When the Memphis Grizzlies fired head coach David Fizdale on November 27, 2017, the move was met with shock from players, coaches and personnel from around the NBA.
Fizdale – in just his second season in Memphis – had guided the Grizzlies to a 43-39 record during his one full season, good for the seventh seed in a competitive Western Conference.
Memphis’ gutty six-game losing effort against No. 2 seeded San Antonio included (a series that included Fizdale’s notorious “Take That For Data,” rant), the Grizzlies exceeded expectations for a team with two real stars and not much else.
The Grizzlies have been operating under false pretenses for some time now as a franchise. The Grit-and-Grind era is long over – ended through a combination of the NBA’s space-and-pace era, the aging of some of Memphis’ key pieces and a front office that has simply failed to collect talent.
The firing of Fizdale, considered one of the top up-and-coming coaches during his time as an assistant in Miami, sent a signal to the rest of the NBA that the small market Grizzlies are willing to stay the course with 32-year old Marc Gasol, even when their current 8-18 record seems to indicate that hitting the reset button may in fact be smartest.
Although the rift between Fizdale and Gasol seemed to have only become public knowledge in the aftermath of Fizdale’s firing, the relationship was apparently already fractured, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Whatever your feelings on the subject may be, Fizdale broke one of the cardinal rules of success in the NBA as a head coach – getting along with your star players.
Early season trade chatter seemed to peg Gasol and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan as the top trade targets on the market. By relieving Fizdale of his position and seemingly putting their eggs into the Gasol basket, there is now one less impact player on the rumor-mill.
The asset-heavy Celtics have been naturally linked to Gasol for some time now and were even connected in the aftermath of the Gordon Hayward signing.
Though Brad Stevens would love Gasol manning the middle (like Al Horford, Gasol has turned into a respectable three-point shooter in recent seasons), not only would the financials fail to match up, but the Celtics would also have little reason to break up a nucleus that’s powered the team to an NBA-best 23 wins thus far.
The schism between small and big market teams may not exist to the level that it did say 10 years ago, however, a small market franchise like Memphis has a bottom-line to meet.
Memphis was one of nine NBA teams to lose money last season. In fact, the Grizzlies earned a league-low $9.4 million in local media rights, and according to the Nielsen rankings, Memphis ranks as the NBA’s smallest market.
Unless Gasol is swapped for a star of similar ilk, expect him and Mike Conley (currently sidelined with an Achilles injury) to remain a part of a franchise that’s stuck in neutral for the foreseeable future.