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.
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