There have been some changes for the Memphis Grizzlies this summer, bringing free agent Mike Miller back to Memphis after he was amnestied by the Miami Heat, trading with the Denver Nuggets to bring in center Kosta Koufos to back up Marc Gasol, re-signing free agents Tony Allen and Jon Leuer, trading for the rights to former Florida guard Nick Calathes, picking up point guard Josh Akognon off waivers from the Dallas Mavericks and drafting guard Jamaal Franklin of San Diego State in the second round.
The Grizzlies only lost two players this offseason. Forward Darrell Arthur went to Denver in the trade for Koufos and free agent Austin Daye signed with the Toronto Raptors after not being much of a factor in his half-season or so in Memphis.
But the big change is on the bench. The most successful coach in franchise history, Lionel Hollins, is out after leading the team to the Western Conference Finals for the first time and former lead assistant Dave Joerger is in.
How does that change the dynamic in Memphis?
First and foremost, Joerger is much more on board with the philosophy of the front office. Ownership brought in former ESPN stats guru John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations and he and the old-school Hollins resembled oil and water in how well they mixed. Hollinger is an advocate, heck a pioneer, in the area of advanced statistics, which was something Hollins didn’t fully embrace.
That philosophical difference came to a head in January, when Rudy Gay was traded to the Raptors and it culminated in a reported blow-up between Hollins and Hollinger during a playoff practice when Hollins, according to sources to Yahoo Sports, blew up at Hollinger for invading the sacred territory of practice to talk to Daye.
Joerger is much more willing to listen to the analytics-based front office than Hollins was. But at the same time, the team is familiar with Joerger, who spent six years as a Grizzlies’ assistant, the last three running the Grizzlies’ renowned defense that improved from 25th in efficiency in 2009-10, the year before Joerger took it over, to ninth in 2010-11, to seventh in 2011-12 and ranked second last season.
Another area that could change is that Joerger, a former championship-winning coach in the International Basketball League and the D-League, may be more willing to cede major minutes to younger players than was Hollins.
With the trade of Arthur, Ed Davis emerges as the primary backup at power forward behind Zach Randolph after spending his time with Memphis last season splitting those backup minutes with Arthur, despite having a huge statistical advantage (a 17.2 player efficiency rating for Davis after coming to the Grizzlies compared to an 11.8 PER for Arthur).
Another player who may benefit from the coaching change is the rookie Franklin. After being projected as a late first-round choice in many mock drafts, Franklin was still on the board when the Grizzlies made the first of their three second-round picks at No. 41 overall.
He was a jack-of-all-trades combo forward for the Aztecs, serving as the team’s primary playmaker and shot-creator on offense and the stopper at the defensive end, leading San Diego State in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.
If he reminds people of San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, it’s not by accident. Leonard played a similar role at San Diego State when Franklin was a freshman and Franklin assumed those responsibilities when Leonard left for the NBA.
Given that Joerger is a defensive-minded coach, Franklin may see himself getting big minutes behind Allen as a lockdown perimeter defender for the team’s second unit.
Firing a coach who just led a team to a franchise-record 56 wins and a first-ever berth in the conference finals is a high-risk move, but Joerger has a track record of success everywhere he’s been along the way to his first NBA head coaching gig. In a loaded Western Conference where the Los Angeles Clippers upgraded their coaching position by hiring Doc Rivers away from the Boston Celtics to replace Vinny Del Negro, Joerger needs to make that risk pay off or risk the second-guessers having a field day.