Forum Spin Doctor
TERESA M. WALKER
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - With the Memphis Grizzlies in the midst of a youth movement, Jerry West wants them playing at an uptempo pace. The team's president of basketball operations also decided Mike Fratello was not the right coach for the Grizzlies at this time, so he replaced him with Tony Barone Sr. on Thursday.
It will be the first NBA head coaching job for Barone, Memphis' director of player personnel the past seven years.
"Tony is not only familiar with our veteran players, but also with our young players having been an integral part of the scouting and drafting process," West said in a statement.
West was scheduled to meet with reporters Friday to discuss the coaching changes.
The Grizzlies needed something after getting off to a league-worst 6-24 start, and the return of center Pau Gasol after missing the first 22 games with a broken foot hasn't helped. They lost their fifth straight Wednesday night, 112-96 to the Milwaukee Bucks. It was also their 11th loss in 12 games, and attendance has been dropping as well.
"In your own home court, you're getting booed and yelled at from your own fans," Gasol said after the loss. "It's just hard. There's too many defensive breakdowns right now, and too many easy layups right now."
The Grizzlies drafted Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry as the first steps toward a younger, cheaper team that can be built to win playoff games instead of just reaching the postseason. They traded veteran Shane Battier and let center Lorenzen Wright leave as a free agent.
Also, Fratello was criticized heavily for sticking with his deliberate style.
"We just felt it was time to make a change and move in a different direction based on our record and future goals. We wish Mike the best in his future endeavors," West said in a statement.
Barone will make his coaching debut Saturday at home against Toronto. Previously, he served as an assistant coach for the Grizzlies under Hubie Brown from 2002-04. He was also the head coach at Creighton from 1985-91, and at Texas A&M from 1991-98. The Chicago native played at Duke.
Fratello was hired to replace Brown on Dec. 2, 2004, and leaves as the franchise's winningest coach with a 95-83 record. He took the Grizzlies to the playoffs in 2005 and '06, but was swept in the first round both times and set an NBA record for 12 straight postseason losses.
"Unfortunately, this season has been one of disarray starting this past summer," Fratello said in a statement.
Fratello left his television career to take over the Grizzlies after Brown retired for health reasons. He had coached the Atlanta Hawks for eight seasons - where he was the NBA coach of the year in 1986 - and the Cleveland Cavaliers for six before going into broadcasting.
He ranked 19th on the NBA's career wins list and 21st in games coached when he joined the Grizzlies. On March 4, 2005, he became the 19th coach to win 600 games.
Memphis started 5-11 in the 2004-05 season, but finished Fratello's first season with 45 victories. He couldn't repeat that success this year.
"I am sorry I have not been able to find a way up to this point to turn things around, and I understand why a change needs to be made," Fratello said. "Things will get better with both an abundance of home games coming up and the eventual return of Lawrence Roberts and Kyle Lowry from their injuries."