With the Grizzlies season mercifully ending with a final record of 22-60 and the 2nd best lottery odds, Chris Wallace & company will have to make a decision on who they want to be the head coach of the Grizzlies next year and beyond after firing David Fizdale earlier in the season. J.B. Bickerstaff has filled in admirably considering the dumpster fire he was handed. That experience likely gives Bickerstaff an edge, but the Grizzlies shouldn’t just give him the job and call it a day. They should evaluate the coaching market and figure out if J.B. is the best candidate available. With Robert Pera maintaining control of the Grizzlies, the Grizzlies job becomes a little less toxic now that the ownership situation has been resolved.
The Grizzlies have historically hired coaches with no NBA head coaching experience, with Mike Fratello in 2004 being the most recent Grizzlies head coaching hire who had previous NBA head coaching experience. Considering that, and the fact the Grizzlies aren’t an ideal job for an established coach, I’ve compiled a list of 8 candidates the Grizzlies should consider for their vacant head coach position. Sure, some are pipe-dreams, but the Grizzlies should consider nonetheless.
(Candidates listed alphabetically, not in some sort of ranking of preference.)
Tony Bennett has been a name floated among NBA circles for a few years now, but he’s yet to jump up from the college ranks to the NBA. Despite losing to UMBC in the first round as the first ever 1-seed to fall to a 16-seed, this season was arguably Bennett’s best at Virginia. After starting the season unranked, Bennett lead Virginia to a 31-3 record and ranked number 1 in the AP poll at the end of the season. Bennett has a 219-86 overall record at Virginia. Bennett’s style of coaching is the opposite of the direction the NBA is heading, as Bennett relies on great defense and slowing the game down to win games. Bennett wouldn’t be an ideal fit to every team, but with Marc Gasol (presumably) anchoring the defense for a few more years, Bennett could be the coach to get Gasol back to his Defensive Player of the Year self.
It’s doubtful Bennett leaves Virginia, but it’s worth pursuing, especially if the Grizzlies move forward with Conley and Gasol as their core.
J.B. is obviously the lead candidate for the Grizzlies job. He’s been the interim coach since Fizdale was fired and has seemed to get players to buy into his vision. He sat Marc Gasol an entire 4th quarter and didn’t get fired, so that’s worth something right? His 52-82 overall record as head coach is a bit misleading considering he went 15-48 as the Grizzlies tanked this season away. The team has had it’s ups and downs under Bickerstaff but he didn’t have much to work with considering the Grizzlies injuries and tanking aspirations. It remains to be seen what Bickerstaff can do when not filling in for a coach mid-season, but he’s likely the favorite for the job based on familiarity (and stability) alone.
James Borrego and Ettore Messina
James Borrego and Ettore Messina have been Spurs assistants for a few years and both were considered for the job before the Grizzlies hired Fizdale in 2016. James Borrego has been learning under Spurs Hall of Fame Coach Gregg Popovich the past 3 seasons and has emerged as one of the best assistants in the game.
Ettore Messina is the Spurs assistant with the most buzz around him. He’s had 4 seasons learning under Pop and will be highly sought after this summer. Messina is from Italy and has a ton of experience with the European style of play, which would naturally be a huge preference for Marc Gasol (assuming he has some sort of say in the decision). Anytime you can get someone from the Popovich tree of coaching, you’ll likely find success.
Becky Hammon has been a Spurs assistant since 2014 and has quickly emerged as the favorite to be the first ever female head coach in the NBA. Her experience as a player and coach makes her a prime candidate, especially considering the years under Popovich. Don’t just take my word for it, GBB’s site manager Joe Mullinax took a deep dive into the Grizzlies hiring Hammon just last month. Joe provides great insight into Hammon’s background and ability to be a great coach.
Jerry Stackhouse has quickly turned himself into a premiere coaching candidate after two dominating seasons coaching the Toronto Raptors G-League team, the Raptors 905. The Raptors 905 were crowned D-League champions last season and Stackhouse won D-League coach of the year. Stackhouse made it back to the G-League finals again this season, but fell to the Austin Spurs. Stackhouse has gone 70-30 as Raptors 905 head coach and has experience as a 6th Man with the Dallas Mavericks and in other stops throughout a solid NBA career.
Stackhouse would be ready to make the jump from the G-League to the NBA if the right opportunity presented itself.
Monty Williams hasn’t coached since being an assistant with the Thunder in 2015-2016, where his wife died from injuries sustained in a car crash. He took time away for awhile to grieve, but has since been the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Spurs since late 2016. Williams coaching record isn’t great at 173-221 but his New Orleans teams weren’t built to win but Williams still improved the team and got them into the playoffs before being fired the following offseason. Williams has been rumored to be interested in a return to coaching and is known for building great relationships with his players. He’s worth looking at if you’re the Grizzlies.
Jay Wright’s stock has skyrocketed after leading Villanova to two national championships the past three seasons, including a dominant run this past March. Wright has been dominating at Villanova since the 2001-2002 season, going 422-165 over the past 17 seasons. Wright’s Nova teams have transitioned to mimic the modern NBA style of play and were called “the Warriors of the NCAA” at times throughout this past NCAA tournament. The Grizzlies have flirted with increasing pace and shooting more 3’s, and hiring Wright would go a long way in achieving that goal assuming they would make necessary roster moves for Wright to be most effective. Wright has been loyal in the past to Nova but his stock will probably never be higher.
This offseason makes the most sense for Wright to jump to the NBA if he ever intends on doing so.
The next Grizzlies coach will likely be unproven and the front office will need to do it’s best to put the next coach in the best position to succeed. The Grizzlies have fought off rebuilding for as long as possible and the team (and fans) are hopeful adding a top-5 pick with a much healthier roster will send the Grizzlies back into the playoffs. Whoever they hire as coach will have a direct impact on whether or not the Grizzlies achieve that goal, or have to finally rebuild after a near decade long run of success.