David Fizdale was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday in a move that shocked “everyone in the basketball world.” This is according to LeBron James who played under Fizdale when they were both with the Miami Heat.
While the move surprised people, should it have? According to Peter Vescey it was a rift with Marc Gasol that led to the firing. And it sounds like Gasol asked for it. Via Patreon:
Gasol wanted Fizdale to coach the team hard. He insisted there be
consequences for doing something wrong by commission or omission. If a player didn’t close on the weak side, Gasol wanted Fizdale to take him out, even if it was Marc who screwed up.
Sunday night, in the third quarter at home against the Nets, Gasol
screwed up a few times as the Grizzlies fell behind by 17. He spent the remaining 15 minutes off duty. When the deficit was cut to five late in the fourth quarter, Gasol got up to show he was ready to return, and was looked off.
Gasol wanted Fizdale to coach hard and that’s what happened.
No matter how things were going with the Grizzlies’ star, Fizdale would have been fired eventually. Consider the two previous Memphis coaches had much more success than Fizdale and they were both let go.
Lionel Hollins coached the Grizzlies from 2009 – 2013 (along with 3 brief stints in previous seasons) after being with the team since 1995 back when they were in Vancouver. He was named Western Conference coach of the month four times in that stretch. During his four full seasons as head coach the Grizzlies went 183-129, made the three straight seasons and made the Western Conference Finals in 2013. After that season Hollins’ contract was not renewed.
Dave Joerger, a Memphis assistant coach since 2007 took over at the start of the ’13-’14 season. Under Joerger the Grizzlies went 147-99 (.598) and made three playoff appearances, losing to the Thunder and Spurs and the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. He was named Western Conference coach of the month three times. He was let go following the ’15-’16 season.
Fizdale’s winning percentage with Memphis is just .498, well below both his predecessors. (Hollins was .516 even when you include his two unsuccessful partial seasons as coach.) He took a 42-win team and turned it into a 43-win team and the Grizzlies lost in the 1st round for the fourth time in six seasons. This season they started 7-12 and the team currently has the 7th worst record in the NBA.
In a weird way, firing Fizdale might have been an endorsement of his coaching ability. Memphis is too close to one of the can’t miss prospects at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft to not go for it. Plus, Memphis will owe a 1st rounder to Boston sometime between 2019 and 2021. The pick is protected in ’19 and ’20 so they can’t afford to be a low lottery or low playoff seed forever.
And what was the upside for Fizdale in Memphis? If Mike Conley comes back he and Marc Gasol can maybe drag Memphis back to the bottom of the playoffs again. They miss out on a possible sure thing in this draft and lose their pick the next season. So the Grizzlies would still be stuck in the middle and Gasol and Conley will be past their primes. So maybe Fizdale should have had a couple more seasons before he was let go anyway because coaches who don’t win titles don’t get to hang around anywhere. Even guys who win NBA Coach of the Year aren’t long for this world.
If Fizdale is such a beloved coach, he’ll get another opportunity. Teams are firing coaches all the time whether they deserve it or not. That’s J.B. Bickerstaff’s problem now.