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VOL. 132 | NO. 253 | Friday, December 22, 2017
Don Wade

Don Wade

Mismatch: Fizdale and Gasol Should Have Worked, But Didn’t

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There’s no way to prove this, but I believe it: if David Fizdale and Marc Gasol never had been part of the same team, they would have respected each other from afar.

They might have even wondered about working together and wished for it.

The player forever talks about playing the right way, that it doesn’t matter who scores the points only that the ball goes through the basket, and that the team must be dug in on defense. Every possession.

The coach believes in no limits. The goal is a championship. Everything else? A degree of failure.

Fizdale came here last season for his first head coaching job. He grew up as an assistant in Miami, immersed in a system where winning was valued every bit as much as Gasol values it. In a culture that operates on the theory that every player, even a player named LeBron James, can make his game greater.

Had Fizdale landed as a head coach somewhere else he no doubt would have had nights when he wished his star player, whoever that happened to be, would share the ball like Big Spain does.

Gasol, from afar, might have noticed the way Fizdale worked to bring the best out of players. In fact, he might have seen Fizdale give some other center the green light to shoot threes and been envious.

Even now, whenever Gasol knocks down a 3-pointer I can’t help but think Fizdale deserves a partial assist. He demanded Gasol shoot them. Many of them. And it took Gasol’s game to a new place offensively and opened things up more for Mike Conley and others.

Ah, the good old days.

More recently, we have learned that the good times ended just about a year ago. When Gasol met with several reporters earlier this week he pinpointed an 82-73 loss to Utah at FedExForum as the beginning of the end of his relationship with Fizdale.

I called up that box score and it was notable for several things. First, after that loss the Grizzlies had an 18-11 record. That’s some high cotton given the Grizzlies’ 9-21 mark going into a Dec. 20 game at Golden State.

Admittedly, Gasol had a rough game against Utah. He was 4 of 22 from the floor and 0 of 5 from behind the arc, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists. Conley was 3 of 16 from the field, 1 of 9 from deep, and finished with 14 points and four assists.

Afterward, Fizdale let his two best players know how far they were from meeting his expectations that night.

“He just completely came into me and Mike, and I did not like that one bit,” Gasol said earlier this week.

The relationship was strained from that point forward. Fizdale benched Gasol in the fourth quarter against Brooklyn on Nov. 26 this year. The Grizzlies lost that game, their eighth straight. Gasol let his feelings be known postgame – he didn’t like it, and no explanation from the coaching staff was offered. Fizdale was gone the next day.

The Grizzlies’ official stance via general manager Chris Wallace was that event and Fizdale’s firing were not connected. Gasol has said multiple times he did not ask that Fizdale be fired.

Fizdale finally spoke on ESPN’s The Jump on Wednesday, Dec. 20. He said a head coach and a star player butting heads was normal.

“That’s the league,” said Fizdale. “I mean, the best player and the coach aren’t always going to get along.”

He’s right, of course.

But if ever a coach and a star player should have gotten along, it was David Fizdale and Marc Gasol.

Don Wade’s column appears 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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