The Grizzlies hired Dave Joerger back in 2013, drawing criticism from the usual suspects for pushing out successful Lionel Hollins in favor of his younger assistant, a coach seen as more malleable than the gruff Hollins. Five games into that very first season of Joerger's tenure, the Grizzlies enigmatic franchisee Robert Pera reportedly wanted to fire the coach. Five games!
From that point on, Joerger clearly felt himself to be in an unstable situation. He asked permission to interview with the Timberwolves that summer. After rumors and negotiations, Pera and Joerger had a conversation that apparently put Joerger more at ease. Pera also guaranteed the fourth year of Joerger's deal -- covering 2016-17 -- and added a fifth year option.
A year later, amid a power struggle, Pera fired the front office executives (Jason Levien and Stu Lash) who had ushered in Joerger in favor of Hollins. That wasn't a great sign. Rumors swirled in the opening weeks of this past season, Joerger's third, that Pera was ready to cut the cord again. He didn't, the Grizzlies fought valiantly and most people seemed to think Joerger remained safe heading into the final guaranteed year of his deal.
It doesn't appear Joerger felt particularly safe, though, because according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, Joerger asked the Grizzlies for permission to interview with the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets. That was the last straw for new/old GM Chris Wallace, who effectively replaced the Levien-Lash regime in power of basketball operations after they had replaced him. The Grizzlies published a Q&A immediately after the Joerger news broke on Saturday. In it, Wallace alludes to Joerger's wanderlust.
The decision was made because I believe you need a deeply committed leadership team in order to establish the strong culture needed for sustainable long-term success. [...] The decision was not about Dave's in-game coaching. Dave did an admirable job managing games. However, being an NBA head coach is about more than just coaching a 48 minute game.
Joerger had been making just $2 million per year in Memphis; Woj reports the Kings are interested in paying him double that with more long-term security than the Grizzlies were committed to offering. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have made six consecutive postseasons; the Kings haven't seen the playoffs in a decade.
For the second time in three years, Joerger was stuck in a contract less lucrative and less stable than what other teams were offering. The only problem was that he was under contract. Fair market value doesn't mean a thing if you're not on the market. Joerger wasn't ... until he was. This is a coup of the highest order if Joerger indeed doubles his annual pay and quadruples his security (as a totally reasonable four-year, $16 million deal with Sacramento would do).
Of course, if Joerger loses out in Sacramento, Houston, Indiana and New York, he still gets paid his money and he doesn't have to be around Matt Barnes or Lance Stephenson. Win-win.
The distrust was thick in Memphis as the season came to a close. When in mid-April I published my predictions as to what would happen in the coaching carousel -- making lightly educated guesses as to who would be fired and who would be hired -- I heard from a number of people that both the Grizzlies and Joerger's camp had started pointing fingers at each other about who was stirring things up.
The fact is that I didn't talk to anyone with inside knowledge of the situation. The eventual conclusion was just pretty obvious. (Admittedly, I thought the Wolves would get involved to spark it, neglecting that the late Flip Saunders, not franchisee Glen Taylor, had been behind the 2014 pursuit of Joerger.)
Wallace makes a compelling point about the need for stability and commitment from the organization's leadership. Given the instability of the front office -- one Wallace has exited and re-entered since Pera took over -- upper management should take that philosophy to heart.
If the Grizzlies wanted Joerger to be part of the "deeply committed leadership team" then perhaps Pera and Wallace should have allayed the coach's concerns by renegotiating his deal to pay market rate and extend the commitment beyond one more year. They didn't, so he sought money and security elsewhere. This is wholly American and extremely NBA.
If it gets it -- and it appears he will -- this will all have been worth it, provided the extra dough makes up for having to deal with a worse roster and more drama (hello, Sacramento!). Coaches never really find stability, so invest that salary responsibly.
Perhaps the best fit for Joerger would be in Indiana. No, not because of the roster's fit with his coaching philosophy and tactical stylings. The Pacers would fit the newly available coach well because while Joerger is always busy looking for his next job, Larry Bird is constitutionally opposed to keeping one for more than three years. A match made in bizarro NBA coach-front office relations heaven.