In a decision that perturbed many but shocked few, Jason Levien sent out a press release Monday evening announcing that Lionel Hollins will not be returning as the head coach the Grizzlies next season. To be completely honest, I would not say that I am charmed by the reality of the L-Train’s sudden departure, and I can comfortably say that he supplanted Hubie Brown as my favorite coach in Grizzlies history over the course of his recent tenure. When we are forced to face the music, however, logic must prevail. When extension talks with your front office do not even make it to factors such as money and years, as it has been reported, “major philosophical differences” become too much for the adjacent parties to overcome in trying to bridge a gap.
With the absence of an extension for Hollins comes a void to be filled on the Grizzlies bench, and while it is far from a foregone conclusion at this point, rumblings from all angles project lead assistant Dave Joerger (pronounced like the German liqueur) to be the named the successor. With the Joerger rumors in tow, and the feathers of fans ruffled by the dismissal of Hollins, a common response that I have seen already echoed more than a comfortable number of times is one that carries the name of Marc Iavaroni into the conversation as an attempt to highlight why the longtime Grizzlies assistant could be an undesirable replacement.
But I contend – there is no fruit growing on that tree, so let’s nip this one in the bud.
Let me begin by stating that while I aim not to defend Iavaroni, did we ever stop and think that maybe his flame out with the Grizzlies was a bit more situational than he’s been given credit for? Don’t get me wrong, this guy made some flagrantly awful decisions at the helm of the team, but look for a moment at the situation surrounding his hire.
Iavaroni arrived in Memphis on the heels of making a name for himself as the hotshot assistant for Mike D’Antoni during the heart of the “seven seconds or less” era in Phoenix. He was arguably the highest demand hire in the 2007 offseason and came equipped with a ten year resume as an NBA assistant backing his cause. His only apparent detriment related to having never coached a team of his own on any level of basketball.
In joining the Grizzlies organization, Iavaroni walked into the minefield of a deteriorating state of affairs. He was hired — by an owner who was determined to sell the team, mind you — with the intent of dramatically shifting gears and transforming the culture of the franchise in the direction of the Suns’ free-wheeling ways. He jumped into the position with the only buffer between him and the paint-plodding Mike Fratello incarnation of the Grizzlies being 52 games of Tony Barone-ball.
Charged with the task of changing the culture towards that of a system which at the time had only been proven to function in recent memory with the brilliant Steve Nash as its floor general, Iavaroni certainly had his work cut out for him. Instead of the hall-of-fame bound Nash, his maestro was a 19-year-old version of Mike Conley. In contrast to the dynamic hybrid-forward Shawn Marion, he had a sophomore Rudy Gay to “work his magic” with. To make matters worse, the deviation from any sort of basketball that worked well with the strengths of Pau Gasol, did not sit well with the franchise player, who had requested a trade to a team that was “serious about winning.”
Flash-forward to today and the potential story has some drastic variation, wouldn’t you say? Joerger, if appointed the next head coach of the Grizzlies would be walking into a completely dissimilar situation. The only correlation between the two is the fact that they would be moving up in rank from assistant to the lead gig for the first time in an NBA venue, and doing so here in Memphis. My point is not to understate the extremity of the leap, because it is a large one to be sure, but rather to convey that if one is to stack the potential hire of Joerger up against other coaching moves, Iavaroni’s is far more of an apples-and-oranges discussion than the surface would lead us to believe.
In terms of coaching resumes, Joerger possesses a far superior track record to that of Iavaroni circa-2007. Though it would be his first time in the role for an NBA team, if he ends up getting the job, coaching the Grizzlies would not be his first rodeo as a head coach. Joerger’s work history speaks for itself in terms of results, as he enjoyed a myriad of success in the minor leagues. Throughout a seven year stint as the head coach of the Dakota Wizards and the Sioux Falls Skyforce, he led his teams to a total of a whopping five championships, spanning three different basketball leagues in the process — the IBA, CBA, and NBA D-League.
If he were to step in as coach, Joerger, unlike Iavaroni, would not be thrust into a deteriorating situation, or asked to run a type of system rooted in the stylistically extreme other direction from that of what has stood as status quo for the past few years. Moreover, not only would his implemented schemes likely be similar to those that are already in place, but he would be working off of the system that he has helped build as the lead defensive assistant.
The state of the team is about head and shoulders more promising than what Iavaroni walked into in 2007, as well. Instead of that raw, directionless group, Joerger would be set to inherit a unit that is fresh off the greatest season to date in franchise history by any barometer. Nothing is a guarantee, but smart money would say that at least a handful of the prominent figures on the current roster have a good chance of being around at the advent of the 2013-14 season. He has already forged relationships with the guys currently on the roster, and continuity is a much underrated determinant of success.
So yes, thanks to the Iavaroni encounter, we Grizzlies fans may have been jarred by the cautionary tale of hotshot assistants moving up in the ranks, but let us not write the eulogy for this version of the team just yet. Heck, barring a couple of interim stints with the Grizzlies in the franchise’s earlier days, Hollins was a career NBA assistant, himself, when he was brought on board to clean up the mess in 2009.
Of course all of this Joerger talk is conjecture at best at this point, as a front office look in a different direction could render this whole conversation moot in the first place. If Joerger happens to be the guy, though, we must resist temptation and put the Iavaroni comparisons to bed, before they have a chance to truly see the light of day.