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The Fizdale list: 10 black assistant coaches who could become NBA head coaches

‘I don’t think a team would go wrong with any of these guys’

After 13 years of paying his NBA dues, David Fizdale finally got his opportunity to be a head coach with the Memphis Grizzlies on May 29, 2016.

Fizdale had often wondered whether this spot would ever come his way. Miami stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade thought so prematurely after the Heat won the NBA title in 2012 with Fizdale as an assistant coach. When Memphis did hire Fizdale four years later, the former University of San Diego guard believed he made a lot of mentors and supporters proud and perhaps kicked open a door for other black assistants.

“In one moment, I got to give payback to a lot of people that helped me along the way to show that it wasn’t for naught,” Fizdale said. “All the time you invested in me was for me to get to this moment. To be able to have those conversations with [Heat coach] Erik Spoelstra and [president] Pat Riley and [general manager] Andy Elisburg and [ex-NBA head coaches] Mike Woodson and Eric Musselman and players who were trying to get me the job. When we won the title in Miami, LeBron and D-Wade were like, ‘You out.’ I said, ‘No, I am not. We’re going to go for a ride.’

“The immediate feeling that I received was here is that payback. And it was a good feeling. It was like repaying a debt to all those people along the way.”

Fizdale earned a 50-51 record and a playoff berth in his first year coaching the Grizzlies during the 2016-17 campaign. The South Central Los Angeles native was fined $30,000 by the NBA in his famous “Take that for data …” rant over officiating after a loss in Game 2 of a first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs. Grizzlies fans appeared to fall in love with Fizdale that season.

Then the Grizzlies shocked the NBA world by firing Fizdale this season after a 7-12 start and eight straight losses. It later became clear that Fizdale and center Marc Gasol didn’t see eye to eye. James and Wade expressed their disappointment about the Fizdale firing on social media.

Fizdale believed he might have disappointed his supporters.

“The day I lost my job, I felt like I let all of those [notable] people down,” Fizdale said. “It’s a real roller coaster. For me as a young African-American coach, I feel like I do have an obligation to how I approach that job. I’m not doing that job for me. I have to make sure for the next guys that I represent myself in a way where other teams say, ‘I’d love to have a coach like David Fizdale’ and not be afraid of hiring a young African-American.”

Fizdale is currently an NBA analyst for ESPN and is expected to be an NBA head coaching candidate this offseason. The Undefeated asked Fizdale to name 10 African-American assistant coaches who could be head coaching candidates in the NBA, assistants who have never been an NBA head coach or interim head coach. While Fizdale said the question was a tough one and he didn’t want to offend any assistants not named, he provided his top 10 black NBA assistant coaches to keep an eye on, in alphabetical order.

Fizdale also offered some advice.

“Now that I have coached, sat in the seat and looked across the league, there are so many elements you have to bring into the job now,” Fizdale said. “Even in free agency, if your coach isn’t a great recruiter with the way these guys are changing teams now … you have to have a guy that can go in and sell. You have to have a guy that can go in front of the group when stuff goes bad in the press. You have to be able to stand in front of the group when your star player is messing up and say no.”

Fizdale described the assistant coaches as “undeniably good as coaches. When you watch them before games working out players and watch how players respond to them when guys get on them, when you see the track record and pedigree they followed to get to this position … I don’t think a team would go wrong with any one of these guys.”

Sam Cassell, Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach

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Coaching experience: Nine years.

Fast fact: The 13-year NBA veteran is a three-time champion and 2004 NBA All-Star.

Fizdale comment: “Sam is a basketball genius. He understands the nuances of the game as well as anybody. He is a guy who players would love to play for. He brings great energy and spirit to the position. He has learned from the best in [Los Angeles Clippers head coach] Doc [Rivers] and he is a multichampion.”


Jarron Collins, Golden State Warriors assistant coach

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Coaching experience: Four years.

Fast fact: Jason Collins’ twin brother is a 10-year NBA veteran who won two titles on the Golden State Warriors’ coaching staff.

Fizdale comment: “With what he is gaining from a knowledge standpoint in coaching with that team and being part of that championship culture with the coaches he is learning under — Steve Kerr, Mike Brown, Ron Adams — Jarron is getting an Ivy League education. And with his ability to communicate with guys, I think he has a great temperament for the job. I can very easily see an organization looking at him for a job and being intrigued.”

Adrian Griffin, Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach

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Coaching experience: 10 years.

Fast fact: The nine-year NBA journeyman was the 1999 Continental Basketball Association MVP.

Fizdale comment: “He’s really done it the right way. He has earned a reputation as a grinder as a player and a coach. If he coaches in any way like he has shown from a work ethic standpoint, then hell, yeah.”

Juwan Howard, Miami Heat assistant coach

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Coaching experience: Five years.

Fast fact: The two-time NBA champion played for 19 seasons and was a member of Michigan’s Fab Five.

Fizdale comment: “You’re talking about a first-class professional as a leader, the way he will represent himself in the organization and the way he treats people. He is built to be a head coach that way. You add the absolute DNA of winning and success on and off the court and the Heat culture and his ability to communicate, he is definitely a guy who should be looked at and considered.”

Ed Pinckney, Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach

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Coaching experience: 15 years (including four at Villanova).

Fast fact: The 1985 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player played in the NBA for 12 seasons.

Fizdale comment: “Ed has played in numerous different roles and is able to communicate with guys in different positions throughout the roster. He has also been taught and worked with some of the best franchises and coaches in the NBA. On top of that, he is a great communicator and a guy that guys would enjoy playing for.”

Lloyd Pierce, Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach

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Coaching experience: Eight years.

Fast fact: Pierce shared the backcourt at Santa Clara with Hall of Famer Steve Nash and is close with NBA stars Stephen Curry and James.

Fizdale comment: “Lloyd is in a unique position of having literally gone through hell with the Philly situation. When you go through a rebuild like that and the process like that, the things you learn along the way when it comes to growing and developing an organization is invaluable. He is learning from a guy with the Spurs DNA [coach Brett Brown].”

Ime Udoka, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach

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Coaching experience: Six years.

Fast fact: The 2014 NBA champion played 316 games in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, Spurs and Sacramento Kings. He is married to actress Nia Long.

Fizdale comment: “You just don’t get to sit next to [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] and win a championship and not learn something. He had to grind himself through the league as a player and really earn his keep. He’s immersed in the Spurs’ culture, organized, sharp and a great communicator.”

Jerry Stackhouse, Toronto Raptors assistant coach

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Coaching experience: Three years.

Fast fact: The two-time NBA All-Star is the 2017 D-League Coach of the Year with the Toronto 905.

Fizdale comment: “He’s been a head coach and he’s won. ‘Stack’ is a no-nonsense guy who believes in doing things the hard, tough and right way. His team will reflect his attitude: gritty, tough-minded team. I coached ‘Stack’ and I was able to use him to help develop some things [for a wing player] in the post [and share with] Dwyane and LeBron. He is a great communicator. He is not a know-everything kind of guy. He is very relatable. He’s ready.”

Nick Van Exel, Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach

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Coaching experience: Eight years (including one in college and two in D-League).

Fast fact: The 1998 NBA All-Star was head coach of the D-League Texas Legends during the 2015-16 season.

Fizdale comment: “He has head coaching experience. He is a basketball genius who sees the game two or three steps ahead. The way he views the game overall, he does a great job of stepping back and looking at the big picture. He is one of the best I’ve ever seen at developing a point guard and making him understand the responsibility. His disposition is perfect for the seat. He’s genuine, he communicates well and is super organized.”

David Vanterpool, Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach

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Coaching experience: 10 years (including five with CSKA Moscow).

Fast fact: Developed Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and played 22 games with Washington during the 2000-01 season.

Fizdale comment: “David hates to lose. You can see the fruits with those two young guards [Lillard and McCollum]. He’s developed a top-five backcourt in the NBA. He has worked closely with one of the best offensive coaches in our league in [head coach] Terry Stotts. He has also witnessed how to grow an organization and communicate to egos.”

Others to WATCH

Chicago Bulls assistant coach Randy Brown, Grizzlies assistant coach Greg Buckner, Knicks assistant coach Howard Eisley, Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Darvin Ham, Detroit Pistons assistant coach Tim Hardaway Sr., Indiana Pacers assistant coach Popeye Jones, Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jamahl Mosley and Denver Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.