Fiz & Grizz Look Like Good Fit, But New Coach Will Need Players

Monday, May 30, 2016, Vol. 131, No. 107

When the Memphis Grizzlies fired Dave Joerger after three seasons, the public reaction from players was, well, non-existent.

No fond farewells via Twitter from Marc Gasol or Mike Conley. And certainly not from Zach Randolph and Tony Allen.

Former Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale agreed to a four-year contract to be head coach of the Grizzlies. He brings a reputation as a good communicator able to work both directions in the chain of command. 

(AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

It felt like the players were recalling long-ago advice from their mothers: “If you can’t say anything nice …”

But as word circulated that the Grizzlies and longtime Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale had reached agreement on a four-year contract, the compliments flowed from South Beach.

“#Fiz2Grizz I like that,” Dwyane Wade tweeted.

Mario Chalmers, as both a former Heat and Grizzlies player, also endorsed the hire on Twitter: “Great coach and an even better person. Happy for my guy fizz.”

And another former Heat and Grizzlies point guard, Beno Udrih, chimed in on Twitter and then appeared on a Memphis sports talk radio show to laud Fizdale for his toughness and his ability to communicate with players.

I couldn’t help but think it sounded like Fizdale has some Lionel Hollins in him, only he can play well with others.

Clearly, the Grizzlies’ recent past with Hollins and Joerger puts a premium on a head coach that can relate up and down the chain of command. There were different front offices in control when Hollins and Joerger lost their jobs here, but neither could navigate the political waters nor showed any desire to navigate the political waters.

And that’s fine. At some level, I respect that. The quickest way for a coach to lose credibility with his players is to be, or perceived to be, a puppet of the front office.

The other killer in the coach-player relationship is a coach’s reluctance to be honest. Udrih said in his radio interview that won’t be an issue with Fizdale, 41, who was Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra’s lead assistant.

Hubie Brown, the first head coach to take the Grizzlies to the playoffs, always used to say that players didn’t get enough credit for being able to handle the truth, that more than anything they just wanted a coach who would be straight with them and not say one thing and then do another.

Fizdale, then, comes here with the reputation for being the kind of coach who will tell players how it is while simultaneously understanding there are times when it’s just smart to hold your tongue around upper management.

His ultimate success here, of course, will depend on the roster he’s given to take into competition each night. If controlling owner Robert Pera, general manager Chris Wallace and the rest can’t re-sign point guard Mike Conley – and the Grizzlies can offer him more money and years than any other team, by NBA rules – then Fizdale starts his tenure at a deficit.

If Pera is unwilling to spend to add other pieces – something Conley has indicated is required for his return – Fizdale will simply be coaching a team that is, to channel Joerger, even older and slower than it was last season.

Fizdale carries a reputation as developer of young talent – it would be nice if the Grizzlies had more young talent around to be developed – and Udrih specifically praised his X’s and O’s acumen.

Considering the Grizzlies had neither the roster nor the bankroll to seriously get Frank Vogel’s attention, Fizdale looks to be a solid hire. In part, because he reportedly passed on previous head coaching opportunities, including the Philadelphia 76ers job at one point, to stay on with the Heat.

He seems like a man with a plan. And communication skills superior to his two most recent predecessors in Memphis. That’s a good start.

But for any sort of a chance to guide the Grizzlies to the playoffs for a seventh straight season, he will need a starting point guard and more players. Good players, better players.

So here’s hoping Fizdale’s new boss ultimately realizes Joerger wasn’t wrong when he called the Grizzlies “old and slow.” Merely indelicate.