When David Fizdale was hired as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, an opposing general manager immediately offered his thoughts.
“That’s great,” the GM said. “He bringing LeBron James with him?”
The GM was joking, but the point was clear — when a coach is hired because he’s close with a star player, well, it usually doesn’t work.
Fizdale was more or less a media creation, back when the national media ascended on Miami like the vultures they can be, looking for a piece of the action, a piece of James and the celebrity they love to sniff.
Fizdale was an assistant to Heat coach Erik Speolstra during the Big Three era of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat, of course, dominated the league and reached four straight Finals.
“Fizdale is the hottest assistant coach in the game!” screamed national reporters, in a fashion usually reserved for 17-year-old cheerleaders.
“He’s tight with LeBron!”
Eventually, the Grizzlies bit, excitedly announcing the Fizdale hiring prior to the start of last season.
One year later, with the Grizzlies riding an eight-game losing streak and star center Marc Gasol loudly complaining, Fizdale got canned.
Did he deserve it?
Hard to know. All we really know is coaches need to keep their best players happy. That has been true since the beginning of time. Just ask Paul Westhead of the 1981 Los Angeles Lakers. Or David Blatt of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers.
In an interesting twist, James seemingly had a major problem with Blatt, and supposedly was a big reason Blatt was fired. Yet James quickly implied on twitter that Fizdale “was a fall guy” for the Grizzlies’ problems.
Well, yeah. Duh.
Welcome to the world of NBA coaching, where up is down and down is sideways.
At any rate, this isn’t necessarily about Fizdale or LeBron or Blatt or any of that.
But do you think Fizdale would be such a hot commodity if he were assisting the Heat today? Do you think Spoelstra suddenly forgot how to coach — and that is why the Heat are no longer making the Finals (or even the playoffs)?
Do you think current Lakers coach Luke Walton would have been high on everyone’s list if he had been an assistant under, say, the Charlotte Hornets, as opposed to Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors?
The answers to all of the above are obvious.
This is a players’ league, and it is the players who determine who is a great coach and even a good GM.
And as it turns out, minus super-duper star players on the roster and the backing of the drive-by national journalists cheering him on, Fizdale, it seems, was just like any other coach.
Nothing wrong with that. But nothing all that great about it, either.