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David Fizdale fired by Grizzlies in unexpected move

Fizdale only made it 19 games into this season.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies announced that they have fired head coach David Fizdale, an unexpected move despite the Grizzlies’ current seven-game losing streak.

J.B. Bickerstaff has been promoted from lead assistant to interim head coach. This is the second time that Bickerstaff has been promoted to interim head coach, first doing so two seasons ago for the Houston Rockets.

Memphis started this season 5-1, but it has struggled with injuries to Mike Conley and other key players ever since. The Grizzlies are now 7-12 and lost Sunday night to the Brooklyn Nets in a game where Marc Gasol was benched during the fourth quarter.

Fizdale had been hired only last season, taking over the team after Dave Joerger left for the Sacramento Kings. Previously, he had been a well-regarded assistant for the Miami Heat. His Grizzlies tenure ends just 19 games into his second year.

Why did the Grizzlies fire Fizdale?

This may have been a situation that pitted Fizdale against one of his star players, Gasol. There have been whispers and rumors coming out of Memphis that the two had not gotten along, and in the wake of Fizdale’s firing, those rumors are and will continue to become more clear, like this report from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

Fizdale benched Gasol for the entire fourth quarter on Sunday, even when the Grizzlies drew within five points after playing poorly in the third quarter. Afterwards, Gasol made it clear that he wasn’t pleased.

“If I start venting, that would be counterproductive," Gasol told reporters. "But at the end of the day, I'm as competitive as anybody. I hate not playing, that's what I value most. If I'm not out there, I'm not valued. I'm sure they knew that would hurt me the most."

Memphis is spiraling, but they’ve suffered injuries — to Conley, JaMychal Green, Ben McLemore and most recently Chandler Parsons — and lost several close games. It makes sense that Fizdale’s dismissal is more complicated than the play on the court, and his relationship with Gasol is the most obvious thing it could be.

Is this fair to Fizdale?

No, Fizdale is a good head coach and he’ll bounce back before too long. Perhaps this is a decision that Memphis felt it had to make, or perhaps there was more going on behind than scenes than even a few confrontations with Gasol. On paper, it makes sense to side with a star player over a head coach. In a vacuum, though, Fizdale hadn’t done anything that warranted his firing.

In fact, it’s arguable that Memphis teams had outperformed expectations last season, and Fizdale endeared himself to fans with the ‘Take that for data’ playoff rant.

We’ll know more about this entire situation in time, and hopefully that allows us to understand this decision better.