After the Grizzlies suffered their 39th loss of the season against the equally woeful Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff went on a mini-tirade. He ranted to the media members in attendance about how NBA officials were not calling fouls for Mike Conley in a way that he felt they should, and pointed to how a late no-call against the Bulls swung the outcome of the game.
Samuel X. Cicci
Bickerstaff said that he had gotten earlier feedback from the league after issuing a complaint but hadn’t seen any progress as far as the referees calling fouls in Conley’s favor more often. For someone just looking at the Bulls game's final moments in a vacuum or as an isolated incident, sure, you can say that the referees’ bad calls affected the outcome of the game. But not if you look at the big picture — the picture that shows that the first-year coach is digging for excuses instead of owning up to his own shortcomings.
If some of Coach Bickerstaff’s decisions on the court didn’t include starting Chandler Parsons at small forward over Kyle Anderson, choosing to use Jamychal Green much more than Jaren Jackson Jr., especially in the fourth quarter, and an insane helping of Shelvin Mack, then I’d show more understanding and grace towards his rant. But now, he’s just passing the buck instead of accepting that it's a bed that he made and now has to lie in.
As I’ve written before, this entire season feels like one that could’ve been different in some way, if not in a major way, if things were done differently. But here we are — looking at a team that is currently 14th in the Western Conference and possibly slotted to pick sixth in the NBA draft.
This team has always looked like it had more left in the chamber — and that questionable coaching has been a catalyst in its shortcomings. To sit in front of the city's media and try to imply that a lack of foul calls for Conley is the major problem is not only an insult to the intelligence of the fan-base, but a desperate reach for sympathy — and a deflection. This wasn’t Dave Joerger crying back in 2016, after being swept, or even David Fizdale’s “take that for data” rant in 2017. This was Bickerstaff 100-percent deflecting from the real issue: His team lost at home to a very bad team. Just let that be what it is, without making excuses. Especially when the excuses include defending a player, in Conley, who is quite capable of defending himself.
If Conley accepts constantly being fouled while not losing his mind to the officials, then that is as much as an issue with him as it is with the officials. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and closed mouths don’t get fed. If Conley wants the calls, then he needs to stop with the good-guy thing and speak up for himself.
On Wednesday night, It didn't appear that too many people bought Bickerstaff’s attempt at sympathy. The rant garnered more eye-rolls than applause. It’s time-out for the excuses, Coach Bickerstaff. Own it. Do better. The city will respect you more for it. Trust me.