Last season, Memphis Grizzlies’ David Fizdale was the toast of the NBA. During Game 2 their first round playoff series last year, the Grizzlies were awarded a measly 15 free throws compared to San Antonio’s 32. Kawhi Leonard alone earned more trips to the strip than Memphis.
Fizdale blasted the referees in a post-game press conference that quickly became the stuff of legends.
“I’m not gonna let them treat us that way. I know Pop’s got pedigree and I’m a young rookie but they’re not gonna rook us. That’s unacceptable. That’s unprofessional. My guys in that game and earned the right to be in that game. And they did not even give us a chance. Take that for data!”
The rant was very much on brand for a team whose mantra is “Grit and Grind.” No one in a Grizzlies jersey was ever going to take being pushed around lightly, and now, that reputation extended to the head coach.
On Monday, Fizdales’ tenure as the Grizzlies coach came to an abrupt and shocking end in the midst of an eight-game losing streak.
Fizdale was rooked and Memphis messed up in a major way.
The move came after Marc Gasol expressed his frustration about being forced to ride the bench during the Grizzlies’ 88-98 loss to Brooklyn on Sunday.
“I hate not playing. That’s what I value the most. If I’m not on the floor, that means I’m not valued,” said Gasol at his crowded locker after the game.
It’s not unusual for a coach to let a bench finish out a game if they’re hot, but Fizdale was almost certainly making a statement by only having Gasol watch the game from the pine.
Sunday’s game was the breaking point in an apparently ongoing feud. According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the coach and All-Star center rarely ever talked and that there was “little-to-no communication between the two of them for the better part of the past 10 months.”
General manager Chris Wallace admitted that Gasol’s reaction was a “factor” in the firing but not the main influence. According to Wallace, the move was an act to “save the season.”
Regardless of what the deciding reason was, Memphis made a huge mistake in letting go of Fizdale.
The Grizzlies were never going to win a title this season. They were a long shot to even make playoffs in a deadly western conference. Letting assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff take over probably isn’t going to change that. In the improbable event that Memphis does turn their season around and they sneak into the playoffs, either Golden State or Houston will almost certainly sweep them.
Memphis is better off trying to tank than making the playoffs. This is likely going to be the last season with the NBA’s current lottery system. Currently sitting at 12th in conference, Memphis could almost ensure itself a high draft pick in a stacked draft before the odds are rearranged next season.
This is why it makes no sense to keep Gasol over Fizdale if it really was a “me-or-him” situation. Gasol still has high value across the league. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ front office was probably salivating at the chance to land after his postgame complaints.
Gasol is a 32-year old center with a history of foot problems, which is always concerning. If he does get hurt again, Memphis will lose all leverage in any potential trade. Keeping Gasol does make Memphis better but that shouldn’t be their main goal. It should be to make the most of assets they have. Gasol has far more value to a team contending for a title then he does on a fringe playoff contender. His foot injury is a concern worth watching for a contending team. For the Grizzlies, it’s a time bomb waiting to tank his trade value.
If they are smart, Memphis will go through a rebuilding process very soon. When they do they would love to have a coach like Fizdale on the sidelines.
When Fizdale was hired, it wasn’t with the expectation to win a title. He put those pressures on himself. He came in with the task to rebuild the Grizzlies bench and develop their young players, a task he had largely accomplished. His young players played hard for him and he rewarded them with valuable minutes on a playoff team.
Fizdale has the respect of LeBron James from his time as an assistant in Miami. James will literally send coaches to Russia if he doesn’t get along with them. If James is willing to sing his praises, Fizdale is a pretty special coach.
He likely isn’t going to be out of a job for long. He’s too young and shown too many flashes of being a high quality NBA coach to be.
Fizdale may have been the perfect coach to have during a rebuilding process. Memphis will never know.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.