MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph has known his new coach since he was 19 and brand new in the NBA. Veteran guard and defensive whiz Tony Allen is excited at the prospect of being included in some offensive sets. JaMychal Green is happy the new boss asked him to play for him in the summer league.
Point guard Mike Conley sums it up nicely: David Fizdale is not a typical first-year head coach.
“If you sit down and talk to him, it seems like he’s been there, done that,” Conley said.
The only thing Fizdale hadn’t done in his NBA career until now has been a head coach. The man who started as a video intern with the Miami Heat in 1997 has been an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks before spending the past eight seasons back in Miami, the last two as assistant head coach to Erik Spoelstra. During that recent stretch, Miami won more playoff games (70) and playoff series (15) than any other NBA team.
That experience is why the Grizzlies wanted Fizdale as their new coach at a time when they are trying to extend their playoff streak to seven consecutive seasons.
“Fizdale just brings a new energy, a new way of looking at things, just a different vibe than we’ve had, which I think is very refreshing and is going to be very beneficial for us,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said. “We’ve had a good culture around here, you can always improve.”
In Memphis, Fizdale has a roster featuring three key players in their 30s not counting Vince Carter, who turns 40 in January. Center Marc Gasol is coming back from foot surgery that ended his season, while Conley, 29, just signed a five-year, $153 million contract in July. The Grizzlies also have eight players with three years of experience or less needing to be developed.
Fizdale, who turned 42 in June soon after being hired to replace Dave Joerger, has been busy trying to put his stamp on the franchise. FedExForum already features new paint and murals on the wall, and he suggested strongly that veterans like Randolph, Allen and Conley join Gasol and their younger players in Memphis before training camp opened Tuesday. He wanted them building chemistry and to be in shape for the first practice of camp.
The new coach also has asked the Grizzlies to wear the same shirts while holding everyone accountable up and down the roster.
“I really want to institute a culture that has nothing to do with shots or minutes or anything like that,” Fizdale said Monday. “It starts with a foundation of service. Those guys have a growth mindset being willing to develop. I’m going to harp on them to have championship professionalism. Carry yourself like a champion now so when you get there, it’s not a surprise.”
What this team looks like on the court remains a work in progress. The Grizzlies have been known for their “Grit n Grind” with a heavy focus on defense through most of this six-year playoff run, and offense has been almost as much of a struggle working through Randolph and Gasol down in the paint.
Fizdale said he plans to pull defensive ideas from Miami learned under Spoelstra and Pat Riley. Offensively, Fizdale says he’ll be borrowing from everybody citing Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and Portland coach Terry Stotts along with what he saw in Miami.
“We’re going to see a lot of different things,” Fizdale said. “I’m going to try to put our guys in position to maximize their talents and highlight their talents.”
Randolph said the Grizzlies can feel the new vibe that Fizdale has brought to them along with a coaching staff that features J.B. Bickerstaff, Nick Van Exel and Keith Smart. Randolph also noted Fizdale is treating the newest Grizzlies just as he treats Gasol and himself.
“That’s what you’ve got to respect,” Randolph said.