Dave Joerger said he and Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera had a “shared vision” for what the franchise can accomplish going forward and that in their recent “heart-to-heart” conversation they never discussed whether Pera was close to firing Joerger early into his first season as the team’s head coach.
“Didn’t broach that,” Joerger said on Thursday afternoon, May 29, during his first mass meeting with the media since interviewing in Minnesota last weekend for the Timberwolves’ vacant head coaching position.
Further, when asked if he ever had the feeling last season that Pera was about to remove him as coach, Joerger called those media reports “purely speculation.”
It has been a wild two weeks with the Grizzlies off the court as the team announced on Monday, May 19, that Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and player personnel director Stu Lash were no longer with the organization (read: fired by Pera).
Thus, Pera’s allowing Joerger to interview for the T-Wolves’ job was widely interpreted as Pera holding open a door through which Joerger would never pass again. Instead, Joerger not only has returned to the Grizzlies after leading the team to 50 wins and a fourth straight playoff appearance in his first year as head coach, but he now has a contract extension.
Joerger and Pera talked at length after Joerger interviewed in Minnesota and the tenor of things underwent a dramatic change. On Thursday, Joerger expressed his gratitude to Pera for letting him explore the coaching job in Minnesota, where Joerger still has a lot of family, and said by his returning to Memphis Pera had “beat out my home team.”
Joerger, who before last season had been a Grizzlies assistant coach for several years, said he was surprised by the dismissals of Levien and Lash. He also said that a lot of what was reported in the media after that, and that centered on what he and Pera were thinking, or thought about one another, was “inaccurate.”
Joerger spoke to several other topics Thursday afternoon:
On the search for a new director of basketball operations, a position currently being manned by general manager Chris Wallace on an interim basis: Joerger said he would be involved with the search process. He also said finding the best available talent evaluator was not necessarily the most important thing, adding, “What’s best as far as a fit (with the organization).”
On power forward Zach Randolph, who can become a free agent this summer: Joerger re-affirmed that he wants Randolph here long-term.
On center Marc Gasol, who can become a free agent after next season, and the notion the team has something to prove to Gasol if he is going to stay: “Marc has as good a heart as anyone,” Joerger said, adding that Gasol would not get caught up in the “drama” of pending free agency; Joerger said he would not get caught up in the “drama of what he’s thinking.”
On Pera’s commitment to winning: Joerger said Pera told him “I want to do whatever it takes to win.” Asked if Pera ever specifically mentioned being willing to incur the NBA luxury tax to add needed pieces for a serious championship run, Joerger said, “That (the luxury tax) wasn’t brought up.”
On reports that Pera tried to tell him which players to play and how much: “I was never told by anybody, ‘We need to see this guy,’ for whatever reason.”
On vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger remaining with the team, at least for now: “He’s got a nice way about him – never stuffing numbers down (anyone’s) throat,” just making the information available.
On the importance of adding to the team’s core with younger players through whatever means: “We don’t want to go, ‘Oh, we got old really fast.’”