So after all that ruckus — the firing of the guy who hired him, the ensuing front-office chaos that left him thinking he might be next out the door, the granting of permission for him to interview for another job, the meeting with Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor that left him close to taking a new gig — Dave Joerger will remain the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. Feels like we traveled an awful long way just to wind up in the same place, doesn't it?
To hear Joerger and Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera tell it, though, we're not in the same place at all. They say their relationship has grown, blossomed and evolved over the course of the six days since Pera bid farewell to CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash ... or, more to the point, that their relationship now actually exists.
After a week of deafening silence that left Grizzlies fans wondering what was happening and who was minding the store, Pera decided to get interactive on Sunday:
GrizzNation…I know it’s long overdue…I would like to do a Q&A session with you guys. What do you want to know? #FactsOnly— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) May 25, 2014
Some of the questions were lighter in nature — he thinks "Graduation" (or, excuse me, "The Graduation") is the best Kanye record, so your mileage may very when it comes to #PeraAnswers.
As you'd expect, though, what most inquiring minds wanted to know why the coach picked to take over for ousted head coach Lionel Hollins last summer was reportedly a stone's throw away from taking over for Rick Adelman, and how he wound up back on the bench in Memphis:
@RaganSmash YES! And contrary to reports, I never had a conversation with Minnesota..it never got that far— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) May 25, 2014
@JohnnyNBA I think Dave is a great coach. But, personnel has to want to be in Memphis. I know now Dave 100% wants to be here— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) May 25, 2014
@thesulton25 I never really talked 1:1 with Joerger before this weekend. I think he's a great coach.— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) May 25, 2014
Joerger, too, seems to have come away feeling #blessed to be taking his relationship with Pera to a new level after the two talked "more over the weekend than they had all season," according to Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal (subscription required):
“We understand each other a lot better and what we’re trying to do here,” Joerger said about his talks with Pera. “This shows his leadership. What’s between Robert and I now is like wow. This is how it’s supposed to be. There’s interaction and you talk about anything. This feels good.
"I’m excited. I’m really, really excited. We’re going to be fine. This is where I want to be. I have a lot invested here.”
The kicker, courtesy of the Commercial-Appeal's Geoff Calkins ($):
“This is where I choose to be,” said Joerger. “We’re married.”
Every marriage has its ups and downs, though, and it sounds like Joerger and Pera might have had quite a bit to hash out before getting back on the good foot. For one thing, according to Calkins, Pera's claim that they hadn't had any one-on-one time conveniently ignores an interaction after an early November game against the Golden State Warriors — one the Grizzlies won by 18 points — in which Pera was eager to fire his newly minted head coach.
Pera's beef stretched back further than that, though — according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, the schism stemmed from Pera's odd-even-at-the-time September challenge of Grizzlies guard Tony Allen to a game of one-on-one:
Allen, on Twitter, accepted. Pera, a Silicon Valley billionaire who bought a small controlling interest in the Grizzlies in 2012, poured tens of thousands of dollars into producing the matchup. He invited the media and instructed the public relations staff to issue a press release promoting the event.
The problem? Allen had lost interest. Joerger, a first-year head coach, didn't like the idea of the game — like many in the organization he found it goofy and unbecoming of a professional team, according to sources — but it was Allen's indifference that caused it to be called off. Yet Pera directed his frustration at Joerger and, according to a source, directed upper management to fire him.
Said a source familiar with the situation, "He absolutely wanted Dave out."
After Pera's pre-season souring on Joerger and some early-season Grizz struggles, things quickly got worse and weirder, according to Mannix:
[Pera] began offering bizarre suggestions. He suggested Mike Miller, a longtime Grizzlies player who was re-signed in the offseason, could become a player-coach. He brought up the idea that Joerger could wear an NFL-style headset and take instructions on the sideline. When the Grizzlies faced Golden State in early November, Pera insisted that Joerger give significant minutes to fourth-year power forward Ed Davis. Davis played just one. Again, according to sources, Pera insisted that Joerger had to go. Only after it was explained how dysfunctional the franchise would look if it fired a first year head coach six games into the season did Pera back down.
(Here is where we note that Mike Miller: Player-Coach is an idea that SB Nation's Spencer Hall suggested as a joke last week. Sometimes truth is just as strange as fiction.)
Pera returned to Twitter on Monday afternoon to deny the report:
Wow..@ChrisMannixSI What happened to journalistic integrity? No wonder people are calling me crazy. I would too if any of that was true— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) May 26, 2014
@ChrisMannixSI Btw..you never contacted me. If you want to get your "source" on TV/radio, let's be open and have a talk. Name your time— Robert J Pera (@RobertPera) May 26, 2014
So, there's that.
As it turned out, Joerger — a coaching lifer who won five championships in seven years in the minor leagues of American basketball before joining the Grizz as an assistant in 2007 — didn't need someone sending offensive sets or defensive adjustments into his ear to turn things around.
Memphis rebounded from a rocky 13-17 start to finish strong, winning 50 games despite a slew of injuries to key contributors Allen, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Quincy Pondexter, and making the playoffs for the fourth straight year. (The Grizz went 40-19 with 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year Gasol on the court, and had the NBA's second-stingiest defense after his mid-January return from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.) Memphis took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in a first-round slugfest; had Zach Randolph not been suspended for Game 7 after taking a swing at Thunder center Steven Adams, Joerger and company may well have pulled off the upset ... even without a headset.
Joerger and Pera both say that early-season static is now behind them, with the coach lauding Pera's commitment to winning and the owner celebrating Joerger's coaching acumen. It remains to be seen who will take the basketball operations reins after the firing of Levien and Lash — Pera says the team's search for a new general manager is ongoing, with interim GM Chris Wallace under consideration and likely to remain with the organization whether he's in that role or not — but Pera told Twitter followers that he "can feel" that the Grizzlies are "so close" to a championship as presently constructed, with Joerger running the show.
The coach, for his part, told Tillery that after spending most of his time behind the scenes the last couple of seasons, Pera is "going to be much more hands-on and that’s good for our organization.” Based on the way things have shaken out so far, it could also be really good for those of us who love soap operas.
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