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VOL. 131 | NO. 96 | Friday, May 13, 2016

Joerger Lands in Sacramento; Grizzlies Casting for Replacement

By Don Wade

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Center Marc Gasol will be back with the Grizzlies, but major questions loom: Will point guard Mike Conley re-sign? Who will be the team’s next coach? Will the Grizzlies add other offensive pieces? 

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Future conversation in Sacramento between new coach Dave Joerger and franchise player DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins:

Joerger: “DeMarcus, do you get what we’re doing here, do you know what you’re doing on this play?”

Cousins: “!#!! you, Dave.”

Just kidding. No doubt, everything in Joerger’s introductory press conference will prove to be true. Hugs and kisses all around. Not just from coach to player and player to coach, but with all the suits upstairs, too.

“The coach and the general manager are absolutely on the same team,” Joerger said. “And going forward, our front office, our coaching staff, that’s going to go all the way through the organization.”

Former Kings coach George Karl must have gotten a laugh out of that one. Not to mention most of the people in the Memphis Grizzlies’ front office.

While Joerger landed on his feet in Sacramento and was handed $4 million per year over four years, the first three guaranteed, there is unease and unrest in the Grizzlies fandom he left behind. And more questions than answers, but we’ll take a shot at providing some possible answers.

So what really happened – was this more about Joerger wanting out, the Grizzlies looking for an excuse to fire him, or was it all just about the money?

Let’s start with the money. Joerger was reportedly in line to finally reach the $2 million mark in salary this coming season, but he was clearly underpaid and had only that one year on the contract. Lionel Hollins before him also was paid on the cheap.

So yes, this was about the money. But not only about the money. Joerger had a history of being interested in other jobs (Minnesota two years ago and again in 2016, and then Sacramento). So it’s not untrue to say he wanted out.

But why did he want out? He clashed with the front office and never believed his opinion on personnel matters was given enough weight. 

Center Marc Gasol will be back with the Grizzlies, but major questions loom: Will point guard Mike Conley re-sign? Who will be the team’s next coach? Will the Grizzlies add other offensive pieces? 

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Grizzlies, for their part, had tired of the Joerger potshots through the media. Plus, even from afar, it sometimes felt that in Joerger’s world too much of the season and the challenges presented by an aging roster were all about him and the long-term effect on his career.

In sum, he was high maintenance.

What are we to make of the now-famous photo of Grizz GM Chris Wallace and Hollins eating together at Humdingers?

Well, it’s a sign both men are eating healthier. Good for them. 

Seriously, you never say never, so a Hollins return is not off the table if other options do not work out. But it seems highly unlikely. The best bet here is that mutual respect led Wallace to accept a Hollins request for a meeting and when Wallace says the team will cast a wide net for the next coach that probably does not mean the search ends over a plate of salmon at Humdingers.

Is the Grizzlies’ coaching job attractive enough to lure a guy with previous head coaching experience?

This cuts two ways. If you’re looking to jump back in the game – think of former Golden State coach-turned broadcaster Mark Jackson – you can’t be too picky.

But if you’re a guy generally considered the best on the market – former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel – you have leverage. Maybe Vogel believes Memphis is a good fit. Or maybe he worries that as when he coached the Pacers in the Eastern Conference and LeBron James was with the Miami Heat, the path in the West is too tough to reach the NBA Finals as long as Steph Curry & Co. are together. In that scenario, Vogel might not even like Houston as an option and could choose to lay out a year.

San Antonio assistant Ettore Messina is considered a hot prospect. Messina, 56, is a past Euroleague Coach of the Year and he has won titles on the other side of the pond. His strong international reputation gives him something in common with former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt – make of that what you will.

The Vertical cited sources that identified the Grizzlies’ list as also including former Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek, Charlotte associate head coach Patrick Ewing, Portland assistant Nate Tibbets, and Miami assistant David Fizdale. 

So the chances of a splashy hire are a little dim if the Grizzlies don’t get Vogel.

How does all this change the odds of Mike Conley re-signing with Memphis?

The coach will matter only in this way: If Conley hates the choice, it might push him out the door. But it’s hard to believe that controlling owner Robert Pera, who seems to communicate more with Conley and Marc Gasol than anyone else, won’t seek their opinions before the deal is done.

Much more important to retaining Conley is that the Grizzlies don’t low-ball him and do something real in terms of adding talent around him and Gasol. If they don’t do that, Conley has little reason to stay.

Is it fair to characterize the Grizzlies as dysfunctional?

In this space we work off the following time-tested theory: All teams, like all families, are dysfunctional at least part of the time. Right now, the Grizzlies look, at minimum, confused and perhaps dysfunctional is a fair description, too.

But all that can change with a solid coaching hire, bringing back Conley, and adding one or two players with real offensive talent. Say, someone who’s good at shooting a basketball and even occasionally creating his own shot (someone that represents an upgrade from Lance Stephenson).

Will the Grizzlies make the playoffs a seventh straight season?

If Conley returns and he and Gasol both heal, yes.

If Conley doesn’t, the Grizzlies will be starting a scrapheap point guard and rubbing elbows with old friend Davie Joerger in the bottom third of the Western Conference standings.

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