Owner: Grizzlies primed for deep playoff run

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera told media Tuesday morning he’s not only happy with the new look of the Grizzlies, he thinks this team can make its deepest playoff run yet.

Pera and CEO Jason Levien held a press conference to discuss the state of the team three days before the NBA All-Star break and two weeks after trading away leading scorer Rudy Gay.

Pera, who owns technology company Ubiquiti Networks, bought the team for $377 million last year.

He and Levien have been the subject of fan discontent after trading away Gay on Jan. 30 to Toronto.

Pera, 34, contrasted the moves to a baseball team full of all-stars, saying how the right group of players with the right chemistry on a basketball team can be an asset.

“I think with the latest trades, the personnel moves, how the team’s constructed, I think it has the potential to be the best Grizzlies team yet,” Pera said. “I really like how the pieces now fit.”

Both men wore Grizzlies warmups, Pera speaking with Memphis media for the first time since his introductory press conference. Pera noted an inside-outside team with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol underneath. New additions Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye are part of the new backcourt.

Pera said the pieces from the team that upset the Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs two years ago, Memphis’ lone playoff series win, are still in place and believes the new supporting pieces are even stronger.

Pera and Levien met with coach Lionel Hollins for breakfast before Pera met with players.

Hollins had been outspoken about his desire to keep Gay and the core of his contending team together for the season. Pera says the moves were financial and winning-motivated. Hollins met with media before Friday’s game against the Warriors to clear the air about his relationship with new ownership.

“That’s probably the most unfortunate thing, the timing of the trades,” Pera said. “Jason and I really wished we could have gotten the deal closed before the beginning of the season to give these guys a full year to play together.”

Pera was complementary of Gay but didn’t hesitate to say his talents weren’t fitting in.

Gay was exchanged for Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye in a three-team deal that also included the Detroit Pistons. Memphis had already traded three reserves to Cleveland a week earlier.

“I was a big Rudy Gay fan,” Pera said. “He’s awesome, but like I said basketball is a team sport and how the pieces fit together, the offense we run is really traditional, inside-out, grinding type of offense.

“Rudy’s talent, his potential really couldn’t be maximized in our system. I think it was good for him and good for the team. I think the pieces we got back were much stronger.”

Pera acknowledged the players acquired aren’t at Gay’s talent level but said for chemistry and style of play, it was the right move. As for future moves, roster additions aren’t out of the question. In question is whether or not Hollins will be back for a fifth season.

Pera said he will support whatever decision Levien arrives at on Hollins.

“I don’t think it behooves us to speak publicly about any kind of contract situation,” Levien said. “We had a great meeting with Lionel.We see him as a big asset to the team.”

Randolph’s name surfaced numerous times before and after Gay’s trade, but Levien said there was never serious discussion to trade Randolph, second in the league with 30 double-doubles.

Randolph will represent Memphis in the All-Star Game Sunday in Houston. Heading into the break, the Grizzlies (32-18) have won two straight to improve to 3-3 since Gay’s departure. They host Sacramento tonight and currently sit tied with Denver for the fourth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Pera says he frequents the Grizzlies Web forum and has interacted with fans about the trade.

“With whatever moves you make, it’s impossible to please everyone. We want to win now. We want to win in the future,” Pera said. “We just have to stick to our vision. I kind of said, ‘Hi, I’m listening to you guys.’ They didn’t believe me though. They thought I was a fake, but I’m there.”

Levien has committed to personally call all of Memphis’ season-ticket accounts, more than 3,000, to communicate the team’s vision.

“It’s all about winning,” Levien said, “winning in the community to winning on the basketball court and having sustained success.”

Pera reiterated his desire to win in Memphis and denied a desire to make money off the Grizzlies. He did say the Gay trade was necessary, however, to crawl out of debt, some he believes still existed from the move from Vancouver for the 2001 season.

Gay was scheduled to make $16.5 million this season and $37 million over the next two seasons.

Pera said the Grizzlies can’t be cheap and he doesn’t believe they are. He believes if his front office is superior and paying the same payroll as the top teams, the Grizzlies should be “competitive or better.” Levien said the team is on pace to spend as much, if not more, in salary as the top teams in the league.

“I run my real business definitely for profitability, but the Memphis Grizzlies, I definitely don’t want to profit in any way. The primary goal is to win,” Pera said. “But at the same time, when we did this deal, we were kind of strapped a little bit. But whether I’m worth like $1 billion or $10 billion, I don’t think throwing money is the way to get our best result. You look at the Lakers. They threw together all these stars and a huge payroll and it’s not working out so far.”