The coach who made the phrase “take that for data” famous is making the Memphis Grizzlies his.
Grit and Grind is on its way out. Vince Carter and Zach Randolph are already in Sacramento. Tony Allen is likely next, moving on from a team whose identity he helped build. The city of Memphis and Grizzlies fans around the world understand, but still mourn, the ending of the greatest era of professional basketball the community has ever known.
It now falls on David Fizdale to fully implement his vision.
This is something that former Grizzlies Head Coach Dave Joerger was never able to achieve. He attempted to modernize the offense in Memphis, pick up the pace, and try to create more space. But time and again the #Feed50 isolation plays flew and the team just wasn’t able to move forward.
Fizdale began this process this past season. Zach Randolph as a bench scorer, Marc Gasol as a three-point threat, and Mike Conley as a primary offensive option...these were all drastic changes from the past incarnations of the Grizzlies. But it wasn’t just the on-court product that Fizdale put his fingerprints on. It was the off the court decisions as well - rearranging the players’ area, redesigning the hallway with various photos of the players themselves and inspirational phrases, participating in panel discussions, and being active in the community. There was a new energy as Fizdale started building what he sees as a winning culture in Memphis.
With this offseason’s moves, Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace and the Grizzlies front office have doubled down on their commitment to giving Fizdale every chance to build his culture. Last year the Grizzlies roster had an average age of 26.5. This year? It figures to be much lower, with the 35-year-old Allen, soon to be 36-year-old Randolph, and 40-year-old Carter being replaced by the 28-year-old when the season starts Tyreke Evans, 24-year-old Ben McLemore, the Grizzlies’ 2017 NBA Draft picks Dillon Brooks (21) and Ivan Rabb (20), and newly-signed 2016 pick Rade Zagorac (22 when the season starts).
Assuming all of these players sign, as Evans/McLemore/Zagorac already reportedly have, and JaMychal Green returns (27-years-old), the average age of Memphis on opening night as of now would be 25. That could go down even more depending on what moves the Grizzlies make to get the roster down to 15, plus the two new two-way contracts teams can offer to G-League players.
That will be one of the younger rosters in the NBA. That has its benefits - considering the fact that the Grizzlies have had limited draft pick options, it is actually pretty impressive that Memphis has gotten to this point. The team is beyond a doubt more athletic and versatile now than it was just three months ago. But with that talent will come inexperience and a need to be molded, all while the team is heavily invested in Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Chandler Parsons. This is a team retooling for the future while trying to remain relevant in the improved Western Conference. That’s challenging as it is, but now the locker room dynamic has shifted. A new day has dawned in Memphis.
The era of Fizdale has begun.
The front office has bought in, but has one of his most important players? Marc Gasol throughout the season shied away from acknowledging his role on this team as a leader, at least publicly, and did not seem overly engaged with the coaching style of Fizdale or some of the choices made. That isn’t to say Marc didn’t thrive under Fizdale, he was an All-Star and had a remarkable season considering his return from injury.
It simply acknowledges that when it comes to building culture, Gasol may not relish that role. That is fine on a broader scale, as you have Mike Conley seemingly willing and able to take Fizdale’s vision and run with it. But now there is no other veteran presence in the locker room. Gasol and Conley will be the only players 30 or older on this roster. It is firmly their team now, and Fizdale must trust that his two stars are on board with the direction of the Memphis Grizzlies.
With regard to roster moves, you’d imagine both Marc and Mike were aware of, and signed off on, that movement forward from Grit and Grind. But now it is on Fizdale to do what his predecessor was not able to do, or given the chance to fully do. He must further establish what it means to be Grizzlies in the post Allen and Randolph age. He has to get the new veteran leaders in the locker room to show the rookies and second-year players how to be professionals. Fizdale and his coaches must build scheme and philosophy that both modernizes the Grizzlies and puts their personnel in the best position to be successful. It is on Fizdale to get both veterans and younger players, several of which will be key contributors to this team in the short and long term, to continue to buy in.
His first season as head coach has earned him more credit toward trust in his goals for this organization on and off the court. But the Memphis Grizzlies have never won a playoff game without Zach Randolph or Tony Allen on the roster. Their impact will linger in Memphis for years to come, and it is up to Fizdale to have a set standard for the future so that success continues as best it can given the landscape of the Western Conference.
A truly winning culture can sustain various players coming and going. It is more than X’s and O’s. It is how you go about your business on a day to day basis, how you compete, how you work. The time has come to end an era, but what comes next in terms of the culture that fills the void will define just how successful David Fizdale will be in the Bluff City.