When it comes to measuring the success of a coach, it cannot just be done by wins and losses. You risk missing out on the intricacies of the profession if you judge the leader of a team by record alone. Relationships play a key role in coaching, as Tom Thibodeau's unfortunately ugly and very public exit in Chicago showed. "Thibs" is an excellent defensive coach who found ways to win consistently without a healthy Derrick Rose for much of his time with the Bulls, but because of souring relationships within the organization itself at its highest levels the Head Coach was let go.
Winning alone is not enough.
Head Coach Dave Joerger almost found this out himself last offseason. The majority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, Robert Pera, felt that he was unsure if he could trust Joerger after the mistrust that developed between him and his front office, namely Jason Levien. Joerger, despite a 50-32 record and getting a team that struggled all season with injuries to compete with the Oklahoma City Thunder admirably in a seven-game series before losing in the first round of the playoffs, was almost knee deep in a Minnesota Timberwolves rebuild after one year as the head man in Memphis. Relationships matter.
One of the strengths of Dave Joerger this past season, his second at the helm of the Grizzlies, was his development of those relationships. Whether it be strengthening the trust between himself, the front office and Pera himself to the tune of a contract extension or with players who grew more comfortable with "Head Coach" Joerger after knowing him for years as "Assistant Coach" Joerger, the Grizzlies' man in charge showed growth in 2014-2015.
Injuries still plagued Memphis, but to a lesser extent, and the defensive schemes and the offensive system of Joerger built around the versatility of Marc Gasol resulted in both team (55-27 record) and individual (Gasol named All-NBA First Team, Tony Allen named First Team All-Defense) successes. Joerger continued to model an expert knowledge of X's and O's, no doubt a development over years of coaching at both the D-League and NBA level. His end of game and out of timeout sets continue to become the thing of Grizzly legend, as all who remember this game-winner against the Kings can attest to.
Joerger's understanding of positioning, timing and execution of scheme is admirable, and puts him among very best in the NBA at this art of end-of-game and out-of-timeout play creation. Unfortunately, it is not seen consistently enough. Part of this is personnel related; sometimes, when you lack numerous perimeter threats or athletic wings who can create for themselves off the dribble, a Zach Randolph isolation play can come out of it.
Part of developing relationships with players is relinquishing some control and allowing them to make their own calls if they believe the defense calls for it. Sometimes the players are wrong (more often than not in Z-Bo iso situations), but you trade in a missed opportunity here for the greater respect earned from your veterans. This is vital, as they are who control so much of the all-important locker room atmosphere. If you lose your veterans, you lose your team, and eventually your job.
And it is important to keep in mind that Dave Joerger is still earning his stripes as an NBA Head Coach. This can be lost in the shuffle among the success of the team; yes, Joerger has won 114 games over his first two seasons including the postseason, an impressive feat. However, this roster's core has remained the same for the most part, as has the defensive scheme that Joerger was the architect of for his predecessor Lionel Hollins. Success existed before Joerger, and it has continued through him through his ability to develop those relationships more fully. It stands to reason that the success could potentially remain, even with Joerger at the helm.
As has been elaborated on before on this site by yours truly, the pursuit of greater success means possible changes on the horizon. Personnel adjustments, outside of the Mid-Level Exception and minor trades, seem to be unlikely, and the Grizzlies are the front runners to retain the services of soon-to-be free agent Marc Gasol. So, change must come from within, and it is upon Dave Joerger to do something next season that he did not do so well this past year-
Scheme only can be executed when you have the horses to do it. Memphis certainly has some thoroughbreds, but watching the NBA Finals can show anyone what it takes to win a championship in the NBA today. Great defense, athletic/long wings, excellent ball movement and spacing. Oh, an a generational talent or two. Of course, the Grizzlies are lacking in that final department, but with some tweaks to scheme, especially offensively, and with lineups adjustments, Joerger can get this offense out of the proverbial "mud."
If Jeff Green remains a Grizzly? More time at the 4 position, or Power Forward, would be beneficial, as would pick-and-roll sets that put Jeff in a forced position to attack the rim. It's like blitzing a linebacker in football; if you're not going to fill the gap on the offensive line yourself, I as the coach will scheme things so that you must to do your job within our set. If you don't? There's the bench.
Shooting remains a problem for a roster hamstrung by contract issues? Give younger players more opportunity to grow and develop in game situations. Joerger appears to have taken with him some of the traits of his mentor Hollins when it comes to playing rookies. While first year players don't see consistently big minutes on true title contenders, players like Jordan Adams, who have the ability to penetrate, create and connect from range on a regular basis, should be explored more in different situations. A Wednesday night game against the Denver Nuggets, or a Sunday matinee against the Detroit Pistons, may be an excellent chance to rest those "key" veteran wings and allow for an Adams or another future player to get real-time minutes within scheme. When the moment comes in the playoffs where the offense sputters, you can be more confident then in giving him opportunity.
Opportunity is all an aspiring head coach can ask for, and Dave Joerger so far has made the most of his with Memphis and the Grizzlies. He has managed an eclectic locker room well and has earned trust through relationship building, both with his players and his bosses in the front office. In 2014-2015 he showed he can X and O with the best in the NBA, and sustained the success that Grizzlies fans and the NBA at large has begun to expect year in and year out from the Bears of Beale Street.
As Joerger evolves as a coach, he must be able to better respond to the needs of his team. The trust that he earned with his veteran locker room may be tested at times through lineup tweaks and more time for skilled younger talent, but for an offensively challenged team with not much help on the horizon (barring a major move) improvement from within must become more of a priority. The development of relationships with these younger players will pay dividends, especially when the offensive struggle known as "the mud" rears its ugly head. Dave must also be willing to adapt his schemes, continuing to try to find ways to manufacture spacing and movement through cuts to the basket and the elbow if the wing and three-point line are not viable options.
It isn't just relationships with players and higher ups, fans and the media, that coaches must worry about. The most important relationship is the one with yourself, your ability to self-reflect and grow as a leader of a team. In order for the Grizzlies to seriously contend for the NBA title, Dave Joerger must continue to stay true to himself while evolving along with the ever-changing landscape of both the Memphis Grizzlies and the NBA.