Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Grizzlies' Contract Dispute with Xavier Henry is Idiotic

The Grizzlies never miss an opportunity to support the narrative that the owner is cheap and the team is poorly managed. We should be celebrating Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol, who are representing their countries in the World Basketball Championships. Instead, the Grizzlies are making headlines as a result of a contract dispute with rookie Xavier Henry and his agent Arn Tellum.

For those who aren't familiar with the situation, here is a brief overview:
  • All 1st Round Picks have guaranteed contracts with only a few provisions that can be negotiated.
  • This dispute is over whether the Grizzlies will pay 120% of Henry's guaranteed salary (the max allowed) or tie payment of the additional 20% to incentives.
  • Most rookies receive 120% or are given basic incentives like Summer League attendance to earn the extra 20%.
  • Some of the Grizzlies' proposed incentives are more difficult to achieve than attendance.
  • The Grizzlies are publicly stating that they want the 20% incentive to motivate Henry.
The Commercial Appeal is reporting that three incentives that Henry must meet to receive the extra 20% include (directly quoted from the CA):
  • Participation in summer league.
  • A two-week workout program with the team's training staff.
  • Satisfying one of the following: play in NBA rookie/sophomore game during All-Star weekend, or earn an all-rookie selection, or average 15 minutes in at least 70 games.
On Chris Vernon's radio show, General Manager Chris Wallace told Vernon that requiring such incentives was "within our rights" and that (paraphrasing) offering a carrot to incentivize performance was a 'best practice'.

On the face, it sounds like the Grizzlies are making a smart move: Use money to motivate players to perform. The only problem is that the science of motivation contradicts the Grizzlies' strategy. Money is not a good motivator for something as complex as making the Rookie team or averaging 15 minutes per game. These aren't goals that Henry can complete using limited cognitive ability.

Thus, there are two options: Either Michael Heisley is incompetent or the Grizzlies are belying their true motivation -- to save money if Henry doesn't pan out -- with the false motive of offering Henry a carrot to perform.

The science says carrots and sticks don't motivate people to perform.

Money is really a great motivator for basic tasks that don't require cognitive skill like showing up to Summer League. However, as Dan Pink explains in his book Drive, summarized in the above video, science shows us that money is a poor incentive to do something as abstract as become a better basketball player. If Henry gets into the rookie game, it won't be because money drove him to do so. That logic is just plain dumb.

According to the video, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose are the great motivators of performance and success. Top companies set lofty purposes about changing the world to help motivate their employees. The Grizzlies might set a goal like winning an NBA Championship or becoming the best basketball team. Instead, they take every opportunity to frame the discussion about money. Goals are salary cap flexibility or being financially responsible.

As a result, they're perceived as a cheap organization, and they've fostered a culture of losing. As the Grizzlies celebrate their 10th season in Memphis, I hope they reflect on the fact that they've only produced 3 winning seasons and Zero playoff wins. Of course, that won't motivate them to do something a complex as winning some games for the city of Memphis. But maybe it will help them realize that ending this dispute with Henry might help them drive towards a better purpose.

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