1.) Thoughts on firing David Fizdale?
Brandon Jefferson: This completely came out of left field. An eight-game losing streak surely wasn’t a good look for him, but with Mike Conley missing the last three games for the Grizzlies, this isn’t the team that David Fizdale signed up to coach. Benching Marc Gasol for an entire quarter is certainly not ideal, but it shouldn’t have resulted in Fizdale’s immediate dismissal. Memphis was trying to move on from the “Grit N Grind” era and, while Fizdale’s “Take That for Data” era was looking like it was getting off on the right foot, it has abruptly come to an end.
If nothing else, Fizdale found a way to make Chandler Parsons a useful NBA player. He should’ve had diplomatic immunity level security with the Grizzlies off that alone. Fizdale also brought Memphis’ offense out of the stone age. The slow-paced interior-heavy offense was gone in his first season when he moved Zach Randolph to the bench and transitioned the team into a spread-oriented four-out style of play.
Finally, as showcased by the reaction of star players on Twitter following Fizdale’s firing, Memphis lost something it’s been so desperately searching for: having something to attract top players. Fizdale alone was never going to be enough to get the creme de la creme to join the Grizzlies, but he was a step in the right direction. This move is two giant steps back in that department.
Vivek Jacob: First reaction: SHOCKED. Marc Gasol’s comments after the loss to the Brooklyn Nets were the first indication of tension in the locker room to me. Nothing prior to this seemed to suggest the relationship between Gasol and Fizdale had strained, so I thought at the very least, some more time would have to pass for there to be a real shakeup to the organization. One has to assume Gasol had become disgruntled over a period of time, so choosing between an elite NBA talent and a head coach is usually only going to end one way. It’s a shame.
The Grit n Grind era needed some tweaking and Fizdale saw that from day one. I really liked what he was doing for the Grizzlies’ offense, specifically, making Gasol and Conley more assertive as scorers. A dynamic tertiary option (like a healthy Chandler Parsons) would have made a world of difference, but there was no legitimate reason for Memphis’ front office to believe that would be the case when they offered him that insane contract.
Fizdale built a reputation in Miami for being a guy who could connect with players, which makes this friction between him and Gasol even harder to believe. That Gasol would publicly state Conley wouldn’t be treated in the same manner is a concern. No franchise player should be given reason to think that. If he didn’t have that relationship with the team’s best/co-best player, then the significance of that value had obviously diminished.
Tokil Bang: On the surface, this has to be the most baffling firing in recent years. Fizdale is only in his second season as a head coach, but he was successful as a rookie with 43 wins and a hard fought first round exit against San Antonio. He is well respected (just look at the reactions from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who know him from his time as assistant coach in Miami), though he might be slightly overrated in the media because he is so quotable.
A 7-11 start should not be a big enough reason for a firing, when you look at last season and the circumstances for this season. The Grizzlies have had so many injuries that no lineup has played more than 92 minutes together. And even when healthy, the roster is problematic.
Here’s the problem: According to ESPN’s Jonathan Givonym Fizdale and Marc Gasol have been on poor terms for a while and, with the benching of Gasol, Fizdale put himself in the line of fire.
ESPN’s Marc Stein reports there was no ”him or me” ultimatum from Gasol, though. Which makes the firing even weirder. Fizdale is usually lauded for his abilities to build relationshipss with players, so even if his relationship with Gasol had deteriorated over time, the firing seems premature. Was there no possibility of patching things up? Obviously, I don’t have an answer for that one.
By firing Fizdale, Memphis loses a potential top five coach who was able to build on the grit and grind style that defined the team. His five-out offense opened some unrealized potential in both Conley and Gasol as three-point shooters. And even if his offense was supposed to raise the team’s pace, they were still grinding it out at the third lowest pace in the league last season and the second lowest this season.
Fizdale is not yet a high-profile coach, but with his potential and his communicative skills he could soon be one. And that’s usually a good thing if you want to attract players. You want your organization to be noticed in a positive way, and Fizdale can do that for you.
I doubt he or anyone could make that much of a difference with this roster right now. There are reasons why his last game was the eighth loss in a row and none of them have to do with Fizdale being a bad coach.
2.) Marc Gasol and Mike Conley make for a quality team when healthy and playing together, but that’s happening less frequently. Is it time to start eying moving on?
Brandon Jefferson: I think the window for moving on came and went for Memphis. The Grizzlies really locked in on the Gasol-Conley-Zach Randolph-Tony Allen quartet and though it brought them to the playoffs, the magic usually fizzled out after a round or two. Gasol and Conley are good enough to make any roster playoff-caliber, but the front office has done a poor job of surrounding these two pillars with the right talent to help them take that next step.
Conley was on the richest contract in NBA history before Russell Westbrook signed his extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder. That is not a movable contract at any point in the near future. Gasol has one more year and then a player option for the 2019-2020 season. Yet, Gasol turns 33 at the end of January and has racked up seven different foot or ankle injuries since February 2016. While still one of the most talented big men in the NBA, the clocking is ticking on how long Gasol can play at an elite level. What the Grizzlies could possibly expect in return for Gasol is to be determined. Making the move when it’s too late is even worse than making it too early. The best-case scenario for Memphis is to ride this out and try to start over again in a couple seasons.
Vivek Jacob: Memphis just can’t get healthy. There’s got to be something in the water, right?
If the Grizzlies were ready to move on, they would have looked at trade scenarios instead of firing Fizdale. The problem I’d have with moving on from Conley and Gasol is their poor draft history. They have no game-changing young players, so if they tank, I find it hard to believe they can select a core that will work out to be something better than what they have. Two top 25 players on the same team is no joke, despite how much the Golden State Warriors have diluted that value.
If Gasol is still restless at season’s end, though, then you’ve got to look at receiving value for him as you can’t have the uncertainty of him being in the final year of his deal before a player option. Losing high-caliber players for nothing cripples franchises and would set the franchise back for at least the next half-decade.
Torkil Bang: The Conley-Gasol era may have reached its zenith a couple of seasons ago, but I doubt we’ve seen the last from them.
I don’t see how the Grizzlies can get any value that would validate moving on unless they want to sink the ship and go full ”Process.”
Conley is getting paid in his current contract in great part because he took a huge discount in his previous one. That is a fair business decision, but it also makes it very difficult to make a reasonable trade.
Marc Gasol is obviously still a valuable commodity. His contract isn’t bloated and he will likely still be productive in his player option season in 2019-2020 at $25,6 M. If the Grizzlies decide to move on, a Gasol trade would be key to what assets they will start their rebuild with. The threat is Gasol might opt out in 2019, so I would probably listen to offers anyway, just to make sure that I don’t miss out on a big deal.
One problem is Memphis has a third big contract in Chandler Parsons. He gets paid more than Gasol for being slightly above average when healthy. He’s 29 years old and he shouldn’t be in the team’s future if they move on from Conley and Gasol.
3.) Where does Memphis go from here?
Brandon Jefferson; This is my four-step plan to help the Grizzlies move on once and for all from the “Grit N Grind” era:
1.Find a coach you believe in who is young enough to bring a new brand of basketball to Memphis (READ: HIRE STEPHEN SILAS).
2.Do not put Mike Conley back on the court until he gets a 100 percent clean bill of health.
- Move Gasol at the deadline or in the summer to the highest bidder.
- Relocate to Seattle.
Vivek Jacob: This season seems like a lost cause in the sense that I don’t really envision scenarios for them to tangibly improve via trade. They may as well take stock of what they have after Conley returns, seriously look at a Chandler Parsons buyout in the summer and find a way to have a successful draft for a change. They may have found some money if Tyreke Evans’ season isn’t just a flash in the pan, but they still need better ball handling and shooting from the wing and guard positions.
I’m probably leaning towards refreshing the scouting department and re-establishing what types of players complement Gasol and Conley best.
Torkil Bang: Memphis looks like a team in identity crisis. They have tried to retool around Conley and Gasol, but the new pieces don’t seem to fit. Fizdale used a lot of different lineups without finding the right formula.
The first step would be to choose the new coach so he can help form the roster. As Vivek suggests, that might also lead to changes in the organization.
It’s too early to entirely give up on the season, but the new coach shouldn’t be measured on whether he brings the team into the playoffs, but on whether Memphis has an identity they can trust by the end of the season.