After just 546 days the David Fizdale era is over in Memphis as the Grizzlies unexpectedly fired their head coach on Monday.
An injury-depleted Grizzlies roster is in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, culminating in a double-digit loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night in which Memphis star Marc Gasol sat for the entire fourth quarter.
Marc and his brother Pau have had a long-standing history with the franchise, and neither of them seems like the type of player that would get a coach fired, especially one as seemingly beloved by his players has Fizdale was in Miami with the Heat and in Memphis. But, you have to wonder if Sunday night’s game was evidence of something more troubling going on behind the scenes.
The Grizzlies have overcome adversity in the past, both injury-related and otherwise, with staggering efficiency. Somehow, no matter the barren state of an injury-plagued roster or the uphill battle of remaining big and slow in a small and fast league, they never die. Yes, they are 7-12 and riding a tough losing streak, but Mike Conley is out, JaMychal Green has only played seven games, Chandler Parsons is still finding his footing, and even Marc Gasol has struggled some. Tyreke Evans has been the team’s MVP through the first quarter of the season. They have overcome worse, and one would think Fizdale has earned more job security than this.
If this is strictly about the team’s performance, a 7-12 record with this roster should not have been a fireable offense. Memphis started out the season in very promising fashion, notching wins over the Warriors, Pelicans, and Rockets (twice) en route to a 5-1 record. They were even the top team in a few national power rankings for a hot minute. A rash of injuries and some depth issues are what lead to this downswing, at least from an outside perspective. So in other words, unless there is something going on that is not known yet to the public, this is due to bad luck and bad front office decisions, two recurring themes of the Grit n Grind era.
J.B. Bickerstaff has a solid coaching resume and seems to be trusted among people in the know, but he’s a Fizdale guy so I doubt he’s the long-term answer. However, maybe he will be good enough for the time being.
The Grizzlies sit at 12th in a loaded Western Conference. The Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs aren’t going anywhere. The Timberwolves seem like the best bet for the fourth seed. Denver, Portland, and New Orleans all have multiple all-star caliber players and all have looked like they could challenge for a top-four seed at various points this season. The Thunder will figure it out eventually. The Clippers and Jazz have had worse injury luck than the Grizzlies somehow.
That’s 11 teams fighting for eight spots, without including the feisty, up-and-down young Lakers who have a better record than their fellow Los Angeles residents and the Grizzlies and are tied with the Thunder. Counting out the big three, that’s eight teams realistically competing for five spots. There will potentially be three good teams sitting at home come playoff time out West. Right now, it’s looking like those three teams will be the Jazz, Clippers, and Grizzlies. And I don’t know if firing Fizdale is the right move to change that.
It’s still early. The Grizzlies have 63 games left to right the ship and extend the league’s soon to be second-longest playoff streak. But they won’t have Captain Fizdale to take control of the wheel in these rough waters. His record was only 50-51 in Memphis, worse than that of his predecessors Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger, but he had won over the hearts of the fans with his thoughtful interviews and commitment to the betterment of the community. And, at least it was previously believed to be so, he had won over the hearts of his players a well by always having their backs. Take that for data.