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VOL. 131 | NO. 86 | Friday, April 29, 2016
Don Wade

Don Wade

Dave Joerger: The NBA’s Invisible Man

By Don Wade

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Congratulations to Golden State’s Steve Kerr. You can’t say he wasn’t a worthy recipient for NBA Coach of the Year.

The Warriors won a league-record 73 games, and you can even laud him for coaching in pain once he made it back to the sideline after back surgery.

Still, Kerr missed the first 43 games of the season.

Meanwhile, I added up a few other numbers: If you take the 18 games that Mario Chalmers missed after rupturing his Achilles, the 18 games Tony Allen missed over the season, the 26 that the Grizzlies were without Mike Conley because of foot and Achilles issues, the 30 games center Marc Gasol missed after breaking his foot, and the 70 games that his projected backup Brand Wright missed, you get 162. Or almost two full NBA seasons.

So I’m going to take giant leap here and say that not having those players made life much more difficult for Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger than not having Kerr did for Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the rest of the Warriors.

And no, this isn’t a column suggesting that Joerger, not Kerr, should have been NBA Coach of the Year. That would be an overreach.

But the overall voting results also seem in line with the lukewarm enthusiasm for Joerger in Memphis.

Coaches received five points for every first-place vote, three for every second-place vote, and one for every third-place vote. Kerr finished with 381 points, Portland’s Terry Stotts was second with 335, and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich was third with 166.

Great coaches one and all. If that’s your top three, in whatever order, I have no quarrel with it.

But after that, I do have an argument. Charlotte’s Steve Clifford was fourth with 98 points, Toronto’s Dwane Casey came in fifth with 83 points, and Boston’s Brad Stevens was sixth with 74 points. All coached playoff teams that didn’t have to use an NBA-record 28 players.

Joerger placed seventh with just 11 points, having received one first-place vote from an Associated Press writer who covers the Minnesota Timberwolves (perfect for anyone who believes that’s where Joerger longed to be), a second-place vote from Spurs broadcaster Bill Land, and three third-place votes. The third-place votes came from Grizzlies’ radio play-by-man Eric Hasseltine, a New York-based AP writer and a Charlotte Observer writer.

Yet only when Joerger broke down in the postgame press conference, after the Spurs swept the Grizzlies out of the playoffs, did he seem to become part of the season’s story.

“He put everything into this season,” Conley said the next day. “He did a great job of running the show and he just let it all out.”

Of course, even winning Coach of the Year does not assure everything is fine. Three years ago, Denver fired George Karl just weeks after he won the award. And the 2013 season also was when the Grizzlies said bye-bye to Lionel Hollins after the team reached the Western Conference Finals.

Joerger has one season left on his contract. He said the day after the season no one had talked to him about extending his deal. And when asked if he would be involved in the draft, he needed but a single word: “No.”

If that’s true, that’s very odd. If it’s not true, it’s strange he said it and also a clear passive-aggressive message that he doesn’t believe his opinion is given enough weight (yes, he wanted to draft Rodney Hood in the 2014 draft and not Jordan Adams).

Frankly, for a long time, there have been obvious signs of discord between the coaching staff and at least a segment of the Grizzlies’ front office.

But even members of the front office who aren’t Joerger fans have to know the end of this season could have been so much worse. Joerger didn’t lose the team. He hung on and guided a parody of an NBA roster into the playoffs.

Grit and grind finished with dignity and that should be worth something.

For now, that appears to be no more than a seventh-place finish in NBA Coach of the Year voting.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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