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Grizzlies GM on firing Fizdale: “We needed to have a change to try to save the season”

David Fizdale

Frederick Breedon

Yes, he was very frustrated after being benched in the fourth quarter Sunday night, but after that Marc Gasol did not go to Grizzlies management and demand coach David Fizdale be fired.

This wasn’t entirely about Gasol, this is about a management team that wants to win now and thinks they have put together a team good enough to do just that. Check out these the quotes from Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace at the press conference introducing interim (for the season, at least) coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

“We are the Memphis Grizzlies. We always get through adversity, and emerge on the other side of adversity and have success... We needed to have a change to try to save the season.”

“Unfortunately, we are underperforming even the lowest of preseason expectations, and we’re an organization that has high expectations for our team, so a change had to be made... Going back to last year, we’re just 14-26 over our last 40 regular-season games. So, the trends were not positive, and we had to make a change in course at this time, early in the season.

“...But this is a production, bottom-line business, and a change was warranted, and it had to be made.”

What were the expectations for the Grizzlies entering this season? They had two borderline All-Star level players in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, surrounded by a few potentially solid role players — JaMychal Green once he got healthy, Chandler Parsons if he could stay healthy, James Ennis, Tyreke Evans — but not a lot of depth. If things broke right and this team stayed primarily healthy, even Grizzlies fans predicted a top end of 45ish wins and a 7-8 playoff seed. But healthy was a big “if” with the history of these players, and if guys were not healthy.

Well, we’re seeing what they look like when the team is not healthy. This is not out of the realm of expectations.

At the press conference, Wallace pounded on that “we are the Memphis Grizzlies” theme and turning this team back into the kind of team the Memphis fans love and have come to expect. This season. He didn’t say “grit n’ grind” but he might as well have.

That just leads to a lot of questions:

• Does Wallace really think this team is as good as years past, such as the teams that reached the conference Finals? Does he really think the supporting cast is that strong?

• Does management think a nearly 33-year-old Gasol and Conley, who is out resting his Achilles right now and has had a chronic issue there, can lead this team in the same way?

• Wasn’t Fizdale brought in to help this team evolve into a more modern NBA style? Wasn’t that part of the reason the franchise moved on from Zach Randolph and Tony Allen? Fizdale didn’t have the players to do everything he wanted, but he tried (the tempo was up, they shot more threes).

Wallace made it clear this was a team that should win more now, and in a West with a lot of teams stumbling due to injury issues — the Jazz, Clippers — and others just stumbling (Oklahoma City), the Grizzlies are not out of the playoff mix by any means this season. They have been to the postseason six seasons is a row, Wallace wants it to be seven.

But what is the long-term plan in Memphis? Just to keep holding on? Grizzlies fans appreciate a team that works hard and defends, but that culture can be maintained and built upon during a rebuild, too.

Until Conley returns the Grizzlies are not going to make much of a run at anything, and even when he returns how much of a run they can make is up for debate. But that’s what management wants.

If this team is out of the playoff mix as we get into early 2018, Wallace may need to alter his plans and think about what could be gained in a Gasol trade (Conley, with four years left on his deal and his injury history, would be very hard to move). It is time to seriously consider what is next in Memphis, and if a Gasol or other trade can jump start it (although a mid-first-round pick may be as good as it gets for Gasol at this point). Even if the Grizzlies are in the playoff mix, those discussions should be happening in a serious way.