Hiring a new coach is something like entering into a new relationship. If you can find the right match and work through the difficult times, you'll have a lasting partnership that both parties can be proud of. However, let the relationship fall by the wayside and problems fester, and things could quickly be headed for a messy divorce.
Dave Joerger's abrupt departure earlier this summer certainly attests to the latter. From the outside looking in, it's really impossible to apportion blame. The important takeaway is that trust had eroded, relationships had grown tenuous, and when that happens, things are often beyond repair, and regardless of who was more or less at fault, introspection is paramount to ensure that those problems don't persist or become chronic.
After an extensive search and plenty of interviews with a wide array of candidates, this front office has finally found in David Fizdale the coach to lead them through the next era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball. And as they move into the future, it's important that the front office keep an eye on the past, to learn from their history so as not to repeat it. With that in mind, here are a few pieces of advice for coach and front office as they enter into their new marriage.
1. Keep your arguments behind closed doors
We all have those friends on social media who tend to share a little too much, who launch into rants at the slightest provocation and air every grievance, whether it be with a friend, a family member, or a significant other. While those sort of posts are sometimes good for a laugh (when you're not the one being called out), the truth is that in the long run those sort of things can do real damage.
Memphis has seen its share of problems with that sort of openness. Sure, Joerger never went full-on caps lock internet rant on the front office, but he dropped a fair share of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) jabs. He publicly labeled his team as old; he bemoaned his players' unwillingness to accede to his new style of offense. Those complaints weren't loud, but they took their toll.
Throwing your players and decision makers rarely works out well, and as a result of his press conference comments, Joerger may have lost the support of some of his more veteran players in addition to drawing the ire of the front office for his continued flirting with outside organizations. It was a steady dose of dissent that steadily snowballed into something that was inescapable.
The lesson for Fizdale is simple. Fight your battles in private. Airing out dirty laundry for the world to see is a bad look for all involved and serves no purpose other than to erode trust.
2. Don't keep your problems bottled up
The best piece of relationship advice I ever received came from the pastor who officiated my wedding, who told me, "Never let the sun go down on your anger," which is a fancy way of saying, "Don't bottle up your emotions." It's simple advice, but sometimes in life the simple things are the most difficult to master.
From an organizational standpoint, it doesn't make sense to hand over roster decisions to a head coach. Head-coach-slash-GMs that are successful are the exception rather than the norm. In Memphis' case, with a first time coach, it makes even less sense.
That doesn't mean, though, that there shouldn't be some conversation regarding roster construction. The Grizzlies sit poised on the edge of a major transition (one that would be expedited by Conley's unlikely but possible exodus), and Fizdale has clearly been chosen to preside over that transition. With that choice having been made, it only makes sense that he should have some say in how the team is built moving foward.
Joerger's disdain for the Jordan Adams/Rodney Hood situation was well chronicled, and he clearly never let go of that frustration. It's also impossible to know how much Joerger's pleas to draft Hood were taken into account. But Joerger's brusque "No" when asked whether he'd be involved in the draft process feels mildly ominous, and the front office would do well to remember this situation. You're entrusting this team and it's future, hopefully both short and longterm, to Fizdale. Remember that his opinions matter.
3. It's all about the kids
One of the most frustrating parts of watching the Grizzlies during Joerger's tenure was watching aging veterans (and Ryan Hollins) play extensive minutes while players like Russ Smith and Jordan Adams sat on the bench collecting dust. It felt like Joerger was sacrificing long-term success for short-term, and in some moments it was borderline infuriating.
With the structure of the salary cap in the NBA, it's more vital than ever to develop young talent. Free agency gets expensive quickly, so taking your draft picks and turning them into key contributors is paramount to building sustained success.
With the hiring of Fizdale, the Grizzlies seem to have taken a solid step in the right direction with this issue. One of the former Miami assistant's biggest strengths has been player development. That's an encouraging sign as it is, and even more encouraging considering that the Grizzlies are quickly approaching the transition to the post-Grit and Grind era. With Memphis' core near the end of its run, the burden will fall more and more on the youth, and the development of their young players will grow steadily more important. Fizdale's reputation for developing players will be put to the test here, but he if can pass, it could go a long way to making the process as painless as possible.
When employing a new coach, it's important to be mindful of that coach's strengths and weaknesses. But even more important than that is to be mindful of the relationship, to keep the dialogue between coach and front office open and honest. With Joerger's departure and Fizdale's hiring, Memphis has a chance to start its new era on the right foot. The important thing is that they learn from their mistakes and don't make the same errors again.