As of this writing, we are several days removed from the Grizzlies firing of Head Coach David Fizdale, and the reaction around the league's been startling.
Players past and present, and the basketball community in general, have come to the defense of the embattled coach, blaming everything from the front office, to Marc Gasol. Even Chandler Parsons (I'm looking at you Steven Jackson) has caught some flak for the team’s decision to part ways with Fizdale just 19 games into the 2017-18 season, and on the heels of a 43-39 2016-17 which garnered a playoff berth.
Some see this as a necessary move considering the circumstances, while others view it as a knee jerk reaction based around a broken relationship involving Gasol.
The real question here is: Which narrative is right? While I can't conclusively answer that, I will attempt to provide my take on the situation and, to some degree, both of those are right. I know that is not a conclusive answer, but it is the correct one.
I would have loved to be in the background of that locker room following Sundays 10-point, home loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets, during which Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch. Immediately following the game Gasol, who has been outspoken (especially by his standards) about the direction of the team and how its losing a culture he helped create, was on the record as “frustrated” and said that the coaching staff “knew that would hurt the most”. Fizdale responded by defending his decision as “taking risks” and that sometimes “upsets a player or two”. Talk about awkward.
The fact of the matter here is that Fizdale had lost Gasol, apparently some time ago, and that was now public knowledge, and at the end of the day it’s easier to get rid of the coach than the player. The choice was easy for GM Chris Wallace when presented with the following options; 1: trade Marc Gasol for 75 cents on the dollar and tank out to mold the team to fit Fizdale’s vision. Or 2: go with the guys you've invested in and try to get the most out of the Conley/Gasol era.
Based on the amount of assets the team holds, which is next to nothing, this was an easy call. The efforts to continue the Grit and Grind years is now coming around to collect the toll.
Rookie second round pick Dillon Brooks is there top prospect and they don't own the rights to their 2019 first round pic; (Boston). These are enough to decide against a tank because it would get really, REALLY, bad before you would get to reap the benefit of such a...ahem... “process” and, even though loyal, a small fan base may not be able to withstand such an ordeal.
When you mix in ownership questions and the fact GM Wallace might be next to go, due to the mismanagement of assets I mention above, the decision is clear. After the relationship went that sour, that quickly, that publicly, with Gasol, Fizdale had to be replaced. I won’t put it all on Gasol though as there might be more players on the roster whom also had difficulties with their previous head coach.
On the other side there has to better effort to resolve conflicts like this. Memphis is now hiring yet another coach (J.B. Bickerstaff will be the fourth coach in the last five years, the public perception of the organization is that of a dysfunctional one.
This has the potential to be a PR nightmare, regardless of what Gasol, and possibly others, might have wanted. Further complicating the decision is the fact that since the team’s 5-1 start, including a win over the Warriors, the Grizzles have been down right awful.
The loss to Brooklyn was the teams eighth in a row. This led to things such as Gasol making comments to the team losing the mindset he, along with Conley (and the departed Zach Randolph and Tony Allen) helped cultivate for years under Lionel Hollins.
This, once you read between the lines, is an effort based issue. However, some of the Grizzlies issues weren't things Fizdale could correct. As I pointed out on the show last week injuries have been playing a major part here. The team is 0-7 without Conley, which has only blown up pre-existing issues and created new ones. You can make an argument that they weren't buying into Fizdale, but as he proved last year and at the (very)early part of this season (with Conley) it can work.
Sure, Gasol being left on the bench during winning time is a perplexing decision to say the least, but one public incident doesn't equal firing the guy. Or for even asking for the guy to be fired. There seems to be a negative organizational trend taking place. I don't believe the problem was Fizdale. I don't believe the problem was Gasol. Did their issues play a role? No question. But as I mentioned this is coach number 4 since 2013. There is a problem with the front office and the coaches it employs.
That in turn leads to players checking out on the coach. As I said at the beginning, I’m not sure if it was the right move or not. The fruit of this decision won’t be bore out until the harvest (April).
Yes, Fizdale did not show any improvement over the eight-game losing streak. Yes, it now appears that Marc is calling the shots in Memphis, even if it is not the case. The Bigger picture to look at here is what this means about the organization.
This move says to me that front office has absolutely no idea what it’s doing and has no organizational control. The fact they haven’t been able to get along with a third coach reflects much worse on the team than the guys they fired.
By: Shawn Davis
Even in its infancy, the 2017-18 NBA season is already bringing up questions. This week is Thanksgiving and fans are already overreacting, positively and negatively.
What’s wrong in Cleveland? (Nothing yet) Are the Pistons really this good? (No) Can Boston win the title? (Also no) Are the Knicks headed in the right direction finally?(Fingers crosses) Is Giannis the best player in the game now?(Easy...) But sometimes expectations are met, and things are exactly what they were supposed to be. One case like that is Houston.
In the off-season the Rockets added future Hall of Famer Chris Paul to a team that won 55 games, finished third in the Western Conference, had James “The Beard” Harden stirring the pot all the way to a First Team All-NBA season, and flamed out in spectacular fashion in the second round at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
With the addition of Paul, expectations in Houston are as high as they’ve been since the mid 90’s when Hakeem Olajuwon was dream-shaking his way to the franchise’s only titles in 94 and 95.
Expectations have only been elevated by the team’s 13-4 start this season which was kicked off by defeating the 1992 Dream Team...I mean the defending champion Warriors.
As of this writing, Houston has the same record as Golden State and by their head to head victory, TECHNICALLY own the best record in the Western Conference.
James Harden has come back with a vengeance this year, playing with a chip on his shoulder due to a self-perceived snub for MVP last year (they got the right guy in Russ) Another year in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, plus the addition of the best PG of the last 15 years or so, and he, and the rest of the team look even more dangerous.
The real question is, what is their ceiling? Can they win it all?
Darryl Morley must be given credit for building this team the way he wanted. His reliance on next level analytics (while shunned by older basketball minds) has been successful to say the least. The Rockets are winning basketball games. One thing they won’t do is win the Western Conference. Forget an NBA title.
They need to make it to the finals to win, and frankly this team doesn’t look like it can do that. Don’t get me wrong they’re going to score a ton of points, win between 50-60 games and maybe win the Southwest Division. What it can’t do is go through San Antonio AND Golden State in a seven-game series.
I don’t expect a similar ending as last year since Paul will help shoulder some of the load this season and as a result, save Hardens legs from the exhaustion he clearly experienced last season (see game five of the Spurs series).
From an offensive standpoint, Houston is going to score. A lot. They are a volume shooting team right now, taking more than 10 more threes per game than any other team in the league. While that’s good enough to beat most of the league in a best of seven, it’s not good enough to beat the class of the west. Oklahoma City is going through its growing pains right now, trying to feel out the best way to play with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony now running with Mr. Triple-Double, and for that reason I’ll exclude them from this article.
I’m focusing on the fact Houston will, likely HAVE to beat both the Spurs AND the Warriors to win the west. The Spurs will always be two things no matter who they’re playing: well coached and they’ll play with toughness. Pop will not allow his guys to be unprepared.
His presence alone affords them a certain level of respect from opponents, and they currently sit third in the west without getting a single minute out of one of the five best players in the game today in Kawhi Leonard.
In his absence Lamarcus Aldridge has reminded the league of who he was in Portland. Combine that with the fact that Pop has yet again gotten max production out of his role players with Rudy Gay, Danny Green and Pau Gasol averaging double figures and getting a combined 16 and 6 out of the PG spot in the absence of Tony Parker.
It would be tough for a team like Houston to night in and night out compete with them over a two week stretch. If Leonard and Parker return with minimal issues, it would almost be impossible for them to beat San Antonio.
Which brings me to the dubs. They’re the deepest team in the league. They are the most efficient team in the league. They have Kevin Durant who, when at his best, is the least guard-able player in the game today. They have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson who in any given night can shoot themselves into a 40-pt. night (Curry even higher). They have the reigning defensive player of the year in Draymond Green, who can also fill the stat sheet as well. There is zero chance they can out score that team, and frankly that’s how Houston plays.
Sure, Paul is a top-flight defender, and Trevor Ariza can guard as well, but James Harden is (and always will be) an absolute liability at the end of basketball games. Assuming Ariza is on KD (hahahahaha....) and Paul is guarding Steph, who does Harden guard?
You can’t hide him on the worst player on the floor because of size mismatches (i.e. Green or whoever they trot out at center) or on Iggy (too athletic) or on Klay (too good offensively). They also can’t out score Golden State because no one who’s tried has been able to do so. Arguably the second-best player ever, played at his peak and most efficient, and was side kicked by another all-star doing the same exact thing, and came away with a very one sided 4-1 defeat to the Dubs in last year’s finals.
And the last reason for why the Rockets won’t win the west: History. Yes, Harden has played poorly on big stages in the past (last year vs San Antonio, 2012 Finals with OKC, Western finals 2015 vs Warriors with Dwight Howard...) but that’s not all the history I speak of.
Chris Paul’s biggest knock on his legacy is of course that he’s never made the west finals. While with the Clippers, CP3 and Lob City became the first team to ever blow a playoff series lead 5 straight years. Mike D’Antoni’s (aside from the fact he views defense as something that HAS to occur in between his team’s own possessions) is the fact that even though he has had tremendous talent on his rosters over the years, he never made a final.
In 2005 alone, he had a team that won 62 games, had Home court advantage throughout the playoffs, league MVP Steve Nash, two other all stars in Shawn Marion and Amaré Stoudemire, and a future all-star in Joe Johnson, and somehow still got smacked around by the Spurs (see a trend?)5-1 in the conference finals.
And then there is Houston’s history. Since those back to back championship teams the Rockets have only made the conference finals twice. Several years of Tracy McGrady flying around as the most underrated player in the league resulted in first round exit after first round exit. The Rockets are a team compiled of guys who all have regular season history to back up their resumes, but have nothing to show for it after May.
When you add that to a franchise history of falling short in the postseason, it’s a recipe for disaster.
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