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VOL. 132 | NO. 236 | Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Producing Wins Was Lacking Under Fizdale, Grizz GM Says

By Don Wade

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The day after the Memphis Grizzlies fired coach David Fizdale just 19 games into his second season, general manager Chris Wallace rejected the notion that center Marc Gasol was a “coach-killer” and said more went into the decision to change coaches than one fractured relationship.

“It’s no secret there was tension between the two,” Wallace said of Fizdale and the team’s All-Star center. “It’s a factor, but not the overriding factor.”

Chris Wallace

Wallace’s comments were delivered Tuesday at a press conference held at FedExForum. The Grizzlies fired Fizdale Monday with the team on an eight-game losing streak – its longest since dropping 12 straight during the 2008-09 season.

Associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who also attended the press conference, will serve as the interim head coach the remainder of the season, Wallace said. It’s a position he filled in the 2015-16 season with Houston. The Rockets fired Kevin McHale after a 4-7 start and Bickerstaff coached the team to a 37-34 record and playoff berth with a 41-41 mark. The Rockets lost in the first round to Golden State in five games.

Wallace characterized the coaching change as a move needed to “save the season.” The Grizzlies are sitting at 7-12 going into Wednesday night’s game at San Antonio.

“There just weren’t a great deal of positive trends,” Wallace said.

To make his point, Wallace said more than once that the Grizzlies are just 14-26 in their last 40 regular season games and also made note of the current seven-game losing streak at home.

“These decisions are never easy,” Wallace said. “But it is a production, bottom-line, business.”

To that end, Wallace said Fizdale was not surprised and was “very gracious” when told he was being relieved of his duties.

The dysfunctional relationship between Gasol and Fizdale reached a new level on Sunday when the Grizzlies lost to the Brooklyn Nets and the coach did not play Gasol for a minute of the fourth quarter. No explanation was offered as to why, Gasol said postgame, and he said he was upset by the move.

“If you think I’m just going to lay down, I’m just not going to accept not playing in the fourth quarter and just, you know, be happy with it,” Gasol told media after the Brooklyn game. “That’s not my character since I’ve been here.”

Associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who also attended the press conference, will serve as the interim head coach the remainder of the Grizzlies' season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Fizdale insisted on Sunday he was trying to win the game, also saying he knew he was taking a risk. It proved to be the last move he would make as the Memphis coach.

Bickerstaff is known to have a good relationship with Gasol, but also was very close to Fizdale. Bickerstaff said he has known Fizdale since age 17 and came to Memphis to help him be successful.

“He was in my wedding,” Bickerstaff said.

Now, the Grizzlies’ divorce with Fizdale creates an opportunity.

“There’s a task to be done,” said Bickerstaff. “The opportunity was given to me to lead that task.”

Asked about the mood in the locker room over the week leading up to the firing, Bickerstaff said he believed players were still buying in but, “I think we were all frustrated. None of those guys liked losing.”

Bickerstaff now will have the same challenges Fizdale had. No Mike Conley (out indefinitely with an Achilles injury) and for the moment no Brandan Wright (groin strain) or Wayne Selden (quad injury). Chandler Parsons also tweaked his knee in the Brooklyn game and his immediate status is uncertain.

Bickerstaff’s father, Bernie Bickerstaff, was a full-time head coach with Seattle, Denver, Washington and Charlotte and an interim with the Los Angeles Lakers for five games in the 2012-13 season. The two talk regularly and Dad had advice for his son.

“Trust yourself,” J.B. Bickerstaff said his father told him. “Believe in what your plan is and then obviously come up with a good one.”

Also on Tuesday, Fizdale issued the following statement via ESPN in which he thanked controlling owner Robert Pera and members of the front office by name:

“I would like to thank the Memphis Grizzlies organization for allowing me the opportunity to lead this proud franchise and represent the city of Memphis. To Robert Pera, Joe Abadi, Chris Wallace, Ed Stefanski, John Hollinger and all the players, coaches, administration and support staff – I appreciate your belief in me.

“It was a great honor and experience to serve as your head coach and be part of the Memphis community. The city of Memphis is a special place and embodies a spirit that is second to none. I wish the organization and the players the best moving forward and hope they bring the fans the championship they so richly deserve. Go Grizz!”

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