enter Brandon Jennings, who has recently restored my faith in my relative lack of faith. It was the second time in less than a year that Jennings laid his metaphysical hands on me, with the first being when his relatively brilliant rookie season in 2009-10 helped revive my hometown five.
Jennings caused a mini-stir when told Marc Spears of Yahoo! that the two gents ahead of him in the Rookie of the Year voting, Sacramento's Tyreke Evans and Golden State's Stephen Curry, were invited to tryout for Team USA because they wore Nike. Jennings said his invitation was lost in the mail because he reps Under Armour.
Brandon, take it away.
"But if you want to get technical about it and you really want to look at it, half of the guys there are Nike guys. I'm not saying it's a Nike thing, but Nike is kind of running a lot of things right now. To have a guy like myself on the USA team that's flashy and really outgoing, you don't want Under Armour to get all that [publicity].I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin', you know what I'm sayin'? Of course, this isn't the first time we've had a shoe kerfuffle when it comes to NBA players in international play. The country vs. kicks conundrum has been with us since pros first put a galvanized rubber sole to hardwood in international competition, the most famous being Michael Jordan, Chicago Bull, Nike spokesman and political agnostic, who draped a US flag over the Reebok logo on his warmup during the medal ceremony in 1992.
"I'm just telling you how it is."
So did Nike have a say in who got to tryout for Team USA in the Summer of KD? USA Basketball poobah Jerry Colangelo, of course, said no. Even if Nike was that big, invisible hand that moves the chess pieces for team USA, Colangelo just didn't fall off the turnip truck.
Still, Colangelo didn't seem too bothered by the assertion that he was Nike's puppet and that Jennings' comments wouldn't preclude him from future consideration.
"When someone takes a shot ... he's a young guy," Colangelo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Maturity comes later in life. No harm, no foul."
Yes, sticks and stones. And we'll find out of that's true for 2012. But there's only one way for sure that Jennings gets invited to camp for London, and it's not by dumping Under Armour for Nike. He has to remember that this is the golden era of point guards in the NBA and Rajon Rondo and Evans didn't make the squad. There's a long line of talented dudes who can handle the rock for Team USA, whether they wear Phil Knight's shoes or not.
Because if Nike really ran things, wouldn't they draw attention to the fact that they had all these guys playing for Team USA? It's not as if Nike is subtle when it comes to pushing guys who represent their countries in their sports on the world's biggest stage.
Still, it's easy to understand where Jennings, who is known to blaze trails, is coming from. He always seems to be basketball's Louis Winthrop III -- a great talent who finds himself on the outside looking in, his nose pressed to the glass of the fancy restaurant.
But Jennings, who used the slight of being a late lottery pick (only pick No. 10? The horror!) as fuel for a great rookie season, will more than likely use this conspiracy to will himself to play better in the hope of earning a place at the Team USA table. (RP)
Kobe Rules All: The hits just keep on coming for LeBron James.
No, it's not that his Q-rating has plummeted. No, what's most insulting is that LeBron can't even beat Kobe at being loathed? It's enough to make a guy ...
Actually, who knows how LeBron feels about it? Maybe he doesn't care. Maybe @KingJames will tweet about it. Maybe LeBronCo. will have a meeting on how to reverse the plunge in positive numbers.
But, really, Kobe? You even have to win at being a jerk? Wow, what a jerk. (RP)
The Survivor: Howard Beck of the New York Times reports that while five veteran referees are leaving the NBA, 70-year-old Dick Bavetta is not one of the them. Last fall, when the refs' union and the league were quickly approaching a lockout of their own, union reps argued that the NBA's ref program reforms were designed to push veteran officials and replace them with cheaper young referees. Bavetta, in particular, was seen as a target.
Beck notes that Bavetta, who regularly worked playoffs and Finals games in the past, is slipping in the league's internal ref rankings, which determine who gets those valuable postseason games. And that's what worries me, personally. Experience is highly desired in this particular profession. But experience at the expense of quality is unacceptable. The league needs the best possible referees out there, and if Bavetta can't hang any longer, the NBA has to be able to fix the issue.
I'm not sure we're at that point with Bavetta just yet, but it's coming within a year or two. I'd actually expect 2011 to see a relatively large flight of veteran refs based on last summer's labor struggle, the pending NBA lockout and the severance reform including in the refs' most recent deal. Losing Joe DeRosa and Joe Forte, as the NBA has this summer, is one thing. But if Bavetta, Bennett Salvatore, Bob Delaney and Steve Javie all leave? That's an experience drain. (TZ)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.