MikeCheck: Grizzlies push forward with draft prep, trade options amid Stefanski’s front-office departure
MEMPHIS – The savvy insight and connections front-office executive Ed Stefanski brought to Memphis will be missed, but his departure this week to join the Detroit Pistons won’t disrupt the Grizzlies’ draft preparations, general manager Chris Wallace said Thursday.
“Ed did a terrific job for us and made a great contribution to our franchise, so we’re all very thrilled for him to have this opportunity,” Wallace said after Thursday’s draft workouts at FedExForum. “But our draft process moves forward at this time. In due time, we’ll get to if we’re going to do something else in our front office. But our draft (process) rolls on. And we know who (Stefanski) likes already.”
Stefanski confirmed Thursday to ESPN that he’s accepted a senior advisory role under Pistons’ owner Tom Gores to help steer Detroit through a front-office makeover. The Pistons parted ways after the season with Stan Van Gundy, who spent four years as coach and president of basketball operations.
Wallace did not specify when or how the Grizzlies would fill Stefanski’s role leading to the June 21 NBA Draft in Brooklyn. Memphis owns the No. 4 overall pick and the No. 32 pick in the second round. Stefanski has worked as the Grizzlies’ executive vice president of basketball operations since 2014, and received a three-year contract extension in 2016 along with top basketball operations executives.
Although Wallace is the chief decision-maker on personnel, the Grizzlies have used a committee approach, with Wallace, Stefanski and fellow executive vice president John Hollinger working in concert. That leadership group, along with first-year executive Tayshaun Prince and coach J.B. Bickerstaff, represented the Grizzlies in Chicago during last week’s NBA Draft Combine.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Prince, director of player personnel Chris Makris or director of pro personnel Glynn Cyprien would take on expanded roles in the interim as Memphis finalizes preparation for the draft. All within that group were in attendance Thursday for the team’s second round of pre-draft workouts with potential second-round prospects.
Memphis native and All-SEC First Team point guard Chris Chiozza and Georgia Tech leading scorer Josh Okogie highlighted a group of six players who went through scrimmages, drills and meetings Thursday.
Chiozza, who also made the All-SEC Defensive Team at Florida, averaged 11.1 points, 6.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals this season and led the SEC with a 3.22 assist-to-turnover ratio. The former White Station High star has worked out for several teams, including a stop with the Wizards on Tuesday. But auditioning for his hometown NBA team carried a bit more weight, and was one he’s had scheduled for more than a week. Chiozza has a half-dozen more workouts over the next two weeks.
“I was excited to come home and work for my home team,” said Chiozza, who may be an option for the Grizzlies’ developmental pipeline with the G League’s Memphis Hustle if he goes undrafted. “It means the world to me. I always wanted to stay home and go to college here, but didn’t do that. Now, at the next level, to have a chance to possibly play in my hometown, is a tremendous opportunity, a blessing.”
Okogie, a 6-4 scorer who ranked fourth in the ACC at 18.2 points a game and shot 38-percent on threes last season, is one of six Yellow Jackets to surpass 1,000 career points as a sophomore. He played two years at Tech under former University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner, and arrived at FedExForum looking to maintain momentum from a solid showing at last week’s NBA Combine.
Wallace believes Okogie likely slots somewhere in the draft between late in the first round and midway through the second, which falls in the Grizzlies' range should they keep their high second-round pick.
“I know I’m in a good spot – where I can control my own destiny,” Okogie said Thursday. “This is my first (workout) since the Combine, but I definitely built on that momentum. At the Combine, I knew (if I) keep doing what I’ve been doing, people would take notice. I’m just trying to keep going and going.”
Also participating in Thursday’s workout were Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs, Florida State’s Braian Angola, Tennessee’s Admiral Scholfield and Murray State’s Jonathan Stark, also a Memphis native. Two weeks ago, the Grizzlies hosted another workout that included players with local or regional ties in UMass’s C.J. Anderson (Arlington/Whitehaven), Illinois’ Leron Black (White Station), Ole Miss’ Terence Davis, New Mexico State’s Jemerrico Jones (Melrose) and Middle Tennessee State’s Nick King (East/UM transfer).
Bringing in familiar faces with roots in the region is a developmental priority for the Grizzlies.
“Which is good, because we want to always put an emphasis on giving the local guys a shot,” Wallace said as the Grizzlies also consider options for summer league teams and the G League's Memphis Hustle. “We got (Chiozza) in for the first time after a great career at Florida. And Okogie is a guy that’s probably going to go (in the draft) around where our pick is. So it was a productive day.”
As it pertains to where the Grizzlies are leaning with their first-round pick, Wallace said all options remain open, including trading the pick for additional assets and potential veteran help. Memphis went 22-60 and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years, so returning to the postseason right away with additional help for Marc Gasol and Mike Conley remains the primary objective.
But Wallace also believes the draft – headlined by Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. – is deep enough to secure an immeditate contributor with the fourth overall pick.
Teams are mostly in pre-draft mode. There’s talk, but it’s much like the trade deadline in February – it’ll move (faster) at that point. You’re always open to everything. You never take a possibility off the table at this time. So you’re moving on two tracks. You’re looking at all the players (in the draft) and have them in order. And you’re also going around the league seeing what’s the interest level in these picks. So they’re not exclusive.-- Chris Wallace
“Things will heat up when we get to the draft,” Wallace said of trade discussions. “Teams are mostly in pre-draft mode. There’s talk, but it’s much like the trade deadline in February – it’ll move (faster) at that point. You’re always open to everything. You never take a possibility off the table at this time. So you’re moving on two tracks. You’re looking at all the players (in the draft) and have them in order. And you’re also going around the league seeing what’s the interest level in these picks. So they’re not exclusive.”
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