Grizzlies fire Iavaroni after 11-30 start

Updated: January 23, 2009, 9:56 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The Memphis Grizzlies confirmed late Thursday they fired Marc Iavaroni after giving him one and a half seasons worth of games in his first NBA head coaching job.

On Friday, the Grizzlies announced assistant coach Johnny Davis would take over as interim coach.

"We wish Marc all the best in his future endeavors," general manager Chris Wallace said in a statement. "He gave his all to the organization while serving as head coach and represented the Grizzlies with class and a high level of professionalism."

The Memphis Commercial Appeal, which first reported Thursday's firing, reported on its Web site early Friday that former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will be rehired as Iavaroni's replacement. The paper said former Philadelphia 76ers coach Maurice Cheeks and longtime Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach and front-office executive Barry Hecker will join Hollins, who is currently an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, as assistants.

Hollins posted an 18-42 record as the Grizzlies interim coach in Vancouver during the 1999-2000 season after replacing Brian Hill following a 4-18 start. Hollins also went 0-4 as the interim coach in Memphis between Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello during the 2004-05 season.

Iavaroni began the season on numerous hot-seat lists after Memphis went 22-60 in 2007-08. But the former Phoenix, Miami and Cleveland assistant appeared to be safe, at least through the end of this season, when he survived the early rash of firings around the league that claimed six coaches in a span of 23 days.

Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley even took the step of giving Iavaroni what was generally perceived to be more than a pedestrian "vote of confidence" in early December, telling the Commercial Appeal: "He's my coach and I'm behind him 100 percent. I'm not going to evaluate him now. Marc is not under the gun."

The Grizzlies, though, have been increasingly uncompetitive after initially playing to some fairly positive reviews thanks to an 8-8 start at home and the strong introduction made by rookie guard O.J. Mayo. But Memphis has lost 15 of 17 games entering Friday's visit to Madison Square Garden, slumping to 11-30 after suffering seven consecutive defeats since a Jan. 4 home rout of Dallas that marked the franchise's first victory against the Mavericks since 2005.

Of greater concern to Heisley and Wallace, sources say, is the increasingly and openly negative atmosphere around such a young team, which appears to have changed Heisley's urgency in terms of evaluating his coach. Without naming Iavaroni, several players were highly critical of the team's strategy, development and identity in Sunday editions of the Commercial Appeal.

"We don't have an identity," rookie center Marc Gasol told the newspaper. "We don't have one. We run around like chickens with our heads cut off. Youth can be a good thing, but we use it as an excuse.

"We're always making excuses. We make excuses to the referees and to our teammates. We make excuses in practice. That's all some people want to do is make excuses. You're never going to get anywhere like that."

High-scoring swingman Rudy Gay was even more critical, saying: "I know the things we're working on [haven't] worked. We ain't got no chemistry."

Said Wallace earlier this week: "We were better early on ... and then we slipped a little bit. Eventually you've got to get results to solidify that lessons are learned. We're building for the future, but in the short term you want to have some tangible results. That makes it easier to build for the future. We take this period of time seriously for the team. These aren't throw-away games or a throw-away season for us."

Iavaroni's supporters would counter that he had little chance to succeed with such a young team, especially after Memphis dealt Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 1, 2008, in a deal that was widely criticized. The Grizzlies have started three rookies -- Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur and Mayo -- in 25 of their 41 games this season.

The Grizzlies are the seventh team to fire their coach this season, which is two firings shy of tying the league's single-season record of nine in the 2004-05 season.

The first six firings were all before Dec. 25, doubling the league's previous single-season record for pre-Christmas coaching changes. Oklahoma City's P.J. Carlesimo (1-12 on Nov. 22), Washington's Eddie Jordan (1-10 on Nov. 24), Toronto's Sam Mitchell (8-9 on Dec. 3), Minnesota's Randy Wittman (4-15 on Dec. 8), Philadelphia's Maurice Cheeks (9-14 on Dec. 13) and Sacramento's Reggie Theus (6-18 on Dec. 15) were all fired after eight teams (Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, New York and Phoenix) made offseason coaching changes.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics