MikeCheck: Grizzlies Offseason Outlook – J.B. Bickerstaff
MEMPHIS – It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.
But after a tumultuous season that included a controversial early-season coaching change, a rash of injuries, the eventual loss of two top scorers and the longest losing streak in the Memphis era of the franchise, the Grizzlies hit the offseason eager to push the reset button.
They are out of the playoffs for the first time in eight years, and headed toward the May 15 Draft Lottery assured of a top-five pick in the June 21 NBA Draft. So there’s reason to hope. There are also expectations – with catalysts Mike Conley and Marc Gasol still under contract, encouraging development of a few young prospects and the full midlevel exception to use in free agency – that this disappointing season in Memphis was a single bump in the road on a path back to playoff contention.
Over the next few weeks, Grind City Media’s ‘Offseason Outlook’ breaks down my personal analysis as to where the coach, general manager and each player on the Grizzlies’ roster stand in the process.
Coach: J.B. Bickerstaff, 39
Measurables: 52-82 overall, including 15-48 in Memphis – 2nd NBA Season as interim head coach
2017-18 Highlights: Took over after David Fizdale was dismissed Nov. 27, guided Memphis to a 9-8 mark from Dec. 23-Jan. 29 and oversaw the rapid development of rookies Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb.
Status: Expected to meet with the Grizzlies' front-office in the coming days about his future, but could also emerge as a top assistant candidate among several current NBA vacancies.
At age 39, Bickerstaff finished the season as the second-youngest coach in the league behind Lakers coach Luke Walton (38). Bickerstaff has been an NBA assistant since 2004, when he started at 25.
During a December game in New York, second-year center Deyonta Davis loafed on an assignment, then shot a dismissive look toward Bickerstaff as he walked to the bench during a timeout. Bickerstaff dropped his dry-erase board and motioned toward Davis to say: “If you ever look at me like that again, you’ll never play another minute on any team I coach.” A few weeks later, Bickerstaff signaled for a timeout and tweaked his lineup a few seconds into the half after Gasol was late on a rotation. The point is clear: whether it’s the franchise center or a developing prospect trying to stay in the league, Bickerstaff coached with the same accountability. He’s a solid play-caller, a spectacularly precise communicator and combines principles of an old-school coach with the creativity, transparency and sensitivity of a new-age visionary on the bench. His time has come for a shot at the job on his terms.
Take away your best player in November because of injury, sideline your leading scorer for the final months of the season and juggle more than 30 different starting lineups. Then check the results. Can’t imagine Gregg Popovich or Steve Kerr getting much more out of the Grizzlies under those circumstances. But that was the hand Bickerstaff was dealt when he took over in the middle of what would become the first of two double-digit losing streaks endured this season. Even still, there were some puzzling moments under Bickerstaff. There were odd coaching moves in that March 7 game in Chicago when the Grizzlies could have ended several games earlier what became a 19-game skid. There was dreadful effort in a franchise record, 61-point loss in Charlotte. Those were just a few times when, via self-inflicted mistakes or external influences, Bickerstaff really struggled getting the team to respond.
Bickerstaff couldn’t refuse the opportunity to take over the interim role, regardless how challenging the situation was 20 games into the season after his best friend, David Fizdale, was let go. Even then, it appeared to be a no-win situation. Consider this: Bickerstaff, in his interim role, never coached a lineup with Conley this season. But with grace, patience, accountability and a steady message, J.B. maintained the respect and trust of key veterans and got encouraging improvement out of prioritized youngsters in Brooks, Rabb, Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden when healthy. I’m not sure he’s the long-term answer as coach. But I’m also not certain he isn’t. With the ownership situation resolved and some level of continuity expected in the front office, Bickerstaff deserves a shot to lead the Grizzlies for at least another season to get a handle on how he’d do with a healthy roster and fresh start.
Next year, no matter who’s here or what the situation is, this team will take a (jump). Healthy bodies and what is going to be a really good draft pick, there’s an opportunity for a quick turnaround. With all the ups and downs, we were in a difficult spot. I feel like we have started something, started to build a culture. There’s going to be a tremendous bump. I’d love to be a part of it.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.