Grizzlies fire coach David Fizdale day after benching Gasol
By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
The Memphis Grizzlies fired coach David Fizdale on Monday, with the team at 7-12 and a day after he benched center Marc Gasol for the fourth quarter of an eighth straight loss.
General manager Chris Wallace announced the move. Associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been named interim coach.
“After a thorough evaluation, I decided a change in course was necessary to move forward and provide the team and organization its best chance at success this season and beyond,” Wallace said in a statement.
Gasol, given a maximum deal by the Grizzlies in July 2015, sat throughout the fourth quarter of a 98-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. Gasol leads the Grizzlies in points, rebounds and assists, and he was an All-Star in Fizdale’s inaugural season. But the center spent plenty of time after the game making it clear to reporters how upset he was at sitting out a full quarter.
“It’s a first for me, trust me, and I don’t like it one bit,” Gasol said. “I’m more (ticked) than I can show and frustrated.”
Fizdale explained his decision before Gasol spoke in the locker room and said he simply was trying to win a game while sticking with his reserves. Fizdale said taking a risk as head coach means sometimes upsetting a player or two.
“If I’m not on the floor, I’m not valued,” Gasol said. “I’m sure (the coaching staff) knew that would hurt me the most.”
The move caught the NBA by surprise. Dwyane Wade, who played with the Miami Heat when Fizdale was an assistant coach, wrote on Twitter that he needed answers . LeBron James retweeted a comment that called the move “stunning.”
“I need some answers. Feels like my man was a fall guy,” James wrote.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said he was “shocked” by the firing.
“I think David Fizdale is one of the best coaches in the league,” Kerr said. “He’s a brilliant guy, he’s got an edge to him, he’s tough, he’s smart. Their whole team is injured, Mike Conley is out. Like, this is what happens, you lose when your best players are out and when your whole team is wiped out. It caught me off guard.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts called Fizdale’s firing very disappointing.
“Losing in this league and not meeting expectations in this league takes its toll on everybody,” Stotts said before a game in New York. “Owners, general managers, coaches, players, and handling that is a strain on relationships, and it’s disappointing. It’s probably the most difficult part of being in the NBA, is managing that part of the season.”
Fizdale became the franchise’s 13th head coach on May 29, 2016, and he went 50-51.
The Grizzlies reached the postseason for a seventh straight time in Fizdale’s first season, when they lost to the San Antonio Spurs. Fizdale was fined $30,000 by the NBA for a rant over officiating after a loss in Game 2.
Memphis let Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Tony Allen all leave as free agents and signed Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers to retool the roster around Gasol and point guard Mike Conley and give Fizdale a faster lineup.
The moves appeared to be working when Memphis started this season an NBA-best 5-1. The Grizzlies stood atop the Western Conference with a win over the Golden State Warriors and two over Southwest Division rival Houston.
But Conley has been out since Nov. 17, resting an aching left Achilles tendon . Then the team lost its eighth straight on Sunday, matching the longest skid for this franchise since Feb. 11-March 3, 2009. Now Fizdale is the second NBA coach fired this season, joining Earl Watson, who was fired by Phoenix three games into the season.
This will be the second time as an interim coach for Bickerstaff, who will start Wednesday night in San Antonio against the Spurs. He joined the Grizzlies in June 2016 after five seasons with the Houston Rockets, including an interim coach stint that lasted most of 2015-16 and included a playoff berth. Bickerstaff went 37-34 in that role.
He also was an assistant coach with Minnesota and in Charlotte under his father, Bernie Bickerstaff.
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York, AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, California, and freelance writer Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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