Was Locking Up Dave Joerger the Right Choice for the Memphis Grizzlies?

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIJune 1, 2014

Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Joerger responds to an official's call in the second half of Game 6 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Oklahoma City won 104-84 to even the series 3-3. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

For the Memphis Grizzlies, happy days aren't assuredly here again, even after they staved off the exile of Dave Joerger. This was a necessary move that may only serve to placate the coach. Following a rookie year in which he faced pressure from owner Robert Pera, Grizzlies fans may rightly wonder when Joerger will grow tired of his meddling.

Joerger agreed on Tuesday to an extension through 2016-17 with an option for the following season.


The breakdown

This was only after his relationship with the team seemed to tumble down. Pera purportedly had planned to fire Lionel Hollins' successor early in his first season. According to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, Pera was upset with the Grizzlies' slow start and player rotations. The owner also wanted Joerger to wear a headset on the sidelines during a game.

Throughout the season, an ally of Pera's, attorney David Mincberg, staked out territory in basketball operations. The Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins tweeted that Joerger and Mincberg had no use for each other.

He was close to becoming the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Per Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, Minnesota simply needed to compensate Joerger's employer before finishing the deal but couldn't see the point since the team was "convinced the Grizzlies would ultimately fire him."

Pera went into crisis control mode on May 25, holding a Twitter Q&A, telling one fan of the Timberwolves situation, "personnel has to want to be in Memphis."

He denied the note by Mannix that he had any discussions with the Timberwolves about Joerger.

Further, he said he'd never talked with Joerger one-on-one before.

Pera lamented the next day that Mannix hadn't contacted him, to which Mannix responded by saying he had made "multiple requests" to no avail.

Pera and Joerger had just hashed things out. According to Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal, they spent time May 24 and 25 on the phone together (subscription required).

"We understand each other a lot better and what we're trying to do here," Joerger said. "This shows leadership. What's between Robert and I now is like wow. This is how it's supposed to be."


A tenuous peace

One would like to think that a set of weekend discussions could mend a fractious relationship. That the 36-year-old owner now realizes the values of communication and togetherness in the organization is a nice idea.

However, as NBA.com's Steve Aschburner said in an interview with WSCR-AM 670 Chicago, Joerger "must feel he's bulletproof, must have gotten his deal sweetened enough and probably feels strong enough that he can get a better job than the Timberwolves next time around."

The two-time minor league champion isn't clear of difficulties yet. As he helps the team recover from its first-round exit, he must wait to see if Zach Randolph returns and Pera follows through on his vow, via Twitter, to "open up the checkbook" to build a championship-worthy roster.

That's before he goes through his sophomore campaign when Joerger will find out whether Pera is willing to give him space to make in-game decisions.

Pera promised such arrangements, as The Commercial Appeal's Tillery tweeted.

Joerger told The Commercial Appeal he'd be involved in the search for the new general manager. That confirmed another tweet from Tillery suggesting the coach would have more power.

Next season, Joerger will find out whether he will be able to maintain his involvement with basketball operations and communications with Pera. That will bring the demand that Joerger balance day-to-day personnel decisions and preparations with trade possibilities.


Boosting the franchise culture

Pera needed Joerger to stay more than Joerger did. Firing Joerger or letting him go to the Timberwolves would have led to a crazed situation with three coaches in three years. Furthermore, it would have meant consecutive coaches leaving on bad terms with management.

That explains Pera's tweet that he never contacted the Timberwolves about their desire to hire Joerger. Apparently, the Ubiquiti CEO realized that the predicament was out of hand.

Fans of the three shades of blue might have thought the franchise was headed toward another disaster.

Tillery explained, tumult is common in the Grizzlies' history, recounting how former general manager Billy Knight was fired for refusing to quit team travel and Hubie Brown retired from coaching due to struggles with his general manager, Jerry West.

A year-and-a-half into his ownership, Pera may be trying to avoid repeating such history. Hence the tweet in which Pera wanted to improve the Grizz culture.

Fostering said culture starts with the ownership. That involves having trust with front-office leaders and the head coach, as well as keeping minimized the likes of Mincberg.

Pera said that he likes Joerger. The extension seems to suggest confidence in Joerger.

With 50 wins in his first season despite losing the NBA's best all-around center for 23 games, Joerger merits confidence. Not only was the defense solid overall, but the offense was supportive. The team's field-goal percentage improved 2.1 percent on 2012-13 and placed fourth in the league with 13.7 turnovers per game.

Joerger and Pera will be a pair to watch going forward. If they can at least come close to their championship dream, they'll assure each other a friendship.

Indeed, that friendship hinges on Pera's willingness to show restraint.


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