After months of internal acrimony, the Memphis Grizzlies fired coach Dave Joerger on Saturday morning.
For the second time in three years, Joerger and his agent had sought Memphis’ permission to speak to other teams about head-coaching openings, league sources told The Vertical.
As it became clearer that Joerger wanted a more lucrative contract and a fresh start elsewhere, Grizzlies management cut ties with him.
Memphis is starting its search immediately and is planning to pursue former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, expressing a willingness to pay market value for top available candidates, league sources told The Vertical. Several of the league's top assistant coaches will be part of the process too, league sources said. For now, Vogel is emerging as the No. 1 target.
Memphis management considered Joerger an excellent coach, but it became increasingly impossible for the sides to continue working together, league sources said.
Memphis owes Joerger the $2 million guarantee on his 2016-17 contract, a deal that included a team option for the 2017-18 season, sources said.
It is unlikely that Joerger, 42, will be out of work for long. The Sacramento Kings have made him their No. 1 candidate and are planning to move quickly to secure a deal with him, league sources said. The Grizzlies sidestepped what could’ve been a lengthy negotiation with Sacramento about what would’ve turned out to be a conditional second-round pick as compensation for hiring Joerger, league sources said.
With the dismissal of Joerger, the Grizzlies can move quickly into a coaching search – and Joerger can get what he had been lobbying for – an exit out of Memphis.
Despite Sacramento’s inherent dysfunction, the Kings’ willingness to give Joerger a significant long-term contract – likely in the $4 million range annually – is a strong allure for a coach who spent 10 years making modest money in basketball’s minor leagues, league sources said.
Joerger had been seeking permission to speak to the Kings and Houston Rockets, league sources said.
As trust eroded over the past several months, tensions escalated between Joerger and Grizzlies management. The organization was frustrated with Joerger publicly making disparaging comments about Memphis’ roster and his own role in player personnel, league sources said. Joerger had grown belligerent to many within the organization, an attitude that those close to Joerger described as a response to his own belief that management was setting him up to fail next season, sources said.
The relationship had become toxic, and recent weeks found both sides searching for a way out of the arrangement, league sources said. Memphis management valued Joerger’s ability as a coach, but wanted to set a course with a coach who shares a long-term vision with the organization, sources said.
Joerger has expressed his displeasure with a series of personnel moves, including the 2014 drafting of Jordan Adams over Rodney Hood, and the 2016 trades of Jeff Green and Courtney Lee after All-Star center Marc Gasol was lost for the season. The Grizzlies have gathered draft assets and salary-cap space to replenish the roster around Gasol and Mike Conley, whom they’re hopeful to re-sign in free agency. Gasol is rehabilitating his surgically repaired broken foot this summer.
Joerger’s repeated and public criticisms of the front office wore on ownership and management, league sources said. Memphis fired Lionel Hollins in 2013 to promote Joerger to head coach, delivering him a contending roster and a premium first-time head-coaching job. After his first season, Joerger tried to make a financial score and become head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves – only to return to Memphis on a multi-year deal. Two years later, Joerger was pushing again to leave Memphis unless he was awarded another long-term deal, league sources said. That desire led to his dismissal, sources said.
As time wore on, Joerger didn’t believe that the organization took his opinion on personnel matters into serious consideration, league sources said. Within the front office, there was the belief that Joerger was always consulted on personnel moves and that he often only complained in retrospect about decisions, sources said.
In three seasons as head coach, Joerger was 147-99 (.598) and 9-13 in the playoffs. The Grizzlies reached the conference semifinals in 2015, losing to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. Joerger spent a decade in the minor leagues as a coach before reaching the NBA as a Memphis assistant in 2007.
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