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The Grizzlies’ explanation for firing David Fizdale doesn’t add up

The Memphis team’s choice to fire the second-year coach raises more questions about the franchise than the coaching

In case you missed the reports, the Memphis Grizzlies have an absentee owner, a second-in-command who has no basketball background whatsoever, a roster that just isn’t that impressive and a general manager who may or may not be responsible for actually assembling it.

Yet, last I checked, all of them — Robert Pera (owner), Joe Abadi (second-in-command) and Chris Wallace (general manager) — still have their jobs. While David Fizdale is gone as head coach in Memphis.

One could argue Fizdale is no innocent bystander here. Such is the case when you, indeed, have a suspect roster, your record is 50-51 at this point and you’ve alienated the best player on the team in Marc Gasol for a bunch of no-names, arguably, who are lucky to be in the league.

But this still stinks! Particularly considering that Fizdale was let go primarily because of a player who resented him and the culture change taking place, despite the Grizzlies knowing they’re the ones who asked Fizdale to implement change.

Pay no attention to the reports being disseminated to the masses. Although Wallace did acknowledge that Fizdale’s relationship with Gasol “played a factor,” he intimated that there was so much more to Fizdale’s firing, which is utter nonsense.

Oblivious to the possibility of coming across as disingenuous, Wallace pointed to a 14-26 record over the last 40 regular-season games to justify the team’s decision. He mentioned Fizdale’s record in close games, adding that the Grizzlies ended last year 7-14 with a different roster. An inability to consistently close out games didn’t help, he said, particularly when losing to mediocre or bad teams, because it raised legitimate concerns about game preparation.

But such notions fail to address the legitimate questions about Wallace and ownership. Not Fizdale.

For example:

Was it Fizdale alone who got rid of Tony Allen in favor of Ben McLemore? Who wanted to get rid of Vince Carter and Zach Randolph? Was Fizdale the sole reason for this transition toward a youth-and-athletic movement? Was it Fizdale who decided to give Chandler Parsons $94 million over four years? Who gave up next year’s first-round pick for Jeff Green?

“Fiz and Gasol couldn’t stand each other,” a high-ranking NBA source with knowledge of what surrounded Fizdale’s firing told me.

Did anyone have anything to say last season when Fizdale galvanized the city, when the Grizzlies were ultracompetitive against the San Antonio Spurs? Was it Fizdale’s fault that the only alternative to Gasol, for example, appeared to be Jarell Martin, a small forward?

Again, Fizdale isn’t totally innocent. You don’t just bench the team’s best player for the entire fourth quarter of a winnable game vs. the Brooklyn Nets and dismiss it as “just a coach’s decision” without so much as an explanation or conversation with that player. Especially a beloved one. You just don’t do it.

But there are reasons for everything.

“Fiz and Gasol couldn’t stand each other,” a high-ranking NBA source with knowledge of what surrounded Fizdale’s firing told me. “They just never did. They had a huge falling out last year and never recovered. They barely spoke to one another. And Fizdale got to a point where he literally didn’t give a damn! He knew he could ultimately get himself FIRED. He didn’t care.”

To be fair, such a scenario is plausible. And it had little to do with their eight-game losing streak.

After a squabble in the locker room approximately a year ago that, according to insiders, barely left Fizdale and Gasol on speaking terms, it’s conceivable that Fizdale stopped caring.

Upon Gasol’s benching against the Nets, management officials wanted to talk to Fizdale to get an explanation about his decision. One source said: “He might as well have written ‘I don’t give a s—‘ right on his forehead.”

To some, it qualified as near insubordination. To Fizdale, it likely could be interpreted as “intelligence.”

Remember, the Grizzlies aren’t going to the playoffs, and things were plummeting. So why be part of a sinking ship when the team is leaving you to drown? This is the same organization that has fired folks for much less, mind you.

Hubie Brown was fired not even

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15 games into a season following a playoff berth. Lionel Hollins, beloved in the Memphis community, was fired after guiding the Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals. Coach Dave Joerger was dismissed after four consecutive trips to the playoffs.

Evidently, everyone’s been aware that the Grizzlies are not title-contention material but the Grizzlies themselves.

“We are an organization of high expectations for our team,” Wallace said, evidently immune to laughter. “So a change had to be made.”

Actually, it didn’t have to. The Grizzlies just felt it was necessary, as they always do.

Because of it, Fizdale is gone. The same coach who guided them to the playoffs. Who gained fandom with everyone from declaring “they’re not going to ROOK us” during the playoffs against San Antonio last season, to his social activism supporting the removal of racist monuments in the city where “Dr. Martin Luther King was killed here 50 years ago.”

The obvious reason Fizdale is no longer with the Grizzlies is because of his relationship with Gasol. The lack of support he received in the end, and the belief that he stopped caring about his job because of his disgust with the situation, is simply too much to take.

Yet, the easiest reason of all is likely this: He worked for the Grizzlies.

This is simply what they do.

Stephen A. Smith is the co-host on ESPN’s First Take and a regular NBA analyst for the network. He also hosts the daily Stephen A. Smith Show broadcast on SiriusXM’s ESPN Radio channel and aired on ESPN stations in New York and Los Angeles. He is a former columnist and NBA beat writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer.