On Monday the Memphis Grizzlies terminated the contract of second year head coach David Fizdale effective immediately. The former longtime Miami assistant and associate head coach benched star center Marc Gasol late in the third quarter of a 98-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday afternoon. Almost immediately Gasol voiced his anger with the benching which apparently immediately alerted the front office. To link this dismissal solely on Marc’s displeasure would be reductive and short sighted. However, to completely downplay its role would be doing the same. This is a complicated and messy situation for a franchise that really can’t afford to endure such turmoil right now.
Marc Gasol is without a doubt one of the most dominant big men in the league and one of the few that has been able to maintain his relevance in a league that is growing increasingly inhospitable for the center position. He just so happens to be having a breakout season up to this point. Marc’s posting averages of 19.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 blocks all marks reflect the second highest per game numbers in his career. His good health and slightly expanded role definitely has a part in this but it may be for these very reasons that we are looking at a Memphis team that has to lean on Gasol so much given the current makeup of the group.
Memphis made a BUNCH of changes over the summer essentially dismantling the Grit and Grind Grizzlies. The departures of Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph, Vince Carter and Tony “Grindfather” Allen obviously signified that culturally the franchise wants to make strides in a new direction. Sure they still have Gasol and franchise point guard the perpetually underrated Mike Conley, Jr. but it was this trio that defined an era of inexplicable success and now they’re gone. It’s true that these guys are long in the tooth and their usefulness at their new destinations can be criticized (although Z-Bo is low key wrecking in Sac-Town) but their value to this team and moreover this city cannot be measured and is sorely missed on and off the court.
This team established a brand over the years that came to be the ultimate outlier in a generation in which the game is played fast and loose. Defined by a workmanlike approach to defense what is most remarkable about this is that no matter who the personnel is when they got to Memphis THEY WORKED. Hell, no matter the coach when they came to Memphis their coaching style underwent an accelerated metamorphosis that instilled within them with one of the most hard nosed philosophies in the game. Sure there was some push back at times but at the end of it this is the only way Memphis can play and it’s this very culture that has made them better than they have had any business to be for going on damn near a decade.
So now with Memphis on an eight game skid and bringing in associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff (who wasn’t too shabby the last time he was put in this spot) to take the helm on an interim basis there is a VERY important question that needs to be asked in hopes of getting a handle on this situation.
Q: Was it smart to oust Fiz essentially in favor of Gasol?
A: Fiz was another in a long line of Memphis coaches that with the help of that core group managed to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Hell, even with the titular trio now departed he still managed to coach them to respectability. Before Conley went out on the 14th with a heel and Achilles injury Memphis was 7-6 with two of those wins coming over current west coast frontrunners Houston and one over reigning champs Golden State. However, they were riding a two game losing streak at the time Conley went out.
The move makes little sense. But to appeal to the side of our basketball brain that isn’t always so logical you have to examine the importance of Marc Gasol to Memphis as a whole. Marc went to high school in Memphis when his big brother Pau was the franchise big man at the time. He’s also played his entire professional career in the city as well. We talk about how Randolph, Carter and Allen created and cultivated the culture and don’t get me wrong they definitely did but Marc is Memphis. And that is probably the best explanation for this.
So yeah, the benching was a big deal because Marc said it was a big deal. And this is definitely not the first time a star has forced a coach out. This instance just stands out because justice was fast and they tossed out one of the hottest young coaches in the league for a 32-year-old star that may or may not be able to stay on the floor for 30 minutes a night for the duration of his current contract.
Personally, I don’t see this ending well. Memphis is by no means an unattractive job but there was something special in how Fiz had this team performing. Losing Conley is a much harder pill to swallow than it appears and to be honest (spiked with a little petty) the one leading constant in all eight of these losses has been Gasol. And before you say this is a hatchet job on Marc just know that I think he’s the most underrated big man in the league. But this was a panicked move by an organization that feels like they have to appease their star to maintain any semblance of prolonged relevance. However, I think Fiz will see success before the Grizz do again. And it breaks my heart in a million pieces for the fans of Memphis to say that.