The Memphis Grizzlies have fired head coach David Fizdale and promoted assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff to interim head coach, the team announced Monday afternoon.
While the Mike Conley-less Grizzlies had certainly been struggling lately - 11 losses in their last 13 games, and the last eight overall - the early optics of this move look to be more nuanced than the 7-12 record alone. On Sunday night, franchise centerpiece Marc Gasol expressed his displeasure at Fizdale's decision to bench him in the third quarter of a game against the Brooklyn Nets.
“I don’t like it one bit,” Gasol told reporters afterward. “I’m more [angry] than I can show, and frustrated. ...If I’m not out there, I’m not valued. I’m sure they knew that would hurt me the most.”
“We’ll address it if it needs to be addressed but it was a pretty simple decision what I did,” Fizdale told reporters in explaining his decision. “It’s nothing against him. I’m trying to win a game. I’m desperate. I took a risk. Sometimes when you take a risk you may (upset) a player or two. That’s part of this position. I can own the decision and I have my reasons why. Winning is my only priority.”
As the Grizzlies have struggled, the question surrounding Gasol has grown more relevant: Might the 32-year-old, three-time, All-Star who can be a free agent in the summer of 2019 want a change of scenery if the only NBA team he has ever played for is on the decline? Apparently the Grizzlies wanted to ensure their coach wasn't adding fuel to that fire by adding to the frustration along the way.
"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," GM Chris Wallace said in a statement by the team.
Even Cleveland's LeBron James seemed stunned by the news.
Still, the Fizdale move was nothing short of shocking. He was hired in the summer of 2016, and finishes with a record of 50-51 in all. This marks the second time in recent years that Bickerstaff has served as an interim head coach, as he replaced the Houston Rockets' Kevin McHale in Nov. of 2015.
ESPN first reported the news.