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January 23, 2009

Iavaroni Latest to Get the Axe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:16 am

The Memphis Commercial Appeal and TNT’s David Aldridge first reported tonight that the Grizzlies will fire head coach Marc Iavaroni, which has since been repeated by multiple sources. Iavaroni will become the seventh NBA head coach to lose his job during the 2008-09 season, which according to Basketball Prospectus’ original research ties the most in any season dating back to 1989-90. There were also seven midseason coaching changes in both 1996-97 and 2003-04.

This will probably be it as far as coaches losing their jobs this season. The only obvious candidate looking at the standings is the Clippers’ Mike Dunleavy, who wrested control of the team’s front office with Elgin Baylor‘s forced retirement before the season. Dunleavy appears to have the full trust of Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

The Commercial Appeal‘s Ronald Tillery is reporting that the Grizzlies will go outside the organization to replace Iavaroni on a non-interim basis with Lionel Hollins, a long-time assistant in Memphis who previously held the job in an interim role in 1999-00 in Vancouver for 60 games and then coached four games in 2004-05 between Hubie Brown‘s retirement and the hiring of Mike Fratello. Even more interesting is that the Grizzlies will reportedly add former Portland and Philadelphia head coach Maurice Cheeks (one of the seven victims this year) as an assistant.

I wrote last week that Iavaroni had taken a step forward in his sophomore season at the helm, having barely escaped being fired last spring. Apparently it was not enough as Memphis slumped after a strong run in early December, losing 15 of the last 17 games. As laid out in that column, Hollins’ primary goals are twofold: Finding a way for wing scorers Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo to thrive together and getting a long-term solution at point guard. Mike Conley‘s uneven play during his first season and a half was ultimately one key factor in Iavaroni’s dismissal.

As for Iavaroni, the likely conventional wisdom is that he’ll join the group considered elite assistant coaches but not head-coaching material. Iavaroni’s background working under Pat Riley in Miami and Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix, amongst others, was strong. He did not prove as effective managing players as a head coach, and the Grizzlies’ defense was a disappointment to the point that Memphis brought in Kevin O’Neill as a defensive coordinator of sorts over the summer. It’s hard at this point to see Iavaroni getting another chance to run his own team.

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