As Kobe Bryant and the Lakers find themselves back in their first NBA Finals since 2002, opinion has circulated over who was most responsible for getting Los Angeles back to basketball’s biggest stage.
That’s easy. It’s Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace.
Wallace has come under fire for the trade that sent seven-footer Pau Gasol to the Lake Show for pennies on the dollar. Even Kobe called the trade “a donation,” and the transaction is still swarming with amazement–and suspicion–from the rest of the NBA.
From Adrian Wojnarowski at YAHOO! SPORTS:
Around the league, nothing will change this belief: Whatever the reasoning, this was one of the NBA’s worst trades in years. Most of all, rival executives wonder why they never had a chance to submit a best offer. For Gasol, the 7-footer who transformed the Lakers in the absence of Andrew Bynum, the Grizzlies were willing to take back the expiring contract of Kwame Brown, rookie point guard Javaris Crittenton, two future No. 1 picks and the draft rights to Gasol’s brother, Marc.
Most of the speculation revolves around whether Jerry West, who has served in the front office of both clubs, most recently as the Grizzlies’ president of basketball operations, a position he held through the end of last season.
The one-sided nature of the trade inspired a lot of people to believe that retired Memphis GM, Jerry West, a Lakers’ legend, played a part in facilitating the deal. West was instrumental recruiting Wallace as his replacement in Memphis and still holds a close relationship with Heisley. His history in Los Angeles, especially his bond with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and star Kobe Bryant, made even the fair-minded cynical about the scenario.
Several sources close to the process insist West played no part, and [Grizzlies owner Michael] Heisley swears, “Jerry didn’t know about the trade until after it was done.”
It’s important to note that Gasol was itching to get out of Memphis, but then again, who isn’t? Also, most of the Grizzlie’ staff assumed that they wouldn’t get full value on whatever deal they made. The biggest question is why the deal was made almost three weeks before the trade deadline.
The best answer? They’re idiots. Is it that big a leap to assume that Memphis just screwed this up on their own? West certainly was in contact with the Lakers about how Gasol could help that team, but that doesn’t mean that they were involved in the deal. Memphis got what they thought they wanted, and pulled the trigger. Too often we confuse conspiracy and incompetence, and one team managed to ride that flub to an NBA Finals berth. Good for them.