Last season, not one of the thirty NBA Head Coaches were fired; an unprecedented occurrence in the modern game.
Nineteen games into this season, Memphis Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale became the second Head Coach to be fired, following former Suns coach Earl Watson onto the coaching scrap heap.
The move would seem to be the result of the post-game rant by star Marc Gasol after he was benched for the final quarter in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. It was the Grizzlies’ eighth consecutive loss, only winning one game in their last ten after starting the season 5-1, and now find themselves at 7-12.
Why Was Fizdale Fired?
“After a thorough evaluation, I decided a change in course was necessary to move forward and provide the team and organization with the best chance at success this season and beyond.”
Statement by Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace
“We needed to have a change to try to save the season. Looking at where we were headed, there just weren’t a great deal of positive trends. We hope to get a positive reboot.”
Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace via Commercial Appeal
Officially, Coach Fizdale was fired because of the Grizzlies poor start to the season. What forced GM Wallace to pull the trigger however, seems to be Gasol’s public criticism of his coach following the Nets loss.
Apparently, Gasol’s outburst is not the first time that Gasol and Fizdale have had a run in. Nor is it the first time he has had a run in with a coach, with the fracture in the relationship with former coach Dave Joerger, which was part of the reason for his removal after a number of successful seasons.
The Grizz also considered Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. untouchable during the offseason. Therefore, Fizdale’s removal seems to be the result of a poor start to the season in conjunction with the unhappiness of a star. In this instance, and in many others, the front office sided with the star and not the coach.
What This Means for Memphis?
In the short term, it means that J.B. Bickerstaff is the interim Head Coach. In the long-term it means that the Memphis organisation needs to establish exactly which direction it wants to take, or risk being stranded in the NBA wilderness.
The directions open to the Grizz are twofold, either keep the status quo and continue to try and contend with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr., or turn towards a rebuild and trade either or both studs now to maximize their return. Given Gasol’s age and Conley’s injury history, the clock is ticking to maximise value.
By firing Coach Fizdale and seemingly rejecting trade inquiries for Gasol, the Grizzlies have indicated their willingness to continue to conform to the status quo, at least for now.
The other wrinkle in Fizdale’s firing is that – correctly or no – the Grizzlies front office has sent a message to all potential Head Coaching candidates that Gasol wields considerable power within the organisation, evidently more than the Head Coach. How that will impact any coaching search next offseason waits to be seen.
What This Means for David Fizdale?
Coach Fizdale is well regarded within the NBA community, his name championed by some of the greats of the game such as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. It’s hard to see that his name won’t be linked to upcoming Head Coach vacancies in the future.
There may be more to play out in this saga, but its hard to see how Fizdale walks away from this with his reputation significantly damaged. Fizdale’s reputation was forged as an astute assistant with the Miami Heat during its recent ‘Big Three’, and a solid first season at the helm of the Grizz.
He also backs his players in. The most pertinent example being the $30,000 fine received for the now famous ‘take that for data’ rant in Game 2 of last years playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. The fine was paid by the Memphis players.
The man who pulled the trigger on Fizdale’s firing deserves to take some of the blame for putting him in this position. GM Wallace has placed the roster in somewhat of a mess, after choosing not to re-sign ‘Grit-and-Grind’ culture setters in Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Tony ‘the Grindfather’ Allen.
Their collective replacements of Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers hasn’t fully addressed the depth issues that roster had. Evan’s has been terrific, but McLemore and Chalmers haven’t been the answer, and the remaining spots are filled with predominantly second round picks. Compounding the roster problem is that Chandler Parson’s and his max contract has not performed anywhere the level that such a contract demands. The roster moves made in the offseason seem conflicted, caught between aiming to contend, and wanting to rebuild.
If (as it so far seems the case) the catalyst for his firing was the Gasol episode, Fiz’s reasons for benching his star are justified. When Gasol was benched with three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Grizzlies were down 17. The Memphis reserves however, were able to claw the Nets’ lead back to five in the fourth. In gunning for the win, Fizdale decided to stick with what was hot and not go back to the starting unit. Memphis still lost. An intriguing ‘what if’ maybe, but not worth drawing the Gasol’s intense ire, nor is it an offence that should lead to a firing.
Coach Fizdale’s sacking, and the reaffirmation that Gasol is not up for trade are the most recent of a series of moves that collectively illustrate just how much the Grizzlies front office brass are scratching and clawing to stay relevant in the Western Conference, and at the same time, maintain parity with their bottom line. This is the burden of small market teams.
It will be interesting to watch how the Grizzlies perform, and what moves – if any – GM Wallace will make in the lead up to the trade deadline in February. Can the Grizz, against the odds, find success through their current dysfunction?