Newton’s Third Law of Motion
David Fizdale is not a man who shies away from tough situations. Indeed, he almost seems to seek them out.
This week, he’s found himself in the midst of a quandary that many believe is his own making, as his team has lost three games in a row, including a home loss to the positively putrid Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. That night was the first viewing of a new starting lineup that most questioned and some outright mocked.
Rather than long-time starter, Tony Allen, and this season’s revelation, JaMychal Green, hearing their names called familiarly during the introductions, instead those in attendance heard the names of Andrew Harrison and Brandan Wright over the public address. Instead of righting a ship that has been listing for the past two months, it seemed to make the problems even worse, as that lineup fell behind 9-3 in the opening four minutes of the game. Again — they were playing the absolutely hapless Nets.
Yesterday, Fizz addressed the issue of his lineup change and the criticisms levied at him — specifically those by the media, a few members of which have been more vociferous than others, especially where the topic of Chandler Parsons is concerned.
For those of you questioning David Fizdale's line-up changes this late in the season–the Grizz coach pulls no punches with his response. pic.twitter.com/4TfTSLrwhj
— Mike Ceide (@MCeide_WREG3) March 8, 2017
To say he couldn’t have been more clear would be a grand understatement.
While you may not agree with his lineups or his rotations, Fizdale has been charged with doing more than merely winning basketball games. He outlined it early in his tenure as head coach, plainly stating that he is bringing a new culture to the Memphis Grizzlies. The problem with this goal is two-fold.
One, the Grizzlies already have a culture. It’s Grit and Grind, all the way. That’s what the fans clamor for, and it is what the locker room is accustomed to. However, as Fizz stated oh so eloquently yesterday, he thinks that is a ultimately not good enough. The underdog mentality will only carry a team so far, and the notion that “if we don’t win it all, that’s okay because we weren’t supposed to anyways” is the taste of bile in the mouth of a coach who has experienced winning two titles and coming within a few wins of two more. That mindset shared by the players, the fans, and most of the media is what he is battling against, first and foremost.
Two, there is the fact that the two most influential members of the Core Four, one of them being the originator of “All Heart. Grit and Grind.” himself, are on the obvious downslopes of their respective careers — and both are free agents at season’s end, as well. A closer examination of them tells a rather interesting story.
One of Fizdale’s first moves as head coach was to move Zach Randolph to the bench to be a sixth man. You know — one of those easy situations I mentioned earlier. While ZBo would clearly love to still be a starter, he has thrived in his new role. His rebound and scoring rates are up, while his turnover percentage is down. Mr. 20 and 10 can still get it done in the paint and on the boards, even though his defensive limitations remain clear.
Alternately, Tony Allen has not fared as well. At the risk of being the bearer of bad news, TA has not been good this year. Not at all, in fact. Two years ago, he was incredible, posting an offensive rating of 103 and a defensive rating of 98. Those are good. This season, those numbers have flipped. His ORtg is 99 and his DRtg is 104. Those are…not so good. Mr. First Team All-Defense just isn’t the same guy he was. Father Time still remains undefeated. In addition to that, his turnover rate is rising (he’s already had 17 more lost ball turnovers than in any previous season) while his true shooting percentage and free throw rates continue to decline.
The loss of TA as a guy who can “turn the water off” has had some clear drawbacks, as well.
NBA 2016-17: number of times each team's defense allowed a season-high in scoring to opposing players pic.twitter.com/JB0cORYddR
— Ed Küpfer (@EdKupfer) March 6, 2017
To be fair, the entire team’s defense has been lacking most of the year — but when a player’s primary (some say only) value is on the defensive end and he’s clearly been awful on that end, it calls into question his role on the team.
This is the hand that Fizz has been dealt, and he doesn’t get to fold either. If the Grizzlies’ mantra wasn’t “We Don’t Bluff”, I’d suggest bluffing — but that’s out, too. Right now, Memphis has a pair of kings in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley (although Marc has been channeling Henry VIII lately). They have a jack in ZBo. They need another jack to make a second pair. Chandler Parsons was supposed to be that guy (more on him another day). Troy Daniels could be that guy, if he could be more consistent on offense…and wasn’t a turnstile on defense. James Ennis certainly has the ability to be that type of player on both sides of the floor, but he appears to be in the doghouse at the moment (which is unfortunate, given that he should be starting at SF while Parsons recuperates). Either way, this is Fizdale’s seat at the table.
This is what gets lost in the midst of all of the hand-wringing over Parsons’ slow recovery from knee surgery (although no slower than Vince Carter’s was), the need to find something that works before the playoffs are at hand, and the constant questioning of lineups and rotations: it’s Fizz’s job on the line, not ours.
As fans, we constantly feel that we have “skin in the game” because we devote our time and money to supporting the team. Media members think they need to offer solutions when problems arise, as well. The fact remains, we are not basketball coaches and we are not in the locker room with these guys hours and hours per day. That’s not to say that we might not be able to offer constructive criticism or even point out a possible answer to a pressing question — but we’re still just armchair quarterbacks. We get frustrated at losing, but if we were so smart, we’d be making millions of dollars pacing that sideline instead of one of the 30 guys who are doing it currently.
So, Fizdale is right to tell us all — media and fans alike — to “kiss his ass” if we don’t like what he’s trying right now. It’s his head on the chopping block if it doesn’t work, after all. He knows better than anyone that each action he takes guarantees a reaction of some sort. Time will tell if it is a positive or negative one. No matter what, Fizz is going to do things his way while instilling his brand of championship culture to a team that could use a kick in the ass right about now.