An NBA coach is hired to be fired, a lesson Mike Fratello just learned from his good friend Jerry West. The Memphis Grizzlies were the first NBA team (and probably not the last) to fire its coach this season. Typically taking over a struggling team in mid-season is an iffy proposition. Bad teams tend to fire their coaches. But assuming the head coach position on a bad team can tend to reduce the attractiveness of your coaching resume. So at first glance, taking over for Fratello might look like a bad career move.
The Grizzlies job, though, needs a second glance. A glance at this team’s roster suggests that any coach that takes this job will probably look pretty smart.
After 30 games the Grizzlies have only won 6 games. But per game the Grizzlies are only being outscored 98.7 to 94.5, or by about four points per contest. Teams that are outscored by this amount typically finish the season with about 30 wins, or win about 10 games after 30 contests. In other words, it looks like part of the problem in Memphis has been simple bad luck. And since we expect luck to even out over time, the Grizzlies should start winning a bit more often as the season progresses.
If we look at the Wins Produced for this team, we see further reason for optimism. Pau Gasol produced 14.1 wins and posted a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] of 0.217 last year. This past summer he was hurt and consequently missed the first 22 games of the season. His WP48 thus far has only been 0.151, suggesting that he has not quite worked himself into mid-season form. As the season progresses he should play better, and again, this will lead to more victories.
Additionally, young players like Alexander Johnson, Lawrence Roberts, and Kyle Lowry have played very well in limited minutes. Roberts and Lowry have been hurt, so a new coach will have to wait for each to become healthy. But when that happens, a new coach can simply see more victories by putting these players on the floor (assuming that their per-minute productivity remains high with more minutes).
Even with all that, though, this team is still guaranteed a lottery pick in next year’s draft. A 0.200 winning percentage at this point is simply too big of a hurdle to overcome. But that is also good news for a new coach, since next year’s draft looks to be quite deep.
All that being said this team still has some problems. Eddie Jones and Jake Tsakalidis have been hurt this season and each has not played very well. Hakim Warrick has been productive for a small forward, but unfortunately has been miscast in the role of power forward. And Stromile Swift has again been a disappointment (which is the usual story when we look at his career).
If Jones and Tsakalidis can return from injury and start resembling the players we saw last year, Warrick can spend a bit more time at small forward, and the productive young players can be given more playing time, then this team can expect to see more wins. And any coach who over-sees such improvement can quickly see his star in the coaching fraternity rise.
So if you are offered the Grizzlies coaching job, take it. The job does require some travel and there is no possibility of earning tenure. Still, it does pay quite well and when you are inevitably fired, a job in the sports media (if you are reasonably good-looking) or on another coaching staff (if you are not) will be arranged.