Now that the Donald Sterling saga seems to be over and Donald Sterling is out of the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver can breathe a sigh of relief knowing he got rid of an eyesore and relax, right? Not so fast, Mr. Silver. There appears to be another owner who is raising eyebrows with his strange antics. There appears to be some chaos in Memphis with owner Robert Pera’s behavior.
Pera is the founder of Ubiquiti Network Inc. He is listed as one of the ten youngest billionaires in the world. He bought the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012. Since then, it’s been a strange ride.
His relationship with his coaches has been spotty after a couple of seasons. After a 56-win season in 2012-13, he fired coach Lionel Hollins. He hired Dave Joerger, and even though the team won 50 games again, it was a season filled with chaos.
As reported by SI,com’s Chris Mannix, things started to go downhill when Pera challenged player Tony Allen to a one-on-one game. It was supposed to be fun and for charity. Reports claimed that Allen lost interest in the game. Pera became very upset, but at whom did he direct his anger? He set his sights directly on Joerger.
Joerger did not like the idea of having one of his players play the owner. He felt it was unprofessional and also didn’t want to risk an injury to Allen. He did not do anything to stop it, however. Pera felt differently. He set out to fire Joerger because of the cancellation of the game. Ultimately, front office officials convinced him to keep Joerger.
Allen wasn’t even the only player past or present Pera has mixed it up with recently. He trash-talked former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo, played the Toronto Raptors’ Landry Fields and even challenged Hall of Famer and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan to a game for charity.
When the Grizzlies started the season 2-3, Pera went to Memphis to interview players individually. He offered up some interesting suggestions to get the team going.
One of Pera’s ideas was to name Mike Miller a player-coach. Another was to have Joerger wear headsets courtside and instructions could be piped in to him. When Pera told Joerger to give big minutes to forward Ed Davis, Joerger played him just one minute. Again, Pera went off the deep end and wanted to fire the coach.
Things on the court went well after the slow start, and despite the turmoil. They finished with a 50-32 record, and took the Oklahoma City Thunder to the limit in the opening round, going down in seven games. Had it not been for Zach Randolph getting suspended for throwing a punch (of course!) at the Thunder’s Steven Adams, the Grizzlies could very well have won the series.
The offseason came to Memphis, and the strangeness happened once more.
Pera fired Grizzlies’ CEO Jason Levien. He also conducted end-of-the-season interviews with the players without front office personnel and the coach present. It was said that the team’s lead attorney, David Mincberg, was fighting with Lezien to gain a bigger role with the team. Mincberg won that war.
Levien was instrumental in hiring Joerger as coach, so things looked bleak for him. Joerger then asked for-and received-permission to speak to the Minnesota Timberwolves about their head coaching job. Interim GM Chris Wallace went on a Memphis radio show to explain that Joerger was being allowed to interview for the job because he was from Minnesota.
Can you imagine that? You have a coach who just led your team to a 50-win season, and you risk losing him to another team because he was from that city? During the team’s slow start, Mincberg was in Pera’s ear, pushing for Joerger’s dismissal. Joerger must have seen the writing on the wall, and decided he needed to go, right?
Not so fast. About a week after he interviewed for the Wolves’ job, Joerger amazingly decided to stay in Memphis and even signed a two-year contract extension. He spoke about having a heart-to-heart with Pera, and now everything is great.
“I just had a really good heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. We have a very shared vision of what we can do here, especially with the team we have now. It was cool.”
That must have been one really good talk.
Perhaps it was just what the two needed, a talk to hash things out. Perhaps Joerger took a good look at the Timberwolves without Kevin Love and decided he could stand the owner a little more, and another 50-win season or two could raise his stock and lead to something better down the road.
Since it appears Pera has patched things up with Joerger, he needs to let out his ire on someone else now, right? Well, he took to Twitter recently and unleashed on Mannix:
Wow..@ChrisMannixSI What happened to journalistic integrity? No wonder people are calling me crazy. I would too if any of that was true
@ChrisMannixSI Btw..you never contacted me. If you want to get your “source” on TV/radio, let’s be open and have a talk. Name your time
— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) May 26, 2014
Of course, Mannix had his response:
@RobertPera Due respect, made multiple requests through the Grizz p.r. department. Ask Ross/Jason.
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) May 26, 2014
None of this looks good for the Grizzlies. They are supposed to be concentrating on looking to strengthen the team through the draft or re-signing key players. Instead, there is controversy and chaos, and the need to put out fires.
It has been an exhausting four months for Commissioner Silver. He dodged one landmine in the Sterling saga. As more owners open up and show their true personalities, more problems could arise. Things with Sterling were allowed to go on for decades before it blew up in the NBA’s face. Pera started out funny by challenging players to games, but his behavior may have started to get a bit out of control, and if not kept in check may get worse over time.
With Mark Cuban sticking his foot in his mouth every time he talks about Sterling, Silver might need to keep the owners muzzled similarly to how the NBA and other leagues try to keep the players in line. If it is difficult to keep millionaire players under control, how difficult will it be to keep BILLIONAIRES in check?