Nearly two hours into the Memphis Grizzlies’ first training camp practice, a screaming whistle blew what seemed to be a chaotic shooting drill to a screeching halt.
Players anticipated their first of two workout sessions Tuesday was over. But new coach David Fizdale spotted someone’s effort lagging so he abruptly charged toward the middle of the court.
“What the hell is this?” Fizdale shouted as he mimicked a player who loafed through the drill. “What are we doing? Practice ain’t over. These are game shots we’re working on, guys. Championship shots.”
“He’s coming from a place that went four straight times to the Finals. We haven’t talked much about X’s and O’s. The last two months, it’s been about culture and trust. His message has been so profound from Day 1 … and I needed that.”
The Grizzlies have never won an NBA title or even a conference finals game. Doesn’t matter. The language from the outset of training camp has apparently changed around here. And so has much more.
About 1,043 miles separate Fizdale’s current job from his previous one. Memphis, on this particular late September day, was also 20 degrees cooler than the place that groomed him for this shot to become a first-time NBA head coach. From the motivating buzzwords to the bulletin boards throughout the practice gym, and from the system tweaks to the redesigned locker rooms and hallways, there’s an unmistakable Miami Heat way of doing things that Fizdale has imported from South Florida.
There’s a specific hope in Memphis. It’s that Fizdale draws from his experiences in Miami, where he spent six seasons as Erik Spoelstra’s lead assistant in an organization run by Hall of Famer Pat Riley. Fizdale was with Heat teams that advanced to the playoffs five times, made four straight trips to the NBA Finals and won two titles in a system that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
There’s no guarantee that incorporating elements of the Heat culture will result in a championship-level breakthrough in Memphis. Especially when no blueprint exists for avoiding the devastating rash of injuries that led to the Grizzlies using an NBA-record 28 players on the roster last season. Despite losing Marc Gasol (foot), Mike Conley (Achilles) and several other key rotation players, Memphis still finished seventh in the West and made the playoffs before being swept by San Antonio in the first round.