By Pete Wickham
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Grizzlies have all their starters back from the team that reached the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
They brought back a former fan favorite with championship experience signing former Miami Heat guard Mike Miller and added depth to their frontcourt by trading for Kosta Koufos.
But the Grizzlies’ biggest change is on the bench.
The Grizzlies decided not to renew the contract of Lionel Hollins, the winningest coach in their short history. They promoted Dave Joerger, who won five minor league championships before spending the past six seasons as a Memphis assistant.
“The big challenge for Dave will be moving back to that head coach’s role, where sometimes you’ve got to rip guys’ heads off and challenge them . I’m looking forward to that, and to this team,” guard Mike Conley said Monday at the team’s media day.
The Grizzlies are coming off a 56-26 season with owner Robert Pera’s new management making several changes this offseason. They start training camp Tuesday at Vanderbilt University, the first of five days in Nashville capped by an open practice. Then they open the preseason Oct. 7 against Chicago in St. Louis.
Changing coaches coming off the best season in franchise history is risky, even after being swept in the conference finals by San Antonio. Jason Levien, the chief executive officer, said the previous coaching staff did a great job.
“But we were trying to be forward thinking and we determined that Dave was a better fit for what we want to do in terms of finding new information, using that information and creating the kind of selfless culture you have to have to succeed in our (market) situation,” Levien said.
Faster pace, strong defense
Joerger, 39, wants the Grizzlies to play faster on offense and shoot better without affecting a defense that has been one of the NBA’s best under Hollins. Memphis allowed the fewest points per game last season, and the 89.3 points the first time since 2005-06 that a team had held opponents below 90 points for an entire season.
The new coach said he expects some turnovers at first with the Grizzlies moving the ball quicker. That sticky defense also may be affected.
“I don’t see us slipping to 15th in the league,” Joerger said. “You want to be Top 10 in both offense and defense.”
Some of the other teams in the Western Conference may have made some marquee personnel moves like Houston adding Dwight Howard.
“We had the splash here, but they’ve quietly gone about having a very efficient offseason adding the parts we needed,” Conley said.
The biggest personnel move was convincing Miller to return to Memphis, a team he spent parts of six seasons with from 2003 through 2008. Miller was being courted by Oklahoma City, Houston and Denver only to choose to return to the team where he still holds eight franchise records.
“Look at how few teams have won championships the last 15 years,” Miller said. “For this organization in a market this size to be mentioned as being championship material is a credit to this organization . Seeing what was here made my decision easier.”
Quincy Pondexter, one of the Grizzlies’ best outside shooters last season, was giddy at what Miller can mean late in games.
“You’ve got to pick your poison now,” Pondexter said.
The Grizzlies also traded for 7-footer Kosta Koufos to spell Marc Gasol, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Jerryd Bayless picked up his option for the season and signed guard Nick Calathes to help back up Conley. They also signed guard Tony Allen signed a three-year extension for less money that he could have gotten elsewhere.
“This is where I got my career going, but the other places that really wanted me are rebuilding,” Allen said. “All the pieces are here.”