The Commercial Appeal

New Grizzlies boss makes winning first impression

- GEOFF CALKINS

Dave Joerger anticipate­d that the question was coming: Given that he knew all the Grizzlies players from his time as an assistant, how would he be able to relate to them as the ultimate boss?

“They know me one way — they know me as an assistant coach,” he said. “I know what my voice is as a head coach and they are about to find out.”

He spoke with measured but unmistakab­le confidence. This was a man who had been preparing for this moment his entire life.

Now that it was here, he embraced it with humility and enthusiasm. “I’m pumped,” he said. And so the Joerger era has started. May it be as much

COLUMNIST

fun as the Hollins era that preceded it.

That’s my profound wish in the wake of Joerger’s press conference. I hope the rest of Joerger’s run in Memphis is as successful and as upbeat as the first day.

Yes, I know, some of you still question the decision to dismiss Lionel Hollins. I still question it myself.

But this franchise is too important to this city to waste any more energy on the bickering of the last few weeks.

If Griz CEO Jason Levien screws up the franchise, he should be held accountabl­e. If owner Robert Pera declines to spend the money necessary to win, he should be held accountabl­e, too.

But every Memphian should be hoping that Joerger can sustain the success — and the flat-out joy — of the last few years.

That’s why Thursday was an important day for the franchise. It was time to move on. And that could only begin to happen when Joerger finally appeared in front of a microphone.

He was terrific, as anyone who has spent any time around him knew he’d be. He said all the right things.

On how he’ll work with management: “Arm in arm. We’re going to do this together.”

On how the team will look different next year: “Other teams aren’t going to have nine dudes in the paint.”

On how he’ll deal with any lingering resentment over the coaching change: “I live here. This is my home. I’m out. I don’t hide.”

On how he fits in Memphis: “This is a blue-collar town. I’m a blue- collar guy.”

More than anything, he seemed confident. That was the most striking part of the day. Joerger didn’t seem overwhelme­d by the moment or by the challenge that lies ahead.

“I have won in the past, I know how to win, we are going to win,” he said.

It didn’t sound like those words came from the public-relations department, either. It sounded like they came from the heart.

All of which will mean nothing at all come next season, when the games crank up for real. It’s one thing to win the press conference. But can he manage the intractabl­e brilliance of Tony Allen? Can he stand up to the bullish whims of Zach Randolph? Can he guide this small-market franchise to another deep playoff run?

There is no way of knowing, of course. That’s why they play the games. You can’t beat San Antonio or Oklahoma City in June. You just do what Joerger did. Then he headed for the Griz draft room, where the front office was already at work building him a better team.

The Grizzlies swapped Darrell Arthur and a second-round pick to Denver for Kosta Koufos, a true center who will back up Marc Gasol. The trade also created more minutes for Ed Davis behind Zach Randolph. Hard to see anything not to like about that.

Then the Grizzlies drafted Jamaal Franklin from San Diego State, an athletic wing who (this being the Grizzlies) can’t shoot a lick. Most experts had Franklin going in the first round. Jay Bilas said “he plays his tail off.”

Neither of these additions will revolution­ize the Grizzlies roster, but that was never the goal. The Grizzlies introduced a coach. They set to work on the future. For an organizati­on that has been enduring some rough weeks lately, Thursday was a very good day.

To reach Geoff Calkins call 901-

commercial­appeal.com.

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