Memphis Fails to Attract Šaras

Josh Elias | June 4th, 2019

Despite their head coaching job opening up on the last day of the season when the Memphis Grizzlies’ front office decided it was time to part ways with J.B. Bickerstaff, Memphis finds themselves as the only team yet to make a hiring decision. It’s now been a full three weeks since the hirings of John Beilein and Frank Vogel, by Cleveland and Los Angeles respectively, and the Grizzlies still haven’t made any clear decisions on the direction they want to go, but one potential option seems to have disappeared for them, and it’s not necessarily of their own volition.

After a 48-97 record under Bickerstaff in just under two years coaching the team, it was apparent that changes of some sort were necessary. With the February trade of Marc Gasol and the impending trade of Mike Conley in order to make way for projected #2 pick Ja Morant, this year signals the true end of an era for Memphis, and this is an opportunity to choose a new direction for the franchise to head in. The demotion of Chris Wallace from general manager and firing of Bickerstaff as head coach were a necessary part of that.

As far as that goes, it makes a ton of sense for them to take a serious look at a wide number of candidates for the head coaching position under new 30-year-old GM Zach Kleiman.

Seven candidates to be exact. That includes only one candidate with NBA head coaching experience in Igor Kokoškov, who’s coming off a miserable season with Phoenix, posting a 19-63 record. It also includes former NBA talents Jarron Collins (who might win his fourth ring as an assistant in the coming days) and Adrian Griffin, as well as Nate Tibbetts and Alex Jensen, a pair of highly-touted assistants who each have experience coaching G League teams.

The candidate I was always most intrigued about, though, was Šarūnas Jasikevičius.

Šaras, as he’s affectionately called by his Lithuanian fans, recently made comments that heavily suggest he’s unlikely to consider any job offers that come his way from Memphis.

“Now I can’t say anything. It’s so great in Kaunas, that some very incredible situation must come, that I would change it. Now I feel very good in Žalgiris. I don’t need to chase anything, because Žalgiris is a top organization.”

– Šarūnas Jasikevičius

It should be noted that he doesn’t go as far as to officially rule out accepting an offer from the Grizzlies should it come, but the quote is not encouraging, to say the least.

Šaras is widely recognized as one of the greatest ever EuroLeague players ever, with loads of awards and trophies, including four EuroLeague titles.

A 6’4″ point guard in his playing days, he first caught national attention in America when he was a part of two Sweet Sixteen teams while at Maryland, playing alongside future NBA players Joe Smith, Keith Booth, Terence Morris, Obinna Ekezie, and Laron Profit. He resurfaced soon after, earning a Bronze Medal with his national team in the 2000 Olympics and beating out NBA stars Pau Gasol, Andrei Kirilenko, and Dirk Nowitzki for EuroBasket MVP when he led Lithuania to the Gold Medal in the 2003 EuroBasket.

His great talent didn’t translate well to the NBA though, and, while he was part of the We Believe Warriors, his time in the NBA lasted just two seasons, averaging 6.8 points and 2.9 assists. He made more of an impact culturally than in actuality, as during his rookie year he became the first European NBA player granted his own shoe by a major shoe company (in his case, Adidas).

Immediately upon his retirement from playing, Šaras joined the coaching staff at Žalgiris, and by the middle of the 2015-16 season, he was named head coach.

He has continued to strengthen his team’s reign over Lithuania, accumulating a 149-18 record since his hiring (a 3% improvement over the combined records of the previous two coaches), but, for Žalgiris, that’s simply meeting expectations.

The real accomplishment was turning a team that placed 16th in the EuroLeague in his first season into third-place finishers within two years, coaching the Kevin Pangos-led team to their best finish since 1999 in 2018.

Šaras is easily the best coach outside of the US at making tactical adjustments when needed, but along with his talent as a coach, he also brings Gregg Popovich’s aura. With that comes a certain expectation from interviews, and he does not disappoint. Perhaps his most famous moment as a coach was made when confronting a journalist over a question about his then-player Augusto Lima missing a playoff game to attend the birth of his son.

If he stays true to his statement and chooses to remain with his team in Lithuania over coaching the Grizzlies, it should be seen as monumentally embarrassing as an NBA team to have a top coaching candidate choose a team whose best players include Brandon Davies, Marius Grigonis, and Edgaras Ulanovas over them – but more importantly, they will have lost out on a very talented up-and-coming coach who should have a very successful career coaching at the NBA level in his future.

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