Another season, another coach has come and gone for the Memphis Grizzlies.
It’s time to ask: what is the root of the problem here?
The Grizzlies’ coaching situation the past few years reminds me of a revolving door. But it doesn’t fill me with the sort of excitement Buddy the Elf experiences when he encounters a revolving door for the first time:
No, the revolving door I’m thinking of is much more depressing. One coach enters, but ends up exiting out the revolving door soon after, just so another coach can enter and receive the same acceptance and then inevitable rejection. All the while, the Grizzlies have been slowly going downhill to the point where now many say they might as well tank and rebuild.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, it’s time to take a look at the Grizzlies’ past before finding a solution for the future.
It all (recently) started with Lionel Hollins, who coached the Grizzlies to their first Western Conference Finals in franchise history and “began” his tenure (after being the interim Head Coach twice before) in January 2009, replacing the fired Marc Iavaroni. Through the years that followed, he helped build a culture of “Grit and Grind” with the “Core 4” in Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
Slowly but surely, the Grizzlies climbed the ladder in the treacherous Western Conference as the Grizzlies became a prominent part of the NBA, and of the city itself. Under Hollins, the Grizzlies had their most successful season in franchise history with 56 wins. At the time, it seemed that everything was going smoothly for Memphis.
After getting swept by the Spurs in the WC Finals in 2013, however, Lionel Hollins was ousted.
It came out that there was conflict between Hollins and the Grizzlies’ front office of the time. Memphis allowed Hollins to meet with other teams, and then it leaked that Dave Joerger (who was Hollins’ assistant coach) was up for taking the spot of head coach with the Grizz.
The Memphis Grizzlies moved on from Hollins and took a chance on the younger Dave Joerger, who had been with the organization since the 2007-2008 season. Although many Grizzlies fans were disappointed at the departure of Lionel Hollins, Dave Joerger seemed like a solid replacement, and he already had roots in the franchise.
To start out his first season as the Grizzlies’ head coach, things didn’t go so great for Joerger. He tried to implement a faster style of play than the Grizzlies had been playing, and their players weren’t buying his philosophies. After a 2-3 start, it was reported that Robert Pera wanted to fire Joerger.
However, Joerger then led the Grizzlies to a 50-32 record, as well as winning Western Conference Coach of the Month twice. Despite having winning records for three seasons and leading Memphis to the playoffs in all three of those years, Joerger’s performance wasn’t enough. The Grizzlies wanted more than just playoff appearances. They wanted championships.
After Memphis didn’t make it past the first round in the playoffs in 2014, it was leaked that the Grizzlies were allowing Joerger to meet with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which was deemed as his “dream job” due to location.
But surprisingly, Joerger returned to the Grizzlies, and his contract was extended.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Grizzlies fired their CEO, Jason Levien, that offseason as well...But that’s another story, for another time.
So the 2014-15 season resulted in a second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors (this was the playoffs where Mike Conley broke his face, and he still played).
Joerger then had to deal with a tsunami of injuries during the 2015-16 season. The Grizzlies ended up having a total of 28 players on their roster that year, yet they still made it to the playoffs and had a winning record. Honestly, it was a remarkable feat. But the Grizzlies’ front office wasn’t satisfied after Memphis didn’t make it out of the first round that postseason.
As if going through two coaches so quickly wasn’t enough, the front office then let Joerger go and installed David Fizdale into the head coaching position.
Fizdale was expected to be the brilliant mind from the Miami Heat coaching staff that would combine the defensive greatness of grit n’ grind with the fast-paced offense that the rest of the NBA used.
So then, the 2016-17 season was “the year,” right?
The Grizzlies were supposedly healthy, and they had signed sharp-shooter Chandler Parsons, who was supposed to solve all their offensive shooting woes.
Well, Parsons only played 34 games that year, and the Grizzlies won 43 games. Mike Conley played 69 games, while Marc Gasol played 74. The Grizzlies got the 7th seed and played a spirited but unsuccessful series against the San Antonio Spurs.
Then, fast forward to the present. The Grizzlies got off to a hot 5-1 start this season, and they beat top teams in the conference.
Finally, the downhill spiral began...rapidly. The Grizzlies started losing, and Mike Conley has been now out for weeks. Gasol has dealt with minor injuries, and Memphis began to lose its former identity. Injuries plagued Memphis night after night, and Marc Gasol voiced his concerns after being benched in a quarter for one of the games.
Following this, the shocking news came out that Fizdale was being fired, and assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff would step in.
So, it begs to be said: what does this Grizzlies front office want, realistically?
They surrounded Marc and Mike with the incorrect pieces, injuries ensue, coaches scramble to pick up the pieces, and then get fired when half their team is out or they have the incorrect pieces to build the puzzle successfully. It's like giving someone corner pieces to a puzzle when they need straight pieces to complete the picture.
And even when they win consistently, it just isn’t enough.
Let’s take a look at the numbers:
(If the infographic does not appear on your mobile device, click here.)
And so the Grizzlies are like a revolving door.
In comes one coach, out goes the other.
But there is no real progress being made in the process. Coaches come in like Buddy the Elf when he discovers the revolving door, thinking there must be potential inside. They’re full of excitement. But when they don’t succeed, they’re turned back out and are puking in the trashcan, trying to recover. They get sick of the revolving door. Their career is going nowhere.
So, they leave, willingly or not, and another coach enters the revolving door, only to be spit back out. Lionel Hollins made history with the Grizzlies, despite dealing with a lack of solid offensive wings.
The result? He was fired.
Dave Joerger led the Grizzlies to multiple playoff runs, dealt with his star player having a broken face, and he dealt with 28 different players on the roster.
The result? He was fired.
David Fizdale came in, dealt with inadequate supporting players for Conley and Gasol. He dealt with multiple injuries, and he tried to transform Memphis’ offense into something that could keep up with the rest of the NBA. His star point guard, Mike Conley, goes out, after the team had a hot start to this season. As a result, Memphis spirals downward.
The result? He was fired as well.
Now, Memphis is starting at an uncertain future, and a gloomy one at that. We can play the blame game. Whose fault is it? Is it the players not playing well, is it the coach not coaching well, or is it the front office not doing its job well?
To me, it all starts with the heads of the organization, and their relationships with their coaches. If the front office has a positive relationship with the coach they choose, then the players are more inclined to follow the leader. When the front office is constantly bickering and threatening to fire a coach after the sign of the slightest misstep, what coach would want to walk into that?
Now, it’s not all on the front office, the player leaders have to instill confidence in their peers as well.
But the Grizzlies aren’t going to get anywhere if the front office doesn’t start getting along with their coaches and sticking with a solid plan. Stability for Memphis won’t be possible until they work together with the head coach. And last time I checked, the head coach wasn’t out there losing the games on the court. Surely, his presence matters, and his leadership is paramount...but the head coach is not the only part that matters.
If the front office is going to continue this pattern, it’s time for a revamp. It’s time for the Grizzlies front office to choose a coach and stop whining before Memphis goes down hill any further, and the Grizzlies go back to the dark days.
If Memphis has to rebuild, then they need the right coach to help do that. And the front office has to show their belief in that coach in order to reinstate stability to this franchise.