'A Lot of Facade and Nothing Behind It': Fizdale Firing Exposes Chaos in Memphis

Ken Berger@@KBergNBAFeatured Columnist INovember 30, 2017

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2017, file photo, Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale reacts as he calls a timeout while facing the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Denver. The Grizzlies have fired Fizdale, with the team at 7-12 and a day after he benched center Marc Gasol for the fourth quarter of an eighth straight loss. General manager Chris Wallace announced the move Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
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In his short but memorable time as Memphis Grizzlies head coach, David Fizdale couldn't outlast two facts: The team he was coaching was living in the past, and the players didn't like him as much as the TV cameras did.

"The Grizzlies are like a Hollywood set," a person familiar with the team's dynamics told Bleacher Report. "A lot of facade and nothing behind it."

And now there's one less person backstage, as the Grizzlies fired Fizdale on Monday after eight straight losses and the public disintegration of his relationship with franchise cornerstone Marc Gasol. The decision came less than 24 hours after Fizdale pushed what had been a long-simmering feud with Gasol to the forefront by benching him in the second half of a winnable game against Brooklyn on Sunday.

"What it came down to was, he wanted to win the battle: me or Marc Gasol?" the person told B/R. "Well, they let him know who."

But according to multiple league sources, this isn't solely a story of Fizdale being unable to coach Gasol. It's the story of a franchise unable to retain coaches, unprepared to move on from an antiquated playing style and paralyzed by an ownership situation that is messy and uncertain, to say the least.

"I don't know how they make any major decisions going forward without a resolution to the ownership situation," a league source told B/R.

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Except for firing the head coach, of course. In Memphis, that's become as routine as laundering the players' uniforms.

First, Lionel Hollins was let go after a 56-win season and a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Then, his replacement, Dave Joerger, was sent packing after failing to get the Grizzlies back there in three seasonstwo of which came with 50-plus wins.

"Gasol had been chafing for a long time," a person familiar with the player's thinking told B/R. "He had two pretty good coaches in Dave and Lionel, and he felt this guy was a little bit of a [phony]."

To be clear, Gasol never asked the team to fire Fizdale or played any role in his demise, other than a circumstantial one, sources said. And the circumstances had gotten pretty bad.

After being benched in the fourth quarter of a Memphis loss to the Nets on Sunday, Marc Gasol told reporters, "I’m not just going to accept not playing in the fourth quarter and just, you know, be happy with it."
After being benched in the fourth quarter of a Memphis loss to the Nets on Sunday, Marc Gasol told reporters, "I’m not just going to accept not playing in the fourth quarter and just, you know, be happy with it."Brandon Dill/Associated Press

"It got really nasty," the person familiar with the team dynamics said. "It wasn't this week, and it wasn't just Gasol. This has been going on overlapping from last year, too."

So, too, has the Grizzlies' spiral. They're 16-27 since last season's All-Star break…and that includes a 5-1 start this season in which they beat the Rockets twice and the Warriors.

Things won't get any easier for interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who is staring at the following upcoming schedule with point guard Mike Conley sidelined with an Achilles injury: a home-and-home with the Spurs, at Cleveland, home to Minnesota, at New York and a home back-to-back with Toronto and Oklahoma City

Take that for data.

And what the Grizzlies really have is a team, roster and playing philosophy that have all met at a crossroads. Gasol, 32, was the centerpiece of the successful "grit-and-grind" era and has been a fixture in the city since high school. Conley, 30, has been a stalwart, too, but his foot injuries are a concern as the team tries to sort out what its future will hold. Chandler Parsons, 29, is the third member of Memphis' version of a Big Threeall signed to max deals through 2019.

Memphis' scheme is equally troubling. The Grizzlies are 18th in three-point attempts per game (28.3), 20th in points off three-pointers (27.8 percent) and 28th in pace (97.36 possessions used per 48 minutes). And with the team clearly siding with Gasol here, it would seem that the grit-and-grind will only grind onward.

"J.B. is too political as a coach, so basically everything is going to run through Gasol now," a Western Conference executive told B/R. "But that's probably not the way to go."

Then again, what options does Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace have other than doubling down on grit-and-grind and riding it outfor nowwith an aging core? Not many.

"They have no choice," the Western Conference executive said. "Whether they keep Marc or not is inconsequential. Keeping his asset value up is the key. They don't want to end up in an Eric Bledsoe situation."

And besides, breaking up the Grizzlies' core and embarking on what would be a precarious rebuilding process in small-market Memphis ultimately will be an ownership decision. And who, exactly, will be making that decision is remains up in the air.

Robert Pera's tenure as the owner of the Grizzlies has been marked by frequent coaching changes and executive suite intrigue.
Robert Pera's tenure as the owner of the Grizzlies has been marked by frequent coaching changes and executive suite intrigue.Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Absentee owner Robert Pera faces a potential challenge from minority partners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus, who have a "buy or sell" clause in the team's ownership agreement that has reached maturity. According to the arrangement, Kaplan or Straus can submit a bid to buy out Pera's interest or force him to buy out their own stake in the team—and they have the authority to name their price. The takeover bid can be triggered during a 60-day window that opened on Oct. 26, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported.

Kaplan, who is aligned with former Grizzlies president Jason Levien in ownership of the Swansea City soccer franchise, is the most likely of the two partners to force Pera's hand. But even if that happens, the process could take months to play out, leaving management's hands tied as far as making any significant decisions on the future of the roster.

"That's up in the air pretty good," a league source told B/R. "When you talk to one side, they say, 'We got this,' and when you talk to the other side, they say, 'We got this.' Nobody seems to know, and it could drag on for a lot longer than people would want it to."

All of it leaves the Grizzlies with as many open-ended questions as the franchise has faced since moving to Memphis 17 years ago. What to do with the core of the roster? Who will be calling the shots in the ownership group? And which coach will be hired to steer the franchise into an uncertain future?

"I don't know who would take the job," a league source said.

Given the Grizzlies' recent history, rocky present and question-filled future, it would have to be someone with pretty thick skin…and an understanding that head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies is one of the more temporary titles in the league.


Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA.  

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