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Season in Review: The Grizzlies coaching circus

Fizdale got the shaft and Bickerstaff wasn’t special.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Check out previous entries in our Season in Review series here.

Memphis Grizzlies Head Coaches

David Fizdale 7-12 98.8 44.4 28.3 32.3 22.7 79.1 97.28
J.B. Bickerstaff 15-48 99.5 44.4 25.6 36.2 20.7 78.4 97.33
Stats provided by

To start the year, David Fizdale was at the helm for the Memphis Grizzlies. He is (for now) an NBA analyst on ESPN, and coach J.B. Bickerstaff finished the season in the interim role. Fast forward to today, and J.B. Bickerstaff is reportedly finalizing a deal to coach the Grizzlies for the near future.

So how did we get here?

Fizdale started his first season as a head coach in Memphis, moving from an assistant role with the Miami Heat, with a strong push to the playoffs. The team wasn’t great, but still held a core of Memphis legends with the hope of a healthy Chandler Parsons. Fizdale earned the respect of the community and seemed to be owning the locker room. To start the 2017-18 season, Memphis was 5-1 beating Houston and Golden State and life was good for Grizz fans.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Then reality struck.

This Memphis team showed its true colors, injuries took their toll, and egos started to suffer. Just 19 games into the season, Fizdale was let go after a 7-12 start. From an outsiders perspective, the Memphis front office was feeling pressure from a franchise cornerstone, *cough* Marc Gasol *cough*, to get rid of Fizdale. Before establishing his own culture with a roster the match it, Fizdale was let go and J.B. Bickerstaff was given the nod to finish the season.

The idea was that Bickerstaff would grab back control of the locker room and right the team’s wrongs. That didn’t happen, to say the least. This team didn’t improve on or off the court, and the front office did everything they could to say face. Now, in a strange and rumor-less way, the Grizzlies have decided to given J.B. Bickerstaff his first full time head coaching job. You can expect to see him patrolling the sidelines next season.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

As you can see above, there aren’t that many differences in team production between the two coaches. Most importantly, the pace of the team barely changed between the two. In today’s NBA pace is important, with many of this year’s playoff teams playing at a very fast pace. Memphis has historically been at the bottom of the league, but Fizdale made it his mission to speed the team up. That mission wasn’t accomplished by either coach, and truly shows that this team was helpless no matter who was leading.

Bickerstaff will have his first real chance to lead a team from a summer league, training camp, pre-season, and a complete NBA schedule. This team will start the season (hopefully) injury free and with a fresh start. A new top prospect is likely to be on the roster, and it will be a new challenge for him to develop this prospect. We will all have the chance to see what Bickerstaff is capable of starting with this year’s draft.

It is likely Bickerstaff was the pick of the locker room, even though he showed little progress with this season’s team. Fizdale was loved and embraced by the community, and still is even today, so Bickerstaff has huge shoes to fill with fans. Though J.B. has won the locker room, if he doesn’t win, it won’t matter what the locker room thinks.

The Grade

I like Fizdale, and if the Grizzlies were open to swallowing their pride, I would suggest they hire him back. I think Bickerstaff is a fine coach, but he showed very little during his time this season. The roster was terrible, which is not his fault, but he what he did with the roster was less than notable. As our own Joe Mullinax wrote, J.B. was thrown into a tough situation and lived to tell about it. But he wasn’t good enough to justify no coaching search.

I don’t put the final result of this season solely on the shoulders of the coaching staff, but there is some blame to be cast on each coach. It is a large part of their job to manage the locker room, egos, and strategically coach the team to basketball competence. Neither coach accomplished all of those things.

Grade: D

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