Recent reports indicate that Chris Wallace has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next General Manager of the Sacramento Kings. Chris Wallace worked as Director of Player Personnel for the Miami Heat in the mid-90s. He then became General Manager of the Boston Celtics for 10 years. In 2007 he became General Manager and VP of Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, a post he held through this season.
Since his most recent stretch has been with the Grizzlies, I asked for some insights from Kevin Lipe, managing editor of Grizzly Bear Blues, SB Nation's Grizzlies blog. Enjoy.
What are Chris Wallace's strengths? His weaknesses?
Wallace's strengths and weaknesses are sort of hard to evaluate from a Memphis standpoint since the previous ownership of the team was *very* involved in every basketball decision, sometimes to the point of overruling Wallace and picking somebody else. The worst example of this was the 2009 draft, when the Grizzlies drafted Hasheem Thabeet essentially because Michael Heisley said to. So behind Wallace's moves in Memphis lies the spectre of Heisley's ownership and, frankly, his meddling in roster decisions when sometimes he maybe shouldn't have.
That said, I think Wallace's strength is as a talent evaluator. He's an old school basketball guy, who is responsible for some really good draft picks. He was able to orchestrate moves to bring Tony Allen, who he drafted in Boston, to Memphis. The Grizzlies traded Quentin Richardson for Zach Randolph. He orchestrated the deal that sent Pau Gasol to the Lakers, which everyone killed him for, but which enabled the Grizzlies to rebuild around the Mike Conley/Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph core that just got them to the Western Conference Finals this year. He's responsible for grabbing Tony Wroten—a raw rookie with a ton of upside—late in the first round of last year's draft. He's a guy who knows good players and brings them in.
I think Wallace's weaknesses are really hard to evaluate in light of what we know about decision making in the previous Griz front office. He brought in a ton of crappy veteran point guards late in the year when Lionel Hollins decided he was done playing the rookie. (Jason Williams for his second Griz tenure in 2011, the ghost of Gilbert Arenas in 2012, and The Keyon Dooling Experience in 2013.) He didn't quit his job over the Thabeet draft, so maybe *that's* a weakness. I genuinely don't know what bad decisions were his and what bad decisions could be blamed on the demands of someone else in the organization.
What are some misconceptions people outside Memphis may have about him?
I think the thing he's gotten the most public flack for is the Pau Gasol trade, of course, but look where the Grizzlies are right now and tell me that trading for Marc Gasol wasn't the right decision. They had no room to grow with the elder Gasol here. He took a mediocre fringe playoff team and blew it up and built a Western Conference Finalist, and that's something that isn't easy to do.
What is your overall opinion of Wallace as a GM?
Overall, I think he's a great guy and a good talent evaluator and he'll do a good job as the GM of whatever team he ends up running. It's clear that the new Memphis organization is headed in a different direction, but I don't think that's an indicator that they think Wallace sucks; I just think they have a different philosophy they want to implement. If Wallace is GM of the Kings, he'll build a good team in Sacramento.
It's interesting that so much of Wallace's recent pedigree is difficult to judge because of a meddling owner. We've spent much of the past several years trying to parse out which of Geoff Petrie's moves were forced by the Maloofs either directly or indirectly.
This information impacts the evaluation of Wallace as a candidate in a couple of ways. First, it means he may receive a pass for some of his more questionable moves. Was he the one who wanted to give Rudy Gay a massive extension? Or was it Heisley? We don't know for certain. On the other hand, that can also make it difficult to accurately judge his successes. Does he get a pass on failures and credit for success? Just the opposite? It's probably some mixture of hits and misses being credited to Wallace.
Nonetheless, this gives us a better picture of Wallace the GM and how fans of his team perceive him. A huge thanks to Kevin for answering my questions.
Update: I asked similar questions to Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog. I specifically asked for some clarification on the beginning and end of Wallace's tenure in Boston, because based on the transaction history of the organization it seemed Wallace may have overlapped with the drafting of Paul Piece and the acquisition of Rajon Rondo's draft rights. I couldn't tell whether or not Wallace was involved with those choices. I also asked for some context around some moves that look pretty bad on paper.
Jeff offered the following:
It has been a while and there may be holes in my long term memory, but here are my fractured remembrances.
I don't honestly recall if he was calling the shots on the Pierce draft, but I think it was a no-brainer pick when he fell to 10 after being projected as a top 2 or 3 player in the draft.
Long before Rondo was drafted, Ainge had taken over the GM duties and Wallace had been demoted but kept on staff (much the same way he was in Memphis actually). Obviously he was seen as a valuable guy, but not the best lead man at the time.
The thing to keep in mind with Chris Wallace is that he did a lot of things right, but his legacy in Boston is unfortunately defined by two very unfortunate trades. One seemed like a decent gamble at the time and the other was forced on him by ownership.
First of all, he had 3 first rounders in 2001 (I think). He got a hit with Joe Johnson (but didn't know it), struck out with Kedrick Brown, and sadly Red Auerbach made the call on Joe Forte - not one of his best moves as a legend. Before the end of that year Wallace traded Joe Johnson and other stuff for two role players (Rodgers/Delk) that helped the team win a bunch of games in the playoffs but ended up costing us a future All Star.
The other big blunder was Vin Baker. I'm hazy on all the particulars, but see the last link below for a full account from Bill Simmons on that deal. I believe that it was later revealed that the cheap owner of the time was looking to shed short term money (the deal saved like a million that year) without regard to the long term cap killing nature of the deal because he was looking to sell the team anyway. So again, I think Wallace was nudged in that direction and took the fall for it.
See below for some more Bill Simmons articles mentioning Chris Wallace. Enjoy.
It's interesting to see yet another circumstance where it's difficult to entirely separate the actions of Wallace from his ownership group. A big thanks to Jeff for his insights.