Memphis Grizzlies: Is Dave Joerger Really On The Hot Seat?

Oct 16, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Oklahoma City 94-78. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Oklahoma City 94-78. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

Only six games into the season, Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger is under fire as his signature defense has been ineffective amid an uninspiring 3-3 start. However, rumors that he’s already on the hot seat are worth questioning.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera has an itchy finger on the trigger for firing the third-year coach who, as an assistant, helped devise the defensive schemes of the Grind Era.

Stein said, “A mere 11 days into the season, I fear we’re forced to keep an eye on the Memphis Grizzlies and the status of coach Dave Joerger. … Yet it’s the manner of the three defeats, sources say, that has led to fears within the organization that owner Robert Pera won’t wait long to make a drastic change.”

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In all three, opponents pummeled the Grizzlies. The season-opening 30-point defeat against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 28 was disappointing, but not surprising. After all, Memphis has lost 14 of its last 15 season openers.

No team can stop the Golden State Warriors right now, but the Grizzlies did the unthinkable for a team that remains basically the same after challenging them in a six-game Western Conference semifinals series.

On Monday, the Warriors obliterated them 119-69, as the Grizzlies set franchise records for the worst defeat ever and shooting performance (27.1 percent).

The Memphis Flyer’s Kevin Lipe tweeted a reminder of how even the dreadful Vancouver-era squad never dropped like that.

Some might say being routed by last season’s NBA Finals teams is forgivable. But the Grizzlies are reputed to grind down the best, not get zapped by them.

Neither was as demoralizing as the 115-96 loss on Thursday to the Portland Trail Blazers, which are 4-2 despite expectations they’d be rebuilding now. Letting C.J. McCollum go off for 20 points while hardly guarding him is inexcusable.

McCollum’s performance shows how the sleepiness of the feared “grit ‘n’ grind” defense falls on Joerger’s shoulders. The Grizzlies never made adjustments to disrupt him, often leaving him wide open. Some moments of the victories were as troubling as the defeats. Memphis struggled to close out the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 29 and the Brooklyn Nets two days later.

An inability to close out games reflects on Joerger as not pushing the bench unit to lock down and unwilling to give starters quality rest.

Moreover, the Grizzlies’ defense is shockingly poor, ranking 26th in defensive rating after placing in the top 10 the past five years.

Joerger conceded to The Commercial Appeal’s Ron Tillery the team’s age showed.

Indeed, that’s a small sample size. No one expects Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year, to allow more than 110 points per 100 possessions for an extended period.

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Memphis may simply be going through the early woes of a veteran team that needs time to ease into the early part of the season.

As such, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace desires patience, telling Tillery, “We’re a team that’s faced adversity in the past. … We’re 3-3. We’re not 0-6.”

Wallace also stood by Joerger, saying, “I don’t see Dave on the hot seat. We’re six games into the season. We’re struggling right now, but Dave’s a proven commodity and he’s got a talented staff.”

Besides Wallace’s backing of his coach, one must remember Memphis nearly let him leave after his first season in May 2014 amid a front-office tear-down.

Granted, Pera appears more keyed in than before that fracas. Gasol told Tillery this before the season began.

One way to read this is that Pera will jump for a coaching change. But he seems emotional despite being a high introvert.

The 37-year-old owner will soon realize he doesn’t want to spend the money on a fired Joerger, who is under contract through next season.

Rather, Pera will wait to see how the season goes. This is the last chance for the Grizzlies to shoot for a title with 34-year-old Zach Randolph as part of the core.

As Wallace said, the Grizzlies have overcome struggles before under Joerger. In 2013-14, they rallied to a seventh-place finish in the Western Conference after Marc Gasol’s return from a left knee sprain. After a rough finish to last year’s regular season, the Grizzlies pushed through the Blazers in five games amid injuries.

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Joerger could manage a turnaround, although one could hardly fathom this team vaulting the Warriors to win a title. Pera will see no benefit comes from such a rash move.