The off-season coaching scenario that played out with the Memphis Grizzlies might seem eerily familiar to fans of the old Seattle SuperSonics.
A tough, defensive minded head coach takes his team to new heights. He coaches them to success. His players respect him and play hard for him. He takes his team deep into the playoffs.
But there's a flip side. He doesn't like the direction that upper management has set for the team. He doesn't stay quiet when the team makes a personnel decision he doesn't like. He's not precisely a company man. He's not remotely a yes man.
That's roughly what happened when Seattle replaced George Karl with Paul Westphal and that's roughly what happened last summer when the Grizzlies replaced head coach Lionel Hollins with his assistant, David Joerger.
One would think that coaching the Grizzlies into the Western Conference Finals last season would be enough reason for his employer to want to sign him to a contract extention. One would be wrong.
Though Hollins led his team to a better record each year, a new ownership group took over last November, which led to a new management group with a different philosophy. When management traded away Rudy Gay, Hollins publicly spoke against it. Many believe this led to his firing.
So how will the team respond to this upheaval? Will the players resent the move and take issue with Joerger or will they build on the relationship they had with him as an assistant coach and play just as hard? Joerger will likely be more of a company man, but will he be a yes man? Will he go all Westphalian and lead the team in a descent to mediocrity?
Another big question for this season. The Grizzlies were almost exclusively a defensive team last season. Offense wasn't their forte and perimeter shooting was a big weakness. Will they improve on that this year?
The season preview for the Memphis Grizzlies will now commence.
Head Coach: Joerger takes the reins after two years as an assistant with the club. He comes from good coaching stock. He came through the coaching ranks of minor league basketball, including the IBA, CBA, and NBA DL. He won a championship in each of the IBA and NBA DL and then four in the CBA. In other words, he bested the minor league careers of Phil Jackson and Karl. His only minor league flaw is that he never coached the Yakima SunKings. That may be his undoing.
Last Season's Record: 56-26.
Player Losses: The team traded away power forward Darrell Arthur to the Denver Nuggets on draft day and later traded away point guard and Washington Husky alumn Tony Wroten to the Philadelphia 76ers for a future draft pick. Small forward Austin Daye left for the Toronto Raptors via free agency and the team chose not to resign point guard Keyon Dooling, who may retire.
Player Additions: The Grizzlies gained depth and youth at the two spot when they drafted Jamaal Franklin out of San Diego State in the second round. ESPN scouts Franklin as a tweener with good skills as a passer, penetrator, and jump shooter, but who needs better consistency with his perimeter game.
In another draft day acquisition, the team sent Arthur and Joffrey Lauvergne, who they selected with the 55th pick that day, to the Nuggets to acquire center Kosta Koufos, who many expect to be a quality backup to Marc Gasol.
To address their anemic perimeter shooting, they signed guard Mike Miller from the Miami Heat. Miller should provide good scoring off the bench when healthy, which is his big question mark.
In addition, the Grizzlies acquired the rights to point guard Nick Calathes from the Dallas Mavericks and were able to sign him away from a league in Greece. The team also claimed point guard Josh Akognon off waivers.
Best Player: I refuse to decide between Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Conley averaged 14.6 points and 6.1 assists last season, while Gasol tallied an average of 14.1 points and 7.8 rebounds. Their scoring stats were basically a draw, as were the stats most significant to their respective duties.
Worst Player: Here's where the front office succumbed to an unfathomable typo. They thought they were acquiring Willis Reed, but it turned out to be Willie Reed. A simple Google search would've revealed that the dude is way younger than the Reed they were looking for.
He did fairly well in the developmental league and was signed by the team for the last couple months of last season. I predict that, as soon as the Grizzlies finally realize who he isn't, he'll be cut quietly on a Friday afternoon when nobody's looking and they don't have to answer embarrassing questions. On the West Wing, this was known as 'take out the trash day". Another possibility is that he'll be that guy who opposing teams call on to shoot free throws for injured players.
Player due to breakthrough: During the playoffs last year, Quincy Pondexter showed some flashes of brilliance and gave a hint of what he is capable of. His scoring average went from 6.4 points in the regular season to 8.9 in the post season. Improved play during the pressure of a playoff run bodes well for a player's potential. If he keeps it up, he will earn more more minutes and have a terrific fourth season.
The Starters: Conley (PG), Tony Allen (SG), Tayshaun Prince (SF), Zach Randolph (PF), Gasol (C).
Key Bench Players: Koufos, Pondexter, Miller, and Franklin.
Random Seattle Connection: Pondexter played for the Washington Huskies and Akognon for the Washington State Cougars.
Best Case Scenario for the Season: Joerger coaches his butt off and takes the team to the next level. The team continues to stifle on defense. Miller stays healthy and provides a consistent scoring punch to go along with a breakthrough performance by Pondexter. In addition, the team does a mid-season trade to land one more three-point specialist who will put their offense over the top. The team bullies the OKC Thunder around in the Conference Finals and loses in six games to the Miami Heat.
Worst Case Scenario for the Season: Joerger is more company man than coach. He loses the respect of the team and is replaced mid-season. Pondexter regresses. Miller turns into a fossil over night and spends more time in street clothes than a uniform. The team underachieves and backs into the playoffs, where they are eliminated in the first round.
Most Likely Scenario for the Season: Joerger does a solid job on the bench. Pondexter develops well and Miller is mostly healthy. The team acquires another decent perimeter shooter in a mid-season trade. The team does slightly better than last year in the regular season, but can't recapture the post-season magic. They are eliminated in the second round.
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