Relocating the Grizzlies
New Home Won't End Woes
Don't blame Vancouver fans for the Grizzlies' imminent departure. When the team returned to the General Motors Place last Thursday after losing eight straight games on the road—during which owner Michael Heisley applied to the league to relocate the franchise to Memphis—the players were greeted warmly by a crowd of 15,949-The ensuing 89-68 win over the Knicks was Vancouver's 99th (against 353 losses) in six years of play, yet at week's end the Grizzlies had averaged 13,757 fans this season, better than three teams, including the Rockets.
"No one has said the problem is the fans," says a Vancouver team official. "The problem is that the numbers don't add up."
Heisley, a Chicagoan who spent $160 million to buy the Grizzlies last year, has estimated he will lose as much as $46 million this season. But how much of the team's loss is the result of bad management? This has been, after all, one of the most inept franchises in any sport.
"I've played for five coaches and three owners and with who-knows-how-many players," says fifth-year forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who asked to be traded in midseason. A league source says that early this season Grizzlies management, in an attempt to persuade Abdur-Rahim and several other players to stick out the year with the team, promised to move the franchise to a U.S. city next season. Aaron Goodwin, who represents Abdur-Rahim, says that he never heard such talk and that it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because his client wanted to escape Vancouver's losing team, not the city.
Changing venues will not change the Grizzlies' dysfunctional nature. Rumors have reached coach Sidney Lowe that team president Dick Versace—a former coach—wants to take his place. (Versace did not return phone calls last week.) "[Dick] assured me he didn't want to coach," Lowe says. "What I've heard is a different story, but I have to go by what he said."
Lowe worries that his young players are growing accustomed to losing. "You have to decide whether you think these guys will ever get it, or whether they'll give into losing," Lowe says. "It's hard to give up on young guys when you see the talent is there, but sometimes you have to do it because of [their] mind-set."
Point guard Mike Bibby says he was almost traded this season, but he denies reports that he and Abdur-Rahim are at odds. So does Abdur-Rahim. "I read somewhere that me and Reef are fighting all the time, but it's not true," says Bibby. "I think everybody gets along great."
That's part of the problem, says Lowe: A team that is losing so prodigiously should not be so focused on getting along. "The biggest mistake is to want to be friends first instead of being [winners] first," Lowe says.
Proposed Rule Changes