Grizzlies’ Joerger, Pera find middle ground in renewed commitment

Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger reached the 50-win mark in first season on the sidelines. 

Nelson Chenault

MEMPHIS — Now that Dave Joerger and Robert Pera have renewed their vows, the happy couple hopes their Memphis Grizzlies reap full league benefits.

After flirting with the prospect of coaching his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves, Joerger had a long-overdue talk with Pera, the Grizzlies franchise’s controlling owner, that assured both parties divorce wasn’t the option. They renewed their partnership with a guaranteed fourth year and a fifth-year option for Joerger.

Back at FedExForum on Thursday, Joerger talked about the wild 10-day episode — one that capped a wild 14 months on the job.

"It’s been a long 14 months, to be honest with y’all. Three playoff series, then the whole thing after that, then my hiring. Then bang, we ran into the draft. Bang, we ran into summer league. Bang, I’m trying to put a staff together," Joerger said. " … We went through a slow start and we had injuries or we had injuries and got a slow start, however you want to say it.

"Now there’s some relief for me. The owner and I are married now. This feels really good and really positive going forward."

After "that whole thing" of Memphis not renewing former coach Lionel Hollins after the 2012-13 season, it had been a drama-filled week that tried its best to measure up to those previous 14 months. Joerger wouldn’t step into specifics, but said last week’s abrupt dismissal of Memphis CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash by Pera wasn’t foretold. And the comments he made immediately following the season still hold true, that everyone in the Grizzlies organization is on the same page. Joerger said the Levien and Lash news caught him by surprise.

"What happened with Robert and Jason Levien and Stu Lash was a bang-bang deal. NBA teams are public relations machines," Joerger said. "If that thing had been premeditated or we all knew what was gonna happen on that deal, we would have had statements coming out and rolled out a PR campaign."

It looked like the Grizzlies were going to have to roll out a new coach campaign when Joerger interviewed two times in Minnesota.

Joerger said there were other teams after him as well, but that Pera wanted to give him the chance to explore home, but told him he didn’t want him to take the job.

"There’s not another owner I don’t think in the NBA that would do that," Joerger said. "Then when I came back, just to sit down and just feel the vision that he has for our team. I just had a really good heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. We have a very shared vision of what we can do here, especially with the team we have now. It was cool."

With the drama seemingly over, it looks less like the original news of Pera wants rid of Joerger and more like Pera granted him permission to go home — at least on the surface. It also looks more like Levien, who made two of the franchise’s most controversial-yet-successful moves (the Rudy Gay trade, the Hollins dismissal), may have just been in the way.

It may never be clear why a heart-to-heart took so long to have. Some think Levien’s hand was too heavy and kept Pera too distant. All speculation, but Joerger did say that communication line is important.

"One of the things that’s important with all NBA coaches is to be able to have a relationship with your owner," Joerger said. "Now it’s the way it should be, it really is."

Why it wasn’t like that before isn’t quite clear. But all of a sudden, with Levien gone, Pera is taking a more hands-on approach that Joerger calls a "situation where we share a lot of information, more of a flat organization."

It is also speculation that Pera wanted to fire Joerger on more than one occasion during the slow start to the season, Joerger’s first. Joerger did say there were numerous inaccurate reports about the two’s relationship. He also wouldn’t speculate on whether he would have returned if he and Pera had not talked.

In the end, Pera and Joerger found a middle ground.

"It’s a pretty big upset I think, for him to allow me to go to Minnesota and beat out my hometown team, it’s pretty cool," Joerger said. "I’m the oldest of like 65 grandkids. There would have been a lot of tickets purchased up there. So I’ve got a lot of people behind me up there that are disappointed, but at the same time happy about this situation and that the stability going forward is rock solid, right here.

"I think we all want to be heroes where we’re from. I appreciate Robert giving me that opportunity."