Associated Press

In surprise move, Grizzlies fire David Fizdale as head coach


Memphis has lost eight games in a row, six of them without Mike Conley at point guard. There was plenty of consternation in Memphis after it lost to Brooklyn at home Sunday, in a game where Marc Gasol was benched for the fourth quarter — Gasol did not like that at all — and coach David Fizdale was clearly searching for any combination that worked.

Still, it was a surprise Monday when the Grizzlies fired Fizdale, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The benching of Gasol seems to have played a key role in the change.

Bickerstaff was 37-34 after taking over as the Houston coach during the 2015-16 season with the Rockets (taking over 11 games in). We’ll see if he keeps the job, but does anyone feel comfortable that current Grizzlies management will make the right decision moving forward?

Fizdale was 50-51 over two seasons in Memphis, but that belies a good coaching job where he had worked to get this team to pick up the tempo and play a more modern style. He got the Grizzlies to the postseason, where he famously had his “take that for data” rant.

The problem was, he was never given the roster to play a modern style, and the “grit ‘n grind” roster was old and not working well anymore. Then this season came the injuries — Conley is out, and then there is the injury to back up center Brandan Wright, forcing Marc Gasol had to play more minutes and take on much more of the offense. He struggled in that role, shooting 39.4 percent over this last 10 games. Add to that that Memphis is in the middle of its toughest stretch of the season and losses had to have been expected.

The problems in Memphis are not on Fizdale, but rather a team trying to hold on to a”grit ‘n grind” era rather than rebuild when it was time.

This was a thin roster that couldn’t afford injuries, yet it has had some key ones. This is a roster in need of shooting and more athletes, but strapped for money this summer they didn’t add them. The Grizzlies offense has struggled as a result and been bottom 10 all season — they get a lot of shots at the rim but only one NBA team takes a higher percentage of its shots from the midrange, and the Grizzlies still are not a good three-point shooting team (32.3 percent as a team, 29th in the league). Bottom line, they don’t have enough shooting. Or to put it another way, Fizdale doesn’t have the piece he needs.

Throw in the potential of an ownership change in Memphis (minority owners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus can buy out current owner Robert Pera) and this is a sticky situation.

At first blush, this looks like a “we are not trading Gasol or anyone, we want to win” move, but we shall see. And we’ll see if Bickerstaff can turn the tide for a shorthanded team. He might for a few games, but like Fizdale he doesn’t have the players to do it for long.

Giannis Antetokounmpo to tell his story on 60 Minutes this week (preview clip)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up hocking wares — clothes, sunglasses, whatever — on the streets of Athens, Greece. He easily could still be living there, the tallest salesman in a poor part of a country with high unemployment and real challenges.

Instead, he is a multimillionaire living comfortably in the United States, and is one of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and still improving. In a few years we may well be saying he is the best player on the planet.

Antetokounmpo will be telling his story on the legendary television news magazine 60 Minutes this week, and the show released a clip. Check it out.

This is the best missed free throw to game winner you will ever see

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We’ve all seen this situation before at every level of basketball: A team down three points gets fouled in the final seconds and has two free throws, so the shooter aims to make the first free throw then miss the second and create a rebound he or a teammate can grab then throw back in to tie the game. It works about as often as an NFL Hail Mary — either the shooter makes the shot anyway or the defense gets the board — but what other choice is there?

Nobody has ever pulled it off as well as Paulinho Boracini of the Brazilian league team Cearense.

Intentional or not (and I lean not), he banked the second free throw off the rim toward the corner, ran it down himself and hit the game-winning three.

Damn. That’s impressive.

(If Boracini and Cearense sound familiar, you win the award for “watching too much Knicks preseason basketball” because they played New York in a 2015 exhibition.)

Giannis Antetokounmpo doubtful with ankle injury for Bulls game

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks say Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The All-Star forward got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.


Anfernee Simons declares for NBA draft straight out of high school (kind of)

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Anfernee Simons spent the last year playing high school basketball. But because he did so as a fifth-year prep after technically graduating from high school last year and turns 19 in June, he’s eligible for the NBA draft.

Following a path taken by Thon Maker and considered by Jonathan Isaac, Simons – as expected – is turning pro.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

Anfernee Simons will forgo his collegiate eligibility and declare for the 2018 NBA draft, he informed ESPN.

Simons informed ESPN that he will sign with agent Bobby Petriella of Rosenhaus Sports Representation

Simons looks like a mid-first-rounder, though his range is quite wide considering how large of a jump he’s making. Teams can learn relatively more about him in workouts and interviews.

A 6-foot-4 shooting guard who specializes in scoring, Simons is quick on his feet with a quick release off the dribble – with range from beyond the 3-point arc to an impressive floater game. Those floaters will be important, because Simons isn’t nearly strong enough for the NBA. He’s also a lackluster passer, though because of physicality concerns, no team will count on Simons to run an offense anytime soon, anyway. He’ll have time to develop as a distributor.

By signing with agents, Simons loses his college eligibility. Drew Rosenhaus, a big-name football agent, isn’t certified with the National Basketball Players Association. Petriella’s only NBA client has been Diamond Stone, a 2016 second-rounder who’s out of the league. They’re all in this bold venture together now.

As the NBA considers changing its draft rules for young prospects, Simons will be an interesting case study. He obviously meets the draft-eligibility requirements in the one-and-done era, but he’s also jumping from prep-school competition to the NBA. The league’s strength and nutrition programs should serve him well. His overall development could influence the wider debate.