Levien, Lash out in Grizzlies front office shakeup - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Levien, Lash out in Grizzlies front office shakeup

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So much for a quiet off season.

Memphis Grizzlies majority owner Robert Pera hit the reset button in the front office with CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash that follows the Grizzlies' elimination in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

MORE: Memphis Grizzlies announce changes to basketball operations staff

General manager Chris Wallace assumes interim responsibility for basketball operations. Jason Wexler, the Grizzlies' chief operating officer, remains responsible for business operations.

Pera, the Grizzlies' controlling owner, thanked Levien for his hard work in a statement.

"Rest assured that we remain as committed as ever to bringing a championship to this great city, and we are confident that when the new season begins our fans will be excited about both our roster and the direction of our organization," Pera said.

According to multiple reports, Pera had become more involved lately in the day to day running of the team, and that Monday's move came about very quickly, and was unexpected, with Levien and Lash scouting at the NBA Draft combine last week.

Levien had been the Grizzlies' CEO since Pera and his ownership group took control of the team in November 2012, and one of his biggest decisions was the hiring of Lash as director of player personnel and former ESPN writer John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations. The first season went well as the Grizzlies reached the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

Then Grizzlies decided not to bring back coach Lionel Hollins, instead promoting Dave Joerger to head coach. Under the first-year coach, the Grizzlies went 50-32 and reached the playoffs for the fourth straight season. But Memphis lost in seven games to Oklahoma City in the opening round of the playoffs.

It's fair to wonder now about the status of Joerger. His first season at the helm was a roller coaster and nearly derailed by injuries. Keep in mind he was hand-picked by Levien. It's also worth noting, Pera's season ending interviews with the players were held without the head coach or front office personnel in attendance.

Under Joerger, the Grizzlies struggled at the start of the season going 10-15. He also lost center Marc Gasol 23 games with a sprained left knee, and guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen also missed games with injuries. Joerger wound up using 17 different starting lineups with Levien and the front office making a variety of moves bringing in Courtney Lee, James Johnson from the D-League and Beno Udrih off waivers.

The Grizzlies had to win the final five games of the regular season to earn the No. 7 seed. But guard Nick Calathes was suspended for 20 games for violating the league's anti-drug policy by testing positive for tamoxifen, Memphis was blown out with a chance to close out the Thunder on its own court in Game 6 and then Zach Randolph was suspended for Game 7.

Memphis has some big decisions to make this off season. Randolph has a player option for next season at more than $16 million, and Gasol has two more seasons left on his contract.

"Wow," Allen wrote on Twitter.

One name to keep an eye on is Dave Mincberg, the team's lead attorney, and he has reportedly been pushing for an increased role in the front office.

When the news broke early Monday afternoon, it sent shockwaves through the Mid-South sports world.

ESPN's Marc Stein first broke the story on Twitter and soon after Memphis sports reporters and sportstalk show hosts were weighing in.

Chris Vernon, host of the Chris Vernon Show on WMFS-FM 92.9 ESPN Radio, was in the middle of his show when he received word. He says news that Lash and Levien were out was a shock. Vernon said Levien has a connection to the local ownership and the players and was deep into preparations for the 2014 NBA Draft, which takes place June 26.

Vernon said the front office shakeup couldn't happen at a worse time.

"This is awful," he said. "It's different. If you lose a business guy, it's also different if you lose a basketball guy. Jason was in charge of everything."


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FOX13 News reporter Lauren Lee and the Associated Press in Memphis contributed to this report.

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