Grizzlies fire coach Bickerstaff, reassign GM Wallace
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies started the offseason Thursday with plenty of questions to answer, then controlling owner Robert Pera added to the to-do list by firing coach J.B. Bickerstaff as part of a front-office shake-up that demoted general manager Chris Wallace to scout.
The Grizzlies announced the moves after both Bickerstaff and Wallace spoke to reporters following a second straight season outside the playoffs. After a 12-5 start, Memphis plummeted and finished 33-49, tied with New Orleans and Dallas.
Wallace had said earlier that Bickerstaff would be returning after doing a “terrific job.” But Pera didn’t agree and restructured the front office a few hours later.
“In order to put our team on the path to sustainable success, it was necessary to change our approach to basketball operations,” Pera said in a statement. “I look forward to a re-energized front office and fresh approach to Memphis Grizzlies basketball under new leadership, while retaining the identity and values that have distinguished our team.”
Bickerstaff was named interim coach in November 2017 after the Grizzlies fired David Fizdale . He was given the job without the interim title last May. Now Memphis is looking for a fourth head coach since choosing not to renew Lionel Hollins’ contract after he led the Grizzlies to their lone Western Conference final appearance in 2013.
The Grizzlies also announced that Jason Wexler will be president of the Grizzlies overseeing both basketball and business operations, and Zachary Z. Kleiman replaces John Hollinger as executive vice president of basketball operations with Hollinger moving to an advisory role. The Grizzlies are keeping former player Tayshaun Prince as a special adviser.
Memphis began this season with Wallace predicting the Grizzlies would be a playoff team.
The Grizzlies wound up trading away center Marc Gasol at the trade deadline. With other trades and injuries that left nine rotation players benched with injuries for Wednesday night’s season finale in a 132-117 win over Golden State, Memphis tied its own NBA record for most players used in one season – set last season – again at 28.
Memphis also set the NBA mark with 20 different leading scorers, topping the old record of 16 set by the Knicks in 2014-15.
While Memphis kept veteran point guard Mike Conley after a frenzy of speculation about his future before the trade deadline, that chatter is about to start again. And Conley, 31, sounds ready to consider his best interest about what happens next with Memphis in full-blown rebuilding mode.
“I honestly don’t think that would be the ideal situation,” Conley said. “Ideally, I don’t think anybody in my situation would want to go through that again, (since) I don’t know how many years I have left.”
Conley helped his potential value by averaging 24 points and 6.5 assists over his final 16 games. Conley still has two seasons left on the max deal he signed in July 2016,.
“I’m pretty much getting ready for it, getting ready for that storm …,” Conley said of the coming speculation. “In the last few weeks, it’s become more and more like knocking on the door. It’s right around the corner. This stuff is going to fire up again. Rumors, all that stuff is going to pop up.”
Wallace oversaw the signing of Chandler Parsons to a four-year, $94 million deal that has seen the forward play 95 games combined over the first three seasons.
The Grizzlies spent much of the season trying to finish outside the top eight spots in the draft to finally pay off a 2015 midseason trade for Jeff Green that still requires a first-round pick to be sent to Boston. The selection is protected if Memphis finished anywhere from No. 1 to 8 in the draft, and the Grizzlies want to fulfill that obligation this June.
Memphis wound up in a three-way tie with Dallas and New Orleans for the 7-9 position. Whether the Grizzlies land in the ninth position or with the selection protected won’t be known until after the May 14 draft lottery.
The next Grizzlies coach will have Jaren Jackson Jr. who showed flashes as the fourth overall draft pick last summer before a deep thigh bruise sidelined him after 58 games. Dillon Brooks also was limited to 18 games by injuries, and Kyle Anderson, signed to a four-year deal last summer, played only 43 games and will have surgery next week on his right shoulder.
Jonas Valanciunas, acquired in the February trade for Gasol, has a $17.6 million player option next season.