In somewhat shocking news, the Memphis Grizzlies fired head coach David Fizdale on Monday after an eight-game losing streak made him an unlikely scapegoat for much bigger problems.
Memphis has fired coach David Fizdale, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 27, 2017
Grizzlies associate coach J.B. Bickerstaff will take over for Fizdale.
Fizdale, a well-respected assistant coach with Miami for nearly a decade, joined the Grizzlies in 2016. Widely regarded as an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks, Fizdale exceeded expectations in 2016-17, even though Memphis was hit hard with injuries. Despite starting 15 different players throughout the season, Fizdale and the Grizzlies won 43 games, including two against the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
Fizdale wasn’t on the path to joblessness six months ago. Instead, he seemed like a long-term solution in Memphis. What a difference a few weeks makes, apparently.
Memphis was a feel-good story to start 2017-18. The club opened with wins against New Orleans, Golden State, and Houston. There was even early talk Fizdale could be a Coach of the Year candidate. However, building friction with Marc Gasol piled up with a string of losses to some bad teams (Los Angeles, Dallas, and Brooklyn) made the Grizzlies front office pull the plug.
Word out of Memphis this past summer already was Marc Gasol and Coach Fizdale were on very poor terms after some confrontations in practice. Seemed inevitable they'd have to pick between one or the other eventually. This isn't some recent thing.
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) November 27, 2017
If we’re being honest, despite the recent losing streak, Fizdale was maximizing his team’s potential night-in and night-out. It wasn’t his fault the Grizzlies were one of four teams to average less than 100 points per game. Fizdale wasn’t given a roster built to win. Blame should be placed solely in the front office.
It’s difficult to win in the NBA without developing players within the organization. Memphis completely failed to do so.
Memphis’ pre-and-post-Fizdale draft record is horrific. In the past three years, Chris Wallace and the front office used first-round picks on Jordan Adams (2014, out of the league), Jarell Maritn (2015, non-impact depth piece), and Wade Baldwin (2016, waiving him after one season). You can’t win missing so much.
The only youth Fizdale had to work with were undrafted free agents (Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden) and scrap-heap picks up from the G-League and elsewhere. Despite not being given much to use developmental wise, Fizdale managed to work projects into the lineup and get the most out of them – small forward Dillon Brooks, a second-round pick out of Oregon being the most recent example.
And it’s not if the Grizzlies front office supplemented bad draft picks with good free agent signings. Instead, Wallace threw more than $70 million to retain aging and injury prone stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. while committing more than $100 million to Chandler Parsons. He also chose to fill out the roster with mediocre depth pieces. Outside of Tyreke Evans’ one-year, $3.29 million contract, there isn’t much to get excited about.
Memphis is in the odd spot where their talent pool is expensive, aging, and declining, while their developmental side is among the weakest in the league. Again, in spite of that, Fizdale brought the Grizzlies to a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference and had a legitimate shot to do so again. Replacing Fizdale with Bickerstaff (a deer in headlights during his only head coaching gig in Houston) is head-scratching. It’s not an improvement but instead impulsive. It was a move seemingly made to appease Gasol.
In the end, Memphis will miss Fizdale more than he misses them. He’ll find a coaching job elsewhere in the league as soon as he wants to, and will likely succeed. As for the Grizzlies, it’s time to trade assets and rebuild while there’s still value to be had. Will the front office do that? No. Instead, they’ll continue making mistakes and deflecting the blame on anyone but themselves.