SACRAMENTO - Weeks of searching. Of interviewing candidates for a job that allegedly no one had interest in. And then the conversation switches in the blink of an eye.
Dave Joerger is the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings and he is a good one.
Fresh off his firing in Memphis, the 42-year-old Joerger wanted a bite at the apple in Sacramento. He’s going to get that chance and he might be the perfect man for the job.
Vlade Divac brought in a lengthy list of candidates, each with their pluses and minuses. But what is intriguing about Joerger is that he checks a few boxes that most of the others can’t.
If he’s such a great coach, why is Joerger available?
In three seasons at the helm of the Grizzlies, he posted a 147-99 record and led his team to the playoffs in each year. Of course, he took over a team that had won 56 games the season before and lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
Lionel Hollins had the team heading in the right direction before he got the ax on June 10, 2013. He had spent the previous four-plus seasons building a winner with a veteran core, only to have his contract not extended after the season.
Joerger posted a 50-32 record in his first season on the job, but was nearly fired in November by new owner Robert Pera. During the offseason, Joerger almost left for Minnesota, with two years remaining on his contract. According to reports at the time, Pera had conducted exit interviews with the players himself, without coaches or management in the room.
After dispatching CEO Jason Levien and assistant GM Stu Lash, Pera eventually sat down with Joerger and the two hammered out an extension. Sacramento knows a thing or two about dealing with a new ownership group.
Fast forward to the this season. Despite an aging roster, the Grizzlies were expected to once again compete for a Western Conference playoff spot. They were doing just that, until the injury bug hit.
All-Star center Marc Gasol went down with a broken right foot on Feb. 8. With the season hanging in the balance, management dealt away both Jeff Green and Courtney Lee at the trade deadline, leaving Joerger and his staff with a fractured lineup.
On Mar. 4, Memphis sat a season-high 13 games over .500 at 37-24, without Gasol, Green or Lee. Two games later starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. was shut down for the season with Achilles tendinitis and the team finished out the year 5-16.
Joerger was forced to use 28 total players on the season. The Grizzlies signed eight different players to 11 10-day contracts. Joerger still led his ragtag group to the playoffs, where they were bounced by the Spurs in four games.
A season like this takes a toll. Lack of support from the front office was obvious. While Joerger signed a contract, he was grossly underpaid, making just $2 million next season with a team option for the following season.
His decision to ask management for the right to seek other employment might not be the cleanest look, but it’s hard to judge a coach that clearly had very little say in the new direction the Grizzlies franchise was heading.
What makes Joerger perfect for the job?
There is no question that Joerger is a leader. He paid his dues working his way up through basketball’s minor leagues, eventually landing as an assistant with the Grizzlies in 2007. His players fought hard for him every night, even though he may have had to look at the name on the back of their jersey to know their names.
What makes Joerger specifically qualified for the Sacramento Kings coaching position is two-fold. First, he understands dysfunction. You can’t end a season with Matt Barnes, Chris Anderson, Lance Stephenson and P.J. Hairston on your roster and not know how to manage personalities.
Secondly, if DeMarcus Cousins is in fact the future of the Kings and not the past, who better to coach him than the man who found great success with both Gasol and Zach Randolph manning the post.
The modern game is moving away from giants in the post, but Joerger appeared to thrive with two conventional bigs. In his first season at the helm, the Grizzlies offensive rating was 15th in the NBA and his team boasted the league’s seventh best defensive rating. In year two, he improved the offensive rating to 13th best and the defense jumped all the way to third.
Things came crashing down in Year 3, but he still managed to post the 19th best offensive and defensive ratings, despite the roster fluctuation. In comparison, the Kings finished the 2015-16 season with the league’s 15th best offensive rating and 22nd in defense.
Joerger has a strong defensive acumen and it is likely that former Rick Adelman assistant, Elston Turner, will join his staff to continue that legacy. Joerger will have to increase the pace on the offensive end to keep up with the modern game, but he has plenty of weapons in Sacramento to accomplish that goal.
Why will he succeed in Sacramento where others have failed?
Players go to war for Joerger. His task of turning around the Kings isn’t a simple one, but he has the personality to pull this group together.
This is a top tier coach and he landed in the Kings’ lap. Divac’s patient approach to the coaching search has yielded plenty of qualified candidates, but this might be the perfect fit.
Sacramento has the offensive weapons to compete with the best of them, but their lack of defensive competency has cost them on a nightly basis. Joerger should be able to use many of the pieces in place and develop a defensive mindset to at least compete in year one.
This isn’t a retread or a third tier guy looking to get his start. Joerger is a winner and at 42, he could be a long term solution for a team looking for continuity and stability.