Grizzlies coach David Fizdale: Critics of lineup changes can 'kiss my ass'

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/mem/" data-ylk="slk:Memphis Grizzlies">Memphis Grizzlies</a> head coach David Fizdale shows us where the line to kiss his butt starts. (AP)
Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale shows us where the line to kiss his butt starts. (AP)

Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale has come in for some criticism this week, here and elsewhere, for deciding to start little-used rookie Andrew Harrison in place of veteran shooting guard Tony Allen and reserve big man Brandan Wright over JaMychal Green for Monday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets. The idea that his squad needed a shake-up had merit — the Grizz entered Monday having gone 14-13 since Jan. 1, losing four of six, struggling defensively and fading from the race for the West’s No. 4 seed — but this particular shuffling seemed curious in theory and crashed-and-burned in practice, as Memphis gave up 122 points in a home-court loss to the league’s worst team.

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Fizdale heard all the opining over his choice to start a lineup that had never previously shared the floor, and specifically to elevate Harrison (a 31 percent shooter who’d played 6 1/2 minutes since the All-Star break) over cultural talisman Allen, in an effort that appeared to discombobulate his whole team. The coach’s response to the burbling rancor from the peanut gallery? Pucker up, jerks:

“What? What am I supposed to do? Settle for mediocrity?” Fizdale told reporters at the Grizzlies’ Wednesday practice. “Or stay in a .500 mode and not do anything? And just be OK with that? That’s the problem — the whole image of this group is that that’s been OK, and that if we’re underdogs and we don’t win it, that’s OK.

“No. I won’t settle for that. I’ll continue to shuffle until I find something that works best to give us the best chance to hold the [Larry O’Brien Championship] Trophy. And if people don’t like that, they can kiss my ass.”

Beyond that bit of hot fire, Fizdale offered a bit more clarity on why he opted for the specific shifts he did, both in the starting lineup and further down in the rotation, as Harrison and Toney Douglas received more minutes than Allen or Zach Randolph. From Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

“You work with what you have. I’m not going to keep shuffling. I have some specific things I want to look at,” Fizdale said. “I’m hoping that in the next six games or so we can settle into our rotation with 13 or 14 games of playing with that group. If we can grab home court (for the playoffs), that’s what we want. But the most important thing we can do is get the best team on the floor possible going into the playoffs and give ourselves the best chance to win. It doesn’t matter if you have home court if you’re playing the wrong groups. And we wouldn’t get home court if we keep playing the wrong groups.” […]

“I wanted to see what playmaking looks like with a roller [in Wright] and space,” Fizdale said. “I’m looking at how that second unit functions from a defensive standpoint around Zach Randolph by adding Tony Allen and JaMychal into that group. Most teams go small in the second unit and this will help us match up better. We’re going to evaluate it. And if for some reason that doesn’t click, you better believe I’ll be shifting it again.”

The thing is, though, nobody really disputed that a Grizzlies team that has played .500 ball for two months might benefit from lineup changes. It’s just that most people who’ve looked at the way Memphis has been lining up have identified what appeared to be a reasonable adjustment — taking starting small forward Chandler Parsons, who has barely been a shell of his former self this season as he continues to work his way back from right knee surgery, and who himself recently admitted that he sucks right now, and putting him on the bench in favor of a more athletic, explosive and present-tense useful option like swingman James Ennis.

That, Fizdale confirmed Wednesday, is a change he is not considering at this time.

That was certainly the idea this summer, when the Grizzlies forked over $94 million to team with re-upped point guard Mike Conley and two-way linchpin center Marc Gasol in a revamped Memphis core that could evolve into a more modern, fluid, high-powered and perimeter-oriented attack. Parsons’ physical limitations, though, have grounded those high-minded visions, at least for the time being … and if Fizdale’s looking for a ceiling-raising jolt by removing the defense-first Allen from the mix, his chosen replacement seems like an odd pick:

Parsons’ struggles and the paucity of complete overall options alongside Conley in the backcourt ultimately point to some structural issues with the Grizzlies roster that have been there all season long, and have existed in some form or fashion for the last half-decade. Basically, with Parsons not panning out yet and their young point guards not proving ready for prime time, they likely just don’t have enough perimeter depth to move from the middle of the pack to the ranks of true contention.

The specifics are different, but the overarching story remains the same, which is why Fizdale’s chosen framework — that “the problem [with] the whole image of this group is that […] we’re underdogs and we don’t win it, that’s OK” — piqued the attention of longtime Grizzlies chronicler Chris Herrington:

The Grizzlies have the third longest active playoff streak in the NBA, but one that’s yielded exactly zero wins past the second round. Fizdale came from an organization that won titles in Miami. He doesn’t want to settle for second tier.

The only problem I have with this challenge is the implication that the Grizzlies’ status over the past half-dozen seasons has been limited by complacency. I’d argue it’s been limited by talent. In Miami, Chris Bosh, an all-NBA caliber big man, was the team’s third best player. Make Marc Gasol a team’s third-best player and they’ll compete for titles too. In the NBA, it is very, very hard to reach the title round without an MVP-level individual talent. The Grizzlies are and have been blessed with multiple All-Star caliber players, which is more than most franchises have, but they’ve never had a truly elite player. Fizdale can keep searching for ways to raise the team’s upside, and he should, but those searches are not going to unearth a Lebron James or in-his-prime Dwyane Wade. The Heat didn’t win more than the Grizzlies because they wanted it more.

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In this context, Herrington argues, Fizdale’s insistence on continuing to run Parsons out there makes sense. If Memphis can just get Parsons back to somewhere close to what he looked like in Dallas before he went back on the shelf late last season, his talent, playmaking and shooting represent the biggest possible addition the Grizzlies can make for the postseason, and their best shot at not just winning one postseason round, but of having a puncher’s chance of taking down a higher seed in the conference semifinals. Talent, not solely trying hard, is what counts.

But it’s March, and Parsons is shooting 34 percent from the floor, and he’s running like everything hurts, and he can’t get lift on his shot or separation off the dribble. The sun’s going down on hopes of getting anything resembling the hoped-for version of Parsons this season. It’s completely defensible for Fizdale to continue mixing and matching ingredients in hopes of discovering a better recipe for postseason success, but the possibility also exists that if he doesn’t shuffle back toward something a bit more stable — like, say, splitting Parsons’ minutes up among Ennis, Vince Carter and Troy Daniels, who have lower ceilings but higher floors (and their health) — he and the Grizzlies will wind up kissing the season goodbye before the calendar flips to May.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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