VOL. 131 | NO. 92 | Monday, May 9, 2016
The Press Box
Joerger and Grizzlies Both had the Itch
By Don Wade
If Dave Joerger and the Memphis Grizzlies had been a married couple, they would have been those unsettled spouses forever undercutting each other in dinner party conversations, rolling their eyes, and smiling fake “we really do love each other smiles” while checking out all the other guests.
Let’s face it: This relationship had been on the rocks for a long time. When Joerger’s latest flirtation became official, with his agent asking the Grizzlies’ permission for Joerger to essentially date the Sacramento Kings to see where it might lead, the Grizzlies were ready for a divorce.
And in the world of Larry Bird, at least, they made the move right on time.
Bird, the Indiana Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations, did not renew head coach Frank Vogel’s contract after five-plus seasons. And in doing so, again repeated his mantra that a coach’s ability to reach his team expires after three seasons.
In fact, Bird himself stepped aside after three years of coaching the Pacers. Dave Joerger was fired after three seasons and in some ways the notion that his voice was losing power resonates.
When this season ended with the inevitable first-round playoff sweep by the San Antonio Spurs, Joerger wept after Game 4 in his press conference while talking about his players’ heart and effort. He especially seemed to bond with veterans Matt Barnes and Vince Carter down the stretch and through that playoff series.
“They back the coaching staff and also the coaching staff backed them,” Joerger said a day after the season ended. “Sometimes, they go at a guy kinda hard and you can’t go over there and put your arm around him and go, `Oh, he doesn’t really mean that.’”
But what was really interesting, I thought then and really think now, was the reaction from Marc Gasol and Mike Conley when Joerger’s emotional display was brought up. Gasol basically had no reaction, left little opening for discussing the coach at any length. Conley said nice enough things, but absent any conviction. He was being a good diplomat.
None of this is to suggest that Gasol or Conley made like LeBron James and got the coach fired. Rather, it’s merely noting that there is no indication they made any effort, or were given any opportunity, to stop it.
So, was this all or mainly a Robert Pera production? Who knows? The Grizzlies’ controlling owner offers few clues about much of anything that happens with the team, as though the ticket-buying public is supposed to automatically have trust no matter how dysfunctional things appear from the outside.
The rift between Joerger and the front office, of course, was well-documented. He enjoyed his little jabs. And the Grizzlies, by not extending a coach with one year remaining on his contract after he got this hospital ward of a team to the playoffs, had issued a clear vote of tepid confidence.
So Joerger, who two seasons ago checked out the Minnesota job, had that wandering eye again.
And one wonders if the Grizzlies didn’t immediately find Vogel uber-attractive the moment Bird severed that relationship.
Other coaches also figure to get a look – everyone from Mark Jackson, who was pushed aside at Golden State for Steve Kerr, to David Blatt, the fall guy in Cleveland.
Vogel is the most accomplished coach on the market. But given he lasted more than five years at Indiana where the clock is always ticking in Bird’s mind, how would he feel about coming to a franchise that got rid of Lionel Hollins after taking the team to the Western Conference Finals and now fires Joerger after three years?
Nobody ever suggested that the franchise-coach relationship in the NBA should include a till-death-do-us-part oath.
But coach swapping often delivers about what you’d expect: short-term pleasure followed by alimony payments.