The National Basketball Association's approval yesterday of Chicago businessman Michael Heisley's purchase of the Vancouver Grizzlies means an expected sweeping of the bear's den is near.
Heisley immediately departed on a business trip and was unavailable for comment after the league's board of governors, meeting in New York, unanimously approved his $160-million (U.S.) purchase of the Grizzlies from John McCaw of Seattle.
Sweeping changes are presumed for the Grizzlies' front office and coaching staff, with general manager Stu Jackson and head coach Lionel Hollins expected to be among the casualties.
"I will comment on these issues shortly," Heisley said in a release. "However, I do intend to speak with the people involved personally before I provide any further information publicly."
Jackson, on a scouting trip to Phoenix, didn't immediately return calls.
Those within the organization are waiting for the axe to fall.
"I guess everybody starts looking now as to when things may start to happen and how far things will go when they do happen," said one member of the staff who requested anonymity.
Heisley will probably want his own people in place by the time of the June 28 draft.
Dick Versace, a former NBA coach and broadcaster and a friend of Heisley's, is expected to have some role in team management. Contacted at his Chicago home by a Vancouver radio station, Versace said he's been told by Heisley not to speak to the media.
Some details of the purchase still must be finalized between Heisley and Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, McCaw's company that also owns the National Hockey League Vancouver Canucks and GM Place.
"It's things like shared services," said Loring Phinney, a Heisley spokesman in Vancouver. "In the case where Orca Bay owned both franchises they did everything themselves.
"Now they have to negotiate to figure out who is going to do what. Do you have the same group doing marketing for both teams? Not likely."
These details are expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Star forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim has let it be known he might ask for a trade if Jackson is replaced.
Jackson drafted Abdur-Rahim and was responsible for his decision to sign a six-year, $71-million (U.S.) contract extension last year.
Heisley is taking over a five-year-old team that has a history of losing games on the court and millions of dollars at the bank. The Grizzlies, who set a franchise-high win total this year, took a 21-55 record into last night's game against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland.
Earlier this year, Bill Laurie, heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, backed out of a potential purchase when the NBA refused to allow him to move the franchise to St. Louis, where he already owns the NHL Blues and Kiel Centre.
Heisley has said he has no plans to relocate the team.
The board of governors also approved new owners for the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets and were updated on plans for a new developmental league slated to begin in November 2001.
Also, three rules changes were approved for the 2001-02 season, the most notable of which will eliminate the delay-of-game warning on inbound plays in the final two minutes.
Commissioner David Stern said the NBA plans to start its own, centrally run developmental league with eight to 10 teams in small-market cities.
"We'd like to create another domestic option that keeps players here rather than travelling the world," Stern said. "Our goal is not to use this to undermine the college game at all, but rather to deal with players who have used up their college eligibility and find themselves in a basketball no-man's land."
Stern said talks continue with Continental Basketball Association owner Isiah Thomas about merging that league with the NBA's new league.