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Nov 5, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies new chief executive officer Jason Levien is introduced prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at the FedEx Forum. Memphis defeated Utah 103-94. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Betting on a Head Coach

Nov 5, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies new chief executive officer Jason Levien is introduced prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at the FedEx Forum. Memphis defeated Utah 103-94. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The ownership took a risk when they released Hollins. Whether it was a bad move, or a chance worth taking – that debate will consume fans well into next season. So now the organization has a potentially franchise-altering decision to make, and the choice will either justify or call into question the dismissal of Hollins.

The hiring process has gone somewhat slowly, but that’s probably a welcome change after the maelstrom of Lionel’s departure. The list of candidates has apparently been whittled down to three: Former Nuggets coach George Karl, former Suns coach Alvin Gentry, and lead assistant coach Dave Joerger. At the time of writing, all three seem to have an equal chance of winning the job, with Joerger reportedly the frontrunner.

So the ownership now has to make a bet: choose the one who will lead the Grizzlies to success, while appeasing the fans and working with the front office. If you had millions to bet on a head coach, who would you pick? Let’s lay out the options as they stand right now.


George Karl

Of the three candidates, Karl is the lowest risk. But is he low reward? He failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs – a snag the Grizzlies faced for three excruciating years – nine out of the last 10 trips. Before that, though, he reached the NBA Finals with the 95-96 Seattle Sonics, and he’s missed the playoffs only one time since 1991 (two, if you count the year he did not coach).

Karl is a relatively safe bet. He seems to have a pre-punched ticket to the playoffs and he knows how to manage a discordant roster during the regular season. But his offensive mentality doesn’t mesh with the Grizzlies’ defense-first style – he will likely want some offensive specialists added to the roster, and if he and the front office cannot agree on who best fits the Grizzlies’ interests in what rotation, there will be more friction, something the ownership wants to avoid at all costs. Karl would be a big adjustment, but if his methods are as successful in Memphis as they have been elsewhere, it may be worth the investment.


Alvin Gentry

Alvin Gentry impressed the Grizzlies in his first interview. What does that mean? It’s impossible to say, really, but he obviously did something to make Jason Levien forget his mediocre recent record – 158-144 for parts of five seasons as the Suns’ head coach. Gentry was working with a difficult roster in Phoenix, headlined by Steve Nash (who left for the Lake Show) and …Marcin Gortat. But what would he do with a better, more stable franchise? The only way to answer that question – since his unimpressive record offers no real hints – is to give him the keys and let him take the wheel.

Gentry probably expressed a willingness to work with the front office – though, what else would you say in an interview with Jason Levien? – and outlined a defense-minded plan complimented by Hollinger’s in-depth analytics. But it’s simply hard to imagine that an Alvin Gentry could achieve what a Lionel Hollins could not. He is also the only one of the three who has not proven himself a winner. Placing money on Gentry – not much money, according to speculation – strikes me as a meaningless bet, one that does not promise much but also does not cost a lot.


Dave Joerger

Someone probably told you about Joerger: a “winner,” a successful player developer, and an established defensive coach with a solid reputation in some circles. So why haven’t you heard of him? Because at some point in every great coach’s career, no one had heard of him, either. I won’t recite Joerger’s resume again – suffice to say, he has won at every level he has coached. I also won’t rehash the list of successful assistant coaches-made-head coaches; as intriguing as it is, cherry-picking historical circumstances is not a good decision making strategy.

Promoting from within is a logical move, but it’s also risky. Betting on Dave Joerger means hoping he can win at the top the way he has in the middle and at the bottom. It means putting faith in the “system,” that a strong apprentice can become a strong master. But keep the Peter Principal in mind: in a business where achievement is rewarded, everyone is promoted one rank above their level of competency. Dave Joerger might be the best lead assistant and minor league coach of them all – and that’s it.

So, Grizz Nation, who would you hire?

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