Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace defends decision to fire coach David Fizdale
Clay Bailey | The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace says the overall product is why Memphis fired coach David Fizdale, not the decision to bench star center Marc Gasol for an entire quarter of the team’s eighth straight loss.
Wallace also defended Gasol against criticism saying the center is a “coach killer.”
“There were bigger trends than just the relationship between the two of them,” Wallace said Tuesday. “It just hasn’t been going well for us after a good start. And there was no indication that it was going to change magically any time soon.”
The Grizzlies unexpectedly fired Fizdale on Monday, the coach hired away from his assistant’s job with the Miami Heat with great fanfare in May 2016. But the Grizzlies are mired in their longest skid since 2009 and 7-12 overall after starting the season 5-1.
The timing of the firing raised questions about Gasol’s role coming a day after the center was benched during the fourth quarter Sunday of a 98-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. The 7-foot center is the team’s leader in scoring, assists and rebounding, and Gasol expressed confusion and anger over the late-game benching.
But the Grizzlies are 14-26 since March 1 of last season, and questions swirled over Memphis’ desire and level of play.
Memphis has suffered through injuries, most notably point guard Mike Conley missing the last seven games with a sore left Achilles. Free agent signee Ben McLemore is just getting back into the rotation after missing the first 11 games rehabbing an injury. Starting forward JaMychal Green has returned after spraining his ankle in the opening game of the season.
Still, the Grizzlies seemed to regress more than expected for a franchise that has reached the postseason each of the past seven seasons. The losing skid has featured poor performances in a quarter or two of games.
“Unfortunately, we are underperforming, (by) even the lowest of preseason expectations” Wallace said. “We are an organization of high expectations for our team, so a change had to be made.”
Now Bickerstaff is taking over as interim head coach, and Wallace said Bickerstaff would hold the job the rest of the season.
Bickerstaff, who had been the Grizzlies associate coach, takes over hoping to reverse their struggles. Bickerstaff experienced a similar situation when he took over as interim coach of the Houston Rockets after Kevin McHale was fired shortly after the start of the 2015-16 season. He went 37-34 with the Rockets.
This promotion is much tougher personally for Bickerstaff.
He and Fizdale are close friends. Bickerstaff said he has known Fizdale since he was 17. Fizdale was in Bickerstaff’s wedding, and the interim coach came to Memphis to help Fizdale succeed. Bickerstaff called Monday a very difficult day personally because of that relationship, but now he has work to do.
“Through the emotions, you have to come up with a plan and hopefully that plan rights the ship a little bit,” Bickerstaff said.