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The Trouble with Dave Joerger

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Good enough to miss, yet flawed enough to replace. Dave Joerger's 2015-2016 season was a microcosm of his entire time as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Dave Joerger has some lessons to learn from his time in Memphis.
Dave Joerger has some lessons to learn from his time in Memphis.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Before Dave Joerger was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies on a Saturday morning, he was hired by them (albeit a different front office) on a Tuesday in 2013, and hopes were high. He had been a part of the organization for several years before his hiring, serving as Lionel Hollins' lead assistant in charge of the defense before taking the helm of the on the court product for the organization. He was viewed as the right man for the job, a young coach who had the players' trust and the basketball mind to help the Grizzlies remain contenders in the Western Conference.

What a difference three years can make.

In fairness, to an extent he was able to do just that. Three seasons, three playoff appearances, including one trip to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. His experience with independent and D-League talent came in handy this past season in particular, as he pieced together rotation after rotation and lineup after lineup as 28 players came and went through his locker room. On any given night, Dave and his staff would be at the mercy of the basketball gods with regard to the players that may or may not be available, or who was signed earlier that day from the NBA's developmental league.

His ability to call excellent out-of-timeout plays and put Memphis in positions to succeed at the end of games was also one of his greatest strengths as head coach, and this past season that was as evident as ever.

It of course wasn't just at the end of games when Dave showed a great understanding of coaching basketball. When it came to executing scheme, especially on the defensive end of the court, more often than not a Joerger-coached Grizzlies team was prepared to stop or slow the opposition. His game preparation and schemes produced winners more often than not - Joerger's 147-99 record as Memphis' head coach is an impressive feat, the best regular season winning percentage (.598) of any coach in Grizzlies history.

While this season was his worst at the helm, the personnel problems surely played a role in that. Dave Joerger had the Grizzlies at 30-22 when Marc Gasol, the foundation of his offensive and defensive schemes, went down with a broken foot. That is close to in line with his .598 win percentage above, which would have led to (if maintained) 49 wins and an easy clinching of the five seed for Memphis this season. And then perhaps Dave Joerger wouldn't have been fired on a Saturday. Maybe he would have been extended instead. Maybe he would have gotten the raise in Memphis that he eventually got in Sacramento.

We will never know.

Instead, the season ended with the Grizzlies going 1-14 in their last 15 games, including the playoff sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. The team fought, and competed, on most nights, but the fire power just wasn't there. To say this is why Dave Joerger was fired would be inaccurate, however...the other reasons have been articulated well both here and elsewhere. His comments about the team playing "old and slow" come to mind (although he was just as hesitant as his predecessor Hollins when it came to playing rookies, another flaw), as does the obvious tension with the front office over various personnel moves such as selecting Jordan Adams instead of Rodney Hood in the 2014 NBA Draft and the trading away of Courtney Lee and Jeff Green as the season spun out of control.

Speaking of Green, then there are the moves that Dave was in favor of: the search for a wing that unfortunately ended in Jeff (who wasn't the answer Dave and others like me hoped he would be), or the attempts at changing style of play that were repeatedly met with resistance from his players. Over time, Dave lost the best players in his locker room and was seen as being uncommitted  to the long-term vision of the team by his employers. The Vince Carters and Matt Barnes of the world, while worthy of the praise they received in that now infamous crying presser at the end of the playoffs, do not rule the roost in Memphis.

Dave Joerger is a very good basketball coach. His flaws cost him his job in Memphis.

They aren't the builders of culture, the key cogs in the Grizzlies machine - between the moves that were and weren't made by Joerger and the attempts at leaving, the front office felt that the time had come to move on. When the decision was made, there were little or no angry tweets from players, no articles or interviews articulating frustration. While the Grizzlies organization is good at controlling those types of potential PR nightmares, the overall silence was louder than any words that could have been said. Joerger took the high road in this process, but it was painfully clear it wasn't the truth. Relationships had been fractured.

Dave Joerger is a good basketball coach. He is one of the youngest head coaches in the NBA at the age of 42. He is three years younger than Erik Spoelstra, seven years younger than Quin Snyder, and is in the conversation with these names and others as one of the top 10 or so coaches in the NBA. He has room to grow, and he probably will take the lessons he learned in Memphis, especially this past season, and apply them in Sacramento.

That would be wise, because there is certainly room for growth. He must earn, and keep, the trust of those who employ him in the front office and those who help keep him employed, his players. He has to build scheme to fit his personnel and not force his X's and O's on his Jimmys and Joes who may be best in a tweaked system from what he ran in Memphis. He also would be smart to learn from his former players how to instill and develop a culture of toughness and professional pride, as those two traits seem to be lacking in Sacramento with his new squad. How much of that Memphis culture was player-driven and how much was influenced by Dave Joerger? We are about to find out.

Once he gets Sacramento back to the postseason, he must have more success there than he did in Memphis - Dave was 9-13 with the Grizzlies in the playoffs, and even if you forgive the four most recent losses at the hands of the Spurs, a .500 record simply does not get you out of the first round often enough to be considered an "elite" coach. He is good, but replaceable...and in his next stop, he must rectify that to earn that shiny new contract he so desperately coveted (and earned), as well as the next one.

The Sacramento Kings hired Dave Joerger to be their next head coach on a Monday, and hope once again springs eternal. He must learn from the sins of Memphis though if he hopes to stay there for a prolonged stretch of time and not be fired some day in the not so distant future.

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