Grizzlies Owner Heisley Admits Thabeet Trade Could 'Come Back to Haunt Us'
The Grizzlies did that at Thursday's trade deadline when center Hasheem Thabeet was sent to Houston in a deal that bought back to Memphis popular forward Shane Battier.
It's true the 7-3 Thabeet wasn't playing much for the Grizzlies and already was being regarded by many as a bust. But Memphis owner Michael Heisley admitted in an extensive interview with FanHouse he has reservations about dispatching Thabeet.
"I don't know whether it's a mistake (having drafted Thabeet),'' Heisley said. "I look at (giving up Thabeet) with great concern. ... I think Houston needs a good center and I think that Thabeet could come back to haunt us. ... Absolutely, it's hard for us (to trade Thabeet). It's extremely hard. ... If he develops, he's going to be a big factor in this league and we might be eating our words.''
Heisley, though, said Memphis brass determined the risk was worth taking for several reasons. The Grizzlies have a strong center in Marc Gasol, limiting how much Thabeet has been able to play, they believe Battier can help their playoff run and Battier is extremely popular in Memphis, having played for the Grizzlies from 2001-06 before being shipped to Houston.
"To tell you the honest truth, we wanted Shane,'' Heisley said of the trade made between two teams in the Southwest Division. "So you can't have everything you want in this world. We had other options (in trading Thabeet), but we wanted Shane. ... (Battier is) probably one of the most popular players we've ever had.''
Heisley said Battier was dealt with Ish Smith for Thabeet, forward DeMarre Carroll and a lottery-protected future first-round pick. Thabeet had played in high school in Houston.
The Grizzlies also came close to a deal Thursday in which they would have sent shooting guard O.J. Mayo to Indiana for power forward Josh McRoberts and a first-round pick. But Heisley said he was told by his representatives that Pacers officials were going to get the necessary information to the NBA office by the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, and were late. He said the "NBA wouldn't make an exception.''
Battier becomes a free agent this summer, and Heisley said the Grizzlies want to re-sign him. For now, though, the deal was done for the short term to help get Memphis, which is 32-27 and in the No. 8 spot in the West, into the playoffs for the first time in five years.
"Obviously we'd like to hold on to him,'' Heisley said about Battier, whom he believes is even more important in the near future for the Grizzlies due to star forward Rudy Gay being out until mid-March with a shoulder injury. "That's why we traded for him. ... It's for us to secure him, but that's all in the future. What will make me very happy is to basically be in the playoffs and have a good position and do something in the playoffs this time (after the Grizzlies lost 4-0 in each of their only three previous appearances from 2004-06). If I get that out of it, that will be more than enough and I'll be very happy with the draft choice and with the trade.''
"A lot of people, say, 'Well, you ought to look long term.' But right at this point I'd be a liar if I told you that I'm not looking to do well this year and get into the playoffs and win some games in the playoffs.''
The price was dealing Thabeet to the Rockets, who are desperate for a center due to Yao being out for the season after five games due to a foot injury and possibly his career being over. Thabeet, 24, is averaging just 1.2 points and 1.7 rebounds in 8.2 minutes this season after averaging 3.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 13.0 minutes as a rookie.
"The problem is we were fortunate to have a very, very great center in Marc Gasol,'' said Heisley, pictured at right. "That didn't give us a lot of time to put Thabeet on the floor. When you play in the Western Conference, lots of times you play against teams that use four-fives rather than 7-footers (at center). They're very difficult sometimes for 7-footers to guard. So you have to counter with your own power forward like (Darrell) Arthur (who at 6-7 often plays center with Memphis' second unit). So it was very tough for us to give him playing time.
"When we drafted (Thabeet), Tony Barone, who's head of our player personnel thing, said, 'If you draft him, then you've got to play him. He needs to get minutes to develop.' ... We basically never really could find the time for him to get him in the lineup to really develop him as much.''
The Grizzlies also have a top-notch power forward in Zach Randolph, another reason Thabeet had a hard time getting minutes. Randolph is line to be a free agent this summer, but Heisley said the Grizzlies didn't consider dealing him at the trade deadline.
"I think that's pretty safe,'' Heisley said. "For us, honestly, No. 1 I've never heard Zach's name used (in a trade the Grizzlies seriously would have done). No. 2, obviously, if somebody came in with some fantastic trade like LeBron James, I'll just be ridiculous. If somebody wanted to trade LeBron James for Zach, then obviously we would talk about that. But Zach is the center point of our basketball team and one of the absolute key ingredients. And so we have no plans to see him gone.''
That's why the Grizzlies are hoping to sign Randolph, making $17.33 million this season, to an extension by the June 30 deadline to prevent him from becoming a free agent. While Heisley wouldn't discuss specifics, he said of Memphis wanting Randolph for the long haul, "Absolutely, I think it would be safe to say that.''
Heisley also reiterated he considers Gasol a long-term piece, although he's not eligible to be locked up until he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. As for Mayo, his long-term future is in doubt.
Mayo came close to being dealt to the Pacers. In the end, though, Heisley said he has no problem with Mayo sticking around.
"I do think we are getting a little crowded at the two position,'' Heisley said of Mayo, who had been the starting shooting guard in his first two NBA seasons before being moved to the bench early this season due to the Grizzlies needing offense with the second unit. "It was about us needing a power forward (in McRoberts) ... I'm a big O.J. fan. Everybody in Memphis knows that, and so I'm very happy that he's with us, and I think he's going to play a significant role in our future.''
Heisley is not concerned about Mayo being adversely affected by nearly being traded.
"As I told O.J. once, he's a good player and people are interested in him,'' Heisley said. "And he should be happy that there are so many people interested in him. It isn't us going out knocking on all the doors. People call us with proposed trades. ... There was always a lot of interest in O.J., and, quite frankly, I think he's a good player and he deserves that kind of interest.''
Mayo is eligible for a contract extension this summer and can become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2012. Heisley wouldn't rule out Mayo being part of the team's long-term future.
"I think Mayo's a good player,'' Heisley said. "I think he's had a hard time adjusting to the role we would like to see him play... (If Mayo adjusts), I think that Mayo will be all right, and he'll be with us for a good long while.
"Maybe I'm wrong, but I think, quite honestly, everybody talks. People call you about proposals. You look at it. It wasn't one of our objectives (heading into) this trade time to say, 'Let's get rid of O.J. Mayo.' That was never part of the situation (about possibly moving Mayo). The part of the situation was let's try to improve the team and get us to where we can do well and get in the playoffs.''
For now, though, Heisley is mostly worrying about the short-term future. He believes Battier's leadership can be pivotal in steering the Grizzlies into the playoffs and ending the 12-game losing streak.
Heisley said it might not hurt that West teams possibly have been weakened at the trade deadline. Denver and Utah, battling the Grizzlies for playoff positioning, just traded stars Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams, respectively, and the Jazz recently had legendary coach Jerry Sloan resign.
"I'm not ruling out people, but I do say that I think there's an opportunity there because there's a lot of turmoil right now in the West in several teams,'' Heisley said. "We feel like we have a real good opportunity to end up anywhere from fifth anywhere on down through eighth. ... We think Shane's going to play an important role for us.''
If Thabeet ends up developing, Heisley will have to worry about that another day.