The Memphis Grizzlies’ decision to fire head coach David Fizdale Monday took many by surprise, and many wondered if it was at star center Marc Gasol’s instigation after Fizdale benched him for the fourth quarter of Memphis’ 98-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday.
Gasol said Tuesday he didn’t know about the move until after it happened, though, and general manager Chris Wallace insisted this move was about Fizdale’s overall record. Here’s a clip of Wallace’s comments:
“We are underperforming even the lowest of preseason expectations. We’re an organization that has high expectations for our team, so a change had to be made. You know the numbers; we’re in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, a seven-game home losing streak, but going back to last year, we’re just 14-26 over our last 40 regular-season games. So the trends were not positive, and we had to make a change of course at this time, early in the season. These decisions are never easy, they’re always difficult, particularly in-season, but this is a production, bottom-line business, and a change was warranted and had to be made.”
In an ESPN/Associated Press piece, Wallace went on to say that this wasn’t about Fizdale and Gasol, and that there was no sign things were going to turn around for the 7-12 Grizzlies under Fizdale:
“There were bigger trends than just the relationship between the two of them. It just hasn’t been going well for us after a good start. And there was no indication that it was going to change magically any time soon.”
That’s a big change from when the organization was all about supporting Fizdale around his famous “Take that for data!” rant about the officiating in last year’s playoffs, which led to players and sponsors offering to pay his $30,000 fine and the team coming out with shirts with that catchphrase. And it’s a notable change from the faith they put in Fizdale when they hired him away from his associate head coaching job in Miami back in May 2016, and from the 43-39 overall record he posted in 2016-17. But the biggest issue with Wallace’s comments is that his assertion that it wasn’t going to “change magically.”
Yes, the Grizzlies have lost eight straight, but the injuries they’ve faced have a whole lot to do with that, and arguably much more than anything Fizdale has done. The team has been without starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. for the last seven games, and hasn’t been able to replace his production (17.1 points, 4.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game). They just got back shooting guard Ben McLemore and forward JaMychal Green from injury.
Conley is still expected to not be back “anytime soon“, but McLemore and Green are still readjusting to the lineup, and they should help the team improve. And when Conley does get back, this team could get better. Of course, there’s still probably a ceiling for them in the tough West, especially with their aging roster, but that isn’t really the coach’s fault. And a lack of magical change might be about the roster construction here. But the “It just hasn’t been going well for us” feels like an excuse, and one that overlooks the positive contributions Fizdale had made and the issues with the team that went well beyond his role. It’s like asking “What has David Fizdale ever done for us?”
Putting all the blame on the head coach for a team’s struggles is generally a poor idea, and it feels like a specifically poor idea when those struggles overlap so much with particular injuries. And it’s not like Fizdale had been coaching the team forever and a new voice was needed, or like this was really emblematic of a larger decline; Wallace can cherry-pick those last games all he wants, but Memphis was quite good overall last year. The bigger issues with the Grizzlies appear to be a good-but-not-great roster, and a roster that’s anything but deep when it comes to replacing injured stars.
And both of those issues are more on the GM than the head coach. Firing Fizdale this way feels like naming him the scapegoat for the team’s woes rather than making a change that needed to be made. And if it’s about a “production, bottom-line business,” maybe it should be noted that Wallace has been the Grizzlies’ GM since 2007-08, and has produced a 426-397 record in that time? That’s decent (especially considering that it’s brought down by 22-60 and 24-58 seasons at the start), but it’s not superlative, and it comes with just one conference final appearance. Wallace might want to consider the state of his own house before throwing stones at Fizdale.
Issues in Memphis go well beyond the head coach, and firing Fizdale seems unlikely to solve much.