Chris Wallace joins Grizzlies as VP, GM

It didn’t take long for Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies’ new vice president of basketball operations and general manager, to outline what he envisions for the organization as he takes the helm.

“I’m here to build a championship team. I want to see a parade one day down Beale Street. This city deserves it. That’s what we’re in the game for, to win championships and (head coach) Marc (Iavaroni) and I will not rest until we have that parade somewhere down the future.”

And with that pronouncement, the Chris Wallace era in Memphis got underway.

He’ll work in tandem with Jerry West over the next two weeks, before West retires from the Grizzlies. Wallace’s first order of business is next Thursday’s draft, where the Grizzlies hold the fourth overall pick, and West made it clear that it will be Wallace calling the shots in the draft room. When it comes to the eternal draft debate of taking need vs. talent, Wallace left no question which side of the fence he’s on.

“You don’t draft with the roster in mind. I often say you should throw the roster completely out the window on draft day,” he said. “The draft is about talent. It’s about bringing in talent that you might not be able to get through trading and free agency because you have some constraints in those areas. You look at the teams that have made the biggest mistakes in the draft…(the mistakes are) always with the roster in mind, filling a need.”

While it may seem that Wallace is behind the eight-ball with the draft given that it’s only 10 days away, he doesn’t see it that way. He comes to the Grizzlies from the Boston Celtics, and since they hold the fifth pick, Wallace is already familiar with the top prospects both from scouting and from individual workouts prospects had in Boston.

He made it clear that with the high draft pick and some room under the salary cap to work with, he doesn’t think it will be long before the Grizzlies are back in the playoff picture.

“I’m very excited about the future of this team. Jerry and his staff have put together an outstanding roster full of some very young and talented players. It’s a roster chock full of explosive scorers, and this is a team that can make a quick turnaround and be back in contention for the playoffs I think overnight.”

Wallace’s hiring comes just about three weeks after the Grizzlies tabbed Marc Iavaroni as the team’s new head coach. Wallace talked glowingly about Iavaroni and his background, citing Iavaroni’s work under coaches both offensive and defensive-minded. He also made clear his philosophy for the coach-executive relationship.

“We’re here to win. We’re going to win and thrive together in sync together. I’m here to support him…This is a collaborative process between Marc and I, the basketball staff, Mr. Heisley, Andy Dolich and the people on the business side, we’re all in this together. I believe in supporting the coach and getting the players he is comfortable he can win with.”

What stuck out about Wallace for many at Monday’s press conference was his frank nature. He admitted that in retrospect, trading Joe Johnson instead of Kedrick Brown was “a mistake”, but that the players they got in return helped the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals that year. It’s a fact many fans who have been critical of the hire forget.

Wallace also made it clear that he plans to become very visible in the community.

“My wife Debbie and my son Truman are both very excited about this opportunity. We can’t wait to get involved in this community and become Memphians and really get to know everything that goes on here,” he said. “I like what I’ve seen of Memphis from afar, coming in and out scouting, going to the Hoop Summit, watching the Memphis Tigers play. I’ve been real impressed with this community and how the downtown has developed and we’re very eager to get out there and get working in the community and get to know so many people.”

He added that unlike many general managers, he doesn’t come from a playing or coaching background, giving him a similar perspective on the game that the fans have.

“I feel a kinship to the fans. I was not a big-time player or coach. I was a fan before I became a basketball professional, and I’ll be a fan long after I leave this game and they pull me off the stage,” he said. “The fan makes a tremendous commitment to the teams they follow, both financially, and emotionally in the time they invest, and we need to do everything we can to reach out to the fans, not only to build a winning product but to make their experience as enjoyable as possible.”

Watch the full video of the press conference (launches NBA flash player, broadband required).